August is the only time in the whole year where I am lucky to find shiso at my farmers’ market and I always find myself with huge bunches, cooking shiso dishes practically every day to profit from this precious moment. Having exhausted all the recipes I already knew (see below), I started to look for something new. This is how I discovered how to infuse vinegar, changing its flavours and colour. An unexpected way to use up my stock of shiso.
I found this recipe in my Japanese pickling book through which I go patiently and slowly, given my poor knowledge of kanji. I was a bit sceptical, so for my first batch I used cider vinegar (much cheaper than the rice vinegar I buy). Then I made another batch, this time with rice vinegar and though the flavours were more delicate and more sophisticated, both vinegars are fantastic, so I guess any neutral tasting vinegar will do. The taste changes to slightly herbaceous and pungent and, because of the first salting stage (see the instructions below) the vinegar becomes a bit salty. (As usually, I have slightly changed the ratio of ingredients, so if you read Japanese, check this amazing tsukemono book).
For those who don’t know this wonderful herb yet, shiso (紫蘇), or perilla, is an Asian aromatic dark red or green plant with an astringent taste and strong fragrance. Particularly appreciated in Japanese cuisine, it’s frequently used raw, cooked and its red variety is gives a reddish hue to pickles. Similar varieties of this herb are also used in Korea (ggaennip, 깻잎, though for me the taste and aroma are completely different in this case) and Vietnam (tía tô, more pungent, but closer to the Japanese variety). Apparently perilla is also appreciated in China.
Here are some other ways to use shiso (red or green):
Preparation: 10 minutes + 1 week minimum
1 handful of red shiso leaves (akajiso)
200 ml vinegar (rice vinegar or cider vinegar; do not use such strong vinegars as sherry or malt vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Put the leaves into a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and massage gently with your hands.
Leave for then minutes.
Massage once more, squashing then with your hands and discard the liquid.
Slowly, stirring with a chopstick or any other wooden tool, add the vinegar to the shiso leaves.
Transfer into a jar. Close it and keep for three weeks in the fridge.
Discard the shiso, strain the vinegar and it will keep forever.