Let’s Talk Food: Shiso, a Japanese herb

  • Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson Shiso leaves.

  • Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson Mentaiko pasta with shiso.

Shiso or Perilla frutescens, is a herb in the mint family, Lamiaceae. It is often seen as a garnish with sushi and sashimi. When it is served, I always enjoy eating the leaves. Actually the green plastic fake leaves in take-out sushi are supposed to replicate the shiso leaf.

Traditionally shiso has been used to separate items on a tray or platter, to keep the flavors from blending together. But shiso leaves also have many benefits as it has antibacterial properties because the compounds phytoncides are believed to help prevent the spoilage of food when it is wrapped in the leaves. So the use of shiso as not only for decoration but also for its antibacterial properties makes sense for sashimi and other raw seafood.

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One hundred grams of shiso, or perilla, leaves have 230 mg of calcium, 1.7 mg of iron, 500 mg of potassium, 11,000 micrograms of Vitamin A beta carotene, 690 micrograms of Vitamin K, 0.13 mg of Vitamin B1, 0.34 mg of Vitamin B2, 110 micrograms of folic acid, 26 mg of Vitamin C and 7.3 grams of dietary fiber.

Japanese believe that shiso has many health benefits and according to Shizuokagourmet.com, these are some of the claims:

“Combined with milk, or with wakame seaweed, or with Jew’s Ear mushroom, or with komatsuna/Japanese mustarpinach, helps recover from anxiety and short temper, helps prevent blood vessel hardening.

Combined with oysters, or with liver, or with spinach, or with basket clams/shijimi, helps preventing anemia and cancer.

Combined with ginger, or with rice vinegar, or with Japanese pickled plums/umeboshi, or with wakame seaweed acts as a sterilizer, helps blood circulations and helps prevent obesity.

Combined with osmunda japonica/senmai or with kiwi fruit, or with shimeji mushrooms, or with seaweed, helps prevent cancer, helps skin rejuvenation and helps prevent stress.”

Chinese medicine has used shiso for thousands of years to treat morning sickness, asthma, colds, flu, and other respiratory ailments.

I found a bunch of large shiso plants at Paradise Plants and was so excited at the large leaves and tall plants that I had to purchase it. There are basically either green or red shiso and this variety was green but with super large leaves, like shiso on steroids.

Shiso is used not only in Japanese cuisine but also in Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese cooking. It is strong and distinctive, with notes of anise, cinnamon, citrus, mint, cloves, cumin and cilantro.

I found some mentatiko, or pollack roe, at KTA Super Stores. It is a specialty of Fukuoka Prefecture so I decided to make some mentaiko pasta, often referred to as “drunk food.”

After a night of drinking, there is usually mentaiko pasta a many late-night restaurants and “it does an admirable job of satisfying the tongue with salt, filling the belly with carbs, and coating the stomach in a protective sheen of fat. In the case of mentaiko spaghetti, the salt comes from the mentaiko, along with a small splash of soy sauce. The fat comes from the butter. There’s not much more to the dish than that,” according to seriouseats.com.

It is noted that you can eat mentaiko spaghetti when you are sober too.

Tarako and mentaiko are made from the Alaskan pollock roe. Sometime they are still in their edible membrane. The difference between the two is the seasoning. Tarako is seasoned with salt while mentaiko is seasoned with chilies and spices and may be labeled as “ karashi mentaiko” which means “spicy,” as it was first created in Korea and brought back to japan after the war. In Korean, it is called “myeongtae.” Today’s mentaiko is less spicy and more to suit the Japanese taste.

Topped with julienned shiso leaves, mentaiko pasta is popular throughout Japan because it is fast and easy to make.

Mentaiko Pasta

Boil water in a large pot, add salt, boil for 10 minutes, till al dente

1 pound spaghetti

If you purchased mentaiko still in its membrane, cut open the membrane and scrape the contents out with a spoon. Keep the membrane to eat with hot rice or place in onigiri rice balls. Set aside in a bowl.

In a large bowl, add:

Mentaiko from two membrane lobes

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon light soy sauce

1 tablespoon pasta water

Drain the cooked pasta, and add to the bowl of sauce, toss to coat. Top with:

6-8 shiso leaves, finely julienned

Shredded nori or nori furikake

Foodie bites

Hawaii Community College’s Culinary Program’s Cafeteria and ‘Ohana Corna Cafe are both open this semester. Both open at 10:30 a.m.-12:30pm.

Call 808-934-2559 for the Cafeteria ad 808-2591 for the ‘Ohana Corner Cafe.

On the menu last week on Wednesday was Okazuya Day with white rice or toss salad with fried chicken, teri beef, shrimp temperature, tamago omelet and anpan bread for $11.95.

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Da ‘Ohana Corner Cafe offered the original breakfast plate with two eggs served with a choice of Portuguese sausage, bacon or Spam, with choice of rice, house made potato hash, toast or pancake.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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