Shiso Leaves, New Year Discovery

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In my ongoing quest to find new and different produce items, I was delighted to encounter shiso leaves at my local farmers market.

I had tasted shiso in sushi rolls — sometimes chefs will use it in specialty rolls, especially those wrapped in rice paper as opposed to seaweed. But the applications of this tasty Japanese leaf should not be limited to high-end sushi bars.

First, the flavor. It is sometimes billed as Japanese basil or Japanese mint. This is largely inaccurate. Herbaceous. Citrusy. Fresh. A tinge of basil maybe. A hint of mint. A little bitter, but in a good way. You have to taste it to get it.

Second, how to use it. I prefer it raw, because it retains the most flavor. It would be terrific in a tuna tartare — use this recipe and swap ¼ cup shiso leaves cut in thin ribbons for the cilantro.

You could also puree it with a bit of lime juice, salt, soy sauce, garlic and a mild flavored oil as a Japanese take on pesto, which you could slather on grilled meat or fish, or toss in noodles. Hmmm. Might make that for dinner tonight.

I used them in the following salad — which also showcased the farmers market’s bountiful offerings of heirloom tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers.

Shiso Salad

Serves four

2 heirloom tomatoes, cut in bite-sized chunks

2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped

2 carrots, cut in small pieces

10 shiso leaves, cut in chiffonade (ribbons)

Juice of 1 lime

¼ teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

Generous sprinkle of pepper

2 tablespoons mild flavored oil, such as canola

Toss all ingredients in medium-sized bowl; serve now or later.

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