I have a ton of Korean perilla in my vegetable garden. A downright surplus.
Korean perilla is one of the plants that the gopher did not touch, and with each passing week, the patch of perilla plants has loomed taller, leafed green, and cast its peculiar minty scent. Delighted with their initial growth, I’d refused to thin them early in their germination…and then, when they grew taller, I found it wasteful (there’s even a particular Korean word for this–”ahk goh wah”) to thin them further. And so, in the last few months, they have grown, a clump of crowded forest in the gopher-ravaged garden.
And thus, the surplus of Korean perilla leaves (or “ggaenip or kkaenip”).
What to do with all of the leaves? If you’re Korean or Korean American, you’ll recognize these leaves–they’re used to wrap rice, and pickled/marinated as a side dish (ban chan), a common ingredient in Korean cooking. But it’s not like I have a family of fifteen to feed–and I just could not keep up with the plants’ production.
No matter how much I picked more leaves would sprout from the dense Perilla Forest. I used them to wrap around rice and bulgogi in a “ssam,” and I investigated ways to marinate and pickle them. My favorite method of cooking perilla leaves was tempura frying, by far.
Tempura frying them is a delicious idea, one that results in crispy, almost translucent leaves that remind me of stained glass windows, the green between the veins of the leaves were so clear and beautiful. Oh, and the crunch! Oh, and the taste. They taste marvelous, just the right balance between the minty/licorice flavor of the leaves and the savory tempura coating.
But tempura frying then and marinating/pickling them can only get you so far. For one, frying is not something to do in volume.
So, what to do? What to do with these beautiful, heart shaped leaves? Their edges are serrated and look as if they were cut out of craft paper with one of those special craft scissors with the peculiar serration.
Korean perilla is similar to Japanese shiso, but from what I’ve read, are not the same thing, despite their similar appearance. My experience is that Korean perilla is much more pungent, while Japanese shiso is milder–enough so that I agree that they are not good substitutes for each other in cooking.
Observe. Aren’t they beautiful?
The other week, I gave a bunch of perilla leaves to a friend–and was again, at a lack for recipes. I wanted to at least provide her with suggestions on how to eat them!
But then I came across the idea of Korean Perilla pesto on Evil Jungle Prince’s flickr photostream while browsing Korean perilla pictures on flickr. Of COURSE. It made total sense–just the other day, I was explaining to a friend that they were a blend of mint and basil, and one could possibly do some fusion style cooking by substituting the perilla for basil in recipes. Duh. Pesto!
And so I forged on, using my basil pesto recipe…using olive oil, salt, roasted pine nuts, and garlic. To remarkable, tasty results. The garlic and pine nuts almost overpowered the flavor of the perilla so that it was very similar to basil pesto. But the undercurrent of perilla’s licorice/mint flavor was still there, enough to make it clear that this was something different, something new…something fusion.
I’m delighted by this fusion factor–and am now eyeing other traditional Korean ingredients to see what can be done with them. It’s a whole new world out there.
Recipe follows after the jump…
Makes about 1 cup.
3-4 cups fresh perilla leaves
1/2 cup (or less, if you prefer) olive oil
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (plus extra for garnish)
1-2 garlic cloves (1 if it’s a large clove…2 if they’re small cloves)
1-2 tsp of coarse kosher salt to taste
Combine first 4 ingredients in food processor (or blender). Blend until paste forms, stopping often to push down leaves. Transfer to small bowl. Add salt; stir until blended. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Top with 1/2 inch olive oil and chill.). Toss with your favorite pasta. Of course, this tastes best FRESH! Enjoy!