Perilla Pesto

Kkaennip Pesto (aka Korean Perilla pesto)

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”).

Perilla Leaves

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.

tempura perilla leaves

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?

Korean perilla leaves

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!

53 responses to “Perilla Pesto

  1. I pickled mine with the same seasonings as when I made napa cabbage kimchee. You can also try grilling them with beef ala Vietnamese bo la lot (beef betel leaf) style.

  2. wow, this is an interesting recipe. I always see the Perilla leaves in the Asian grocery but am cluess of what to do with it. Your pesto idea sounds like what I could do!

  3. What an utterly cool idea! Will try it out next time mom has an extra ggaenip she wants to unload.

  4. Excellent! I love the spiciness of perilla and using it in pesto is a genious idea!

  5. It sounds excellent. W0nder where I find perilla???

  6. Wow thanks and so glad you enjoyed this! By the way, I have a food blog too. 😉

  7. Wandering Chopsticks: ahh! grilling them with beef sounds like it will be marvelous–thank you for the suggestion. 🙂

    Mandy: I hope you enjoy it!

    Alice: It’s kind of weird how it just works–hopefully your mom will have extra ggaenip soon.

    Anh: I credit Evil Jungle Prince–he was the first person I’ve known to use it as pesto!

    VegeYum: You can find it in Korean grocery stores.

    Evil Jungle Prince: ah! your food blog is marvelous–I will put a link into the post above.

  8. These leaves are so cute! Very pretty colors.

  9. Can you please post the pickled/marinated gennip recipe!?! I also have gennip coming out of my ears- sticking it in omlettes is my favorite discovery but the pesto sounds delicious. I do want to preserve some for winter banchan but can’t find a recipe nor does my mom ever make it herself and have tips to pass down. So, please post! Thanks.

  10. bea: thank you!

    chris: i’ll see what I can do–and wrangle up a recipe for you.

  11. thanks- I picked another bundle of gennip today and you can’t even tell- doesn’t even show a dent! must preserve some of the goodness for the winter…

  12. I’m glad to see others experimenting with kkaennip in their cooking. It really is a lot like basil. And like basil pesto, you can make up a large batch of kkaennip pesto and freeze it just fine. That’s one way to preserve it.

    I’ve also layered it with mozzarella and tomato and it’s great. I was nervous keeping it whole and raw because it has an even stronger taste than basil when you eat it alone, but it worked really well.

  13. I forgot to mention that the kkaennip tempura is a fantastic idea. I can’t wait to try it.

  14. chris: they are prolific plants!

    David: thank you for the mentions! the tempura is really really wonderful (it now makes me want to tempura basil in a reverse twist). 🙂

  15. Super-cool post! As a perilla/shiso gardener, I know what you mean–they are beautiful, but then again, shiso is an accent green–not something to use en masse. I’d love to try your pesto idea–fab! But I grow the shiso kind rather than the kkaenip. Should work, though. BTW, I found your post because I just wrote a post on perilla and was wondering what else was on FoodBuzz.

  16. Tumerica: Yep! I’ve learned that perilla ought to be an accent green–but they do have a way of growing en masse, somehow. I am not sure how the shiso kind will work out in basil, the Japanese shiso leaves are not as pungent as the Korean perilla leaves, but perhaps it will work! Because parsley is often used in pesto, and parsley is nowhere near as pungent as basil. 🙂

  17. You can put the leaves on your kimchi pizza, ala basil as well.

    I can also see that the pine nuts might overwhelm the perilla flavour. You might try walnuts instead.

  18. This post just saved the fate of the perilla I purchased at H Mart last weekend. I love experimenting, but I thought it would be much easier to find a use for the sesame leaves! Now, I will put them to use in pesto!

  19. I didn’t even know what kkaenip was called in English till last week, I’ve got a bunch in my garden now and I had no idea what to do with them except marinate or wrap in rice. Pesto is an ingenious idea. Any more recipes please shout it out!

  20. Have a great time making the perilla pesto–I was sooo relieved myself to discover the recipe for what was a bountiful crop that year. 🙂

  21. Pingback: Cooking With Richard » Blog Archive » Japanese shiso pesto

  22. Pingback: Curcubits, Etc. (Or Big Long Garden Post) « Simply Serina

  23. Awesome! So lovely to see new asian-inspired recipes shared! Thanks – I’ll have to try it out~ My mom just gave me a whole bunch from her garden and I was bit stumped what to do with them.

  24. C(h)ristine – why is it c(h)ristine, anyways?

    Your perilla pesto was a huge success! tossed with some fresh roasted corn, zucchini, leeks and al dente spaghetti and it was a perfect mesh of east meets west! Who would have thought? Thanks for sharing!!! I’ll post mine soon too~

  25. chefkelly: So glad you enjoyed it. 🙂 I like your variation on the recipe, sounds super yummy–and I suppose you can make it low carb as well, by using the pesto on vegetables as opposed to pasta.

    And it’s “c(h)ristine” bc in the old UNIX internet days logins had to be 8 digits long. And thus, i excised the “h” from my name because it seemed the least crucial letter. But then people started actually calling me Cristine…and well, now you see why I have th e(h) in parentheses: as an homage….

  26. I LOVE shiso but didn’t know there were different types. Thanks ! Got a bunch in the fridge and was also limited in knowing what to do with it other than with salmon sashimi and pickling. Will try your pesto recipe as well as other suggestions.

  27. this is such a brilliant idea. just a few weeks ago i made a basil-mint pesto to quickly use up those herbs before they went bad– and it was delicious. it’s funny, i actually hated kaetnip when i was little but i really love it now and the idea of using it in pesto is so appealing.

    btw- i used to read your blog back when you went by “cristine” – and really enjoyed it. it’s nice to see you’re still around, you’re such a great writer! 🙂

  28. i’m korean and have always had perilla leaves in my garden. some of my favorite ways of eating them while growing up are the pickled kind that is very common, as a wrap, as a fresh component in dolsot bibimbap (or any bibimbap), a soup garnish (especially since koreans eat a lot of soup) or chopped into long thin strips and cooked into a “juhn”… you know the kind that is usually made with just scallions or with some kind of fish and vegetables… its basically a flour, water, egg, pancake with vegetables (and/or seafood) mixed into the batter. And, depending on where you live, it might be a little late in the season now, but if you have some of the fresh blossoms i like to eat those fried as tempura or as a garnish. Also beware of the perilla plants taking over your garden… they like to spread like weeds especially if your other plants are not doing so well and since they like to reseed themselves

  29. Pingback: The Gaijin Chef: Shiso Battle « The Lobster Dance

  30. Do you have any seeds you can send me so that I could grow this in my backyard too? I could send postage. 🙂

    I love this stuff!

  31. Thanks for the photo and the pesto recipe . I recently moved into a home with a large garden full of what I now know is Korean Perilla. It took a lot of sluething to find out what it is. Now I am eager to try uising it in recipes.

  32. hi Charles: the perilla sort of grows wild in my garden now–I don’t have any seeds from last year–but i’ll try to gather some at the end of this season!

  33. hello perilla’s
    i live in Ontario, Canada and have lived in Seoul and have just got my hands on some perilla plants so also am very excited at the prospect of experimenting. Anyone else out there from Ontario who is interested in Perilla leaves?

  34. My mom is a bit of a health nut and puts them in these fruit shakes. She claims there’s great nutritional value. True?

  35. @InSung: couldn’t tell ya, but they probably are healthy in the way spinach leaves are also healthy. I did look them up after you asked–and it seems perilla leaves are used in Chinese medicine, as a “warm”medicine to dispel “wind” or qi to treat colds, stuffy chests and abdominal pain, to stop stomachaches and diarrhea, and to prevent coughs. Wow! I learned something new.

  36. ChicagoaninSeoul

    just stumbled on this after googling…been making kkaenip pesto for 12 years since moving to Korea. Actually prefer it to basil. I’ve tried a many variations but have settled on a few cups of leaves, 2 cloves of garlic, a few dashes of Vietnamese fish sauce instead of salt, olive oil and a bit of mayo and yes…ketchup for a little tad of sweetness to cut the kkaenip… love kkaenip in all its variations

  37. I have been growing my Korean Perilla from seed but it seems that everytime it starts to flower and bear seeds at around 15cm tall. I have bearly enough leaves to harvest. Any idea what I should do with the plants to make them grow taller so that I can have more leaves?

    • Yes, as soon as the flower buds form (BEFORE they open), clip them off at the next level of leaves. Make sure they flowers don’t have a chance to open.

  38. Those leaves go well with tuna dishes.

  39. Julie Waterman

    I always put parmesan cheese in my basil pesto. Has anyone put it in perilla pesto?

  40. Of course!!!! Pesto! THANK YOU ! finally a good way to use all the leaves! I had been marinating, pickling and eating as salad.. but those leaves grow quicker than I could eat them 🙂

  41. Anyone know where I can BUY some perilla plants to grow?!?

  42. I harvested my perilla seeds from the discarded clippings of an elderly Korean neighbor or mine. She had explained that they were good in tempora, but I wasn’t sure how to start. Fifteen years later I have a bumper crop and this is the first time I know what to do with them. Thank for the information.

  43. Thanks for the idea of the pesto. I will definitely make a freeze a batch that way. I also use it shredded up in soups, shredded into eggs, mixed with mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, added to my juice drinks, stews, whatever I can think up. Like someone else on here, I was looking for ways to preserve them for later. I have dehydrated a lot of the leaves to crumble up into soup pots when the weather gets cold. Maangchi has a great recipe for Perilla Pickles on her youtube channel, so I will try that, too. I just found this web site today, and am thrilled with all the ideas. Thanks to all.

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  47. Has anyone ever successfully frozen or dried the leaves to use in kimbap during the months that we can’t grow it here in Michigan?

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