This week's menu includes several dishes with an Asian theme. Although I was trained in classical French techniques, I've always been drawn to the flavors and ingredients of Asian cuisine.
One of my favorites is an herb called Shiso, or perilla frutescens. A member of the mint family, this particular herb has an almost peppery flavor. The green leaves are most commonly known as the liner for wasabi paste on sushi platters, but I grow the red variety. Why? Because it's a great way to add a slightly pink hue to the foods you cook it with. Most notably, umeboshi, or pickled plum, is made pink by including shiso in the brine. I put a few leaves into rice and it makes it a beautiful rose color that I find really attractive.
Shiso was originally cultivated in China, but is used throughout Asian cuisine. Fortunately for me, it's easy to grow, even in Wisconsin. I plant it from seeds that I purchase from the Kitazawa Seed Company. I broadcast the seeds in my grow boxes in spring and get huge bushes of the plant. Like mint, it's tough to kill these babies and they spread, so it's a good idea to be careful if you plant them in your garden beds, or they tend to take over. The red leaves are beautiful in planters though, and you'll most likely have more than enough for your culinary endeavours.
This week's Miso salmon has some chiffonade of shiso as a garnish. I also put some into the Udon Badger Bowl. You can eat the leaf in salads, but be careful the flavor is intense - a little bit goes a long way! I use shiso with my mint when I make mojitos - which might need to be a recipe of the week at some point. The plant is said to have antibacterial properties, so basically that makes that mojito medicinal in my book!
It’s that time of year, the garden is just about to move past its peak and we’re all searching Pinterest for ways to preserve the harvest. In recent years I’ve decided to leave the vegetable gardening to others infinitely more qualified at growing those things and focus on herbs. Herbs have incredible healing powers in addition to their culinary uses… and they grow like weeds, so I’m qualified there as well.
Herbs need consistent cutting back, but now is the time for all Midwesterners to begin the process of putting our gardens to sleep, and herbs are a good place to start. One of my favorite ways to preserve the flavor and essence of things like mint, basil, lavender, and even rosemary is to make something called a simple syrup.
For those of you who enjoy the occasional (or frequent) cocktail, you probably know simple syrup as the sweetening agent in many of our favorite alcoholic beverages. But simple syrups are great in nonalcoholic applications as well. Perhaps the most notable being lemonade. Recently I’ve had a profusion of lavender, and it’s been a warm fall in Wisconsin so lavender lemonade has been a frequent visitor on my table. It’s ridiculously easy to make, and if you have a variety of simple syrups on hand you can get pretty creative with these… basil, strawberry lemonade, mint limeade (mojito anyone?)… there really is no limit. Simple syrups can also be frozen in ice cube trays and popped into seltzer water for a refreshing revisit to summer in the dark winter months.
So… how do we make this thing? It’s almost not worth a formal recipe, but I’ll give that to you now. Be aware, you can substitute other sweeteners for the cane sugar. When I lived in Vermont I used maple syrup. Some folks like agave. And if you aren’t vegan honey is a nice option. Use what you got, and what you like! Another hint… if you want a more intense flavor, simmer the herbs longer, or include more herbs. And the reverse is also true… you can back off the amount of herbs, and the time you allow them to steep.
Herbal Simple Syrup
1 cup Cane Sugar
1 cup Water
1 bunch Fresh Herb
Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan on the stove. Brin gup to a simmer and hold for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover and allow the mixture to steep until it cools down. Strain through a mesh sieve. Store in the refrigerator or freeze for longer holding.
1 cup Lavender Simple Syrup
1 cup Lemon Juice
2-3 cups Water
Mix all the ingredients together and serve over ice.