For years I was amused by the little green pieces of plastic that were put in take away boxes of sushi and sashimi, often used to separate items. Once I had visited Japan I realised that this was meant to be a substitute (?!?!?!) for a Japanese leaf known as Shiso (紫蘇 or シソ in Japanese).
Shiso is used as a separator in dishes, a receptacle for wasabi or other condiments as well as used in dishes themselves. When used in dishes I have experienced it rolled as part of sushi, chopped up as a garnish for everything from soups to noodles. It is claimed to be a relative of the basil plant and it does have a delightful peppery taste.
Firstly, I don’t know what the crazy plastic making people were thinking, but a rectangular piece of green plastic with one serrated side looks nothing like an actual shiso leaf. Secondly, it doesn’t taste anywhere near as good ;). It is one of those ingredients (like the Japanese citrus Yuzu) that I have found out of reach until recently. On the weekend I went to Tokyo Mart to get some supplies and they were selling little seedlings of Shiso near the registers. My wife thought it would be a great idea to get one and it was added to the basket along with 4 litres of Shocho and some miscellaneous items we had run out of.
This might seem reasonable but we are both notorious “black thumbs” when it comes to anything growing. It is thought that my wife can kill plants using only her mind. The truth lies somewhere in between and probably more to do with neglect than anything. So it will take some serious thought processes to try to keep this thing alive.
Looking around on the internet, my worst fears were realised. While it is apparently quite a hardy plant, it does die off once it flowers so for us to keep a constant source of shiso there will need to be cuttings taken and seeds harvested. Oh bugger.
Let’s see how our new little friend lives over the coming weeks. It will be worthwhile if I can keep it alive to have one of the rarer Japanese ingredients available from the back garden!