I am that gardener who rescues parched plants ("How much for that dead daisy?") and rehomes potager pests ("Would anyone like a slug?"), because I CANNOT BEAR to see them perish. This is how I became The Shiso Queen.
Shiso is a mint-family herb popular in Asian cuisine. In our fair realm, shiso sprouts are one of the heralds of Spring, and shiso flowers are among the harbingers of Fall. As the white (and sometimes pink or purple) flower spikes mature they release their tiny seeds, and this results in a mass planting of shiso the following Spring.
I could remove the shiso flowers to prevent them from self-seeding ("Off with their heads!"), but our bees find them to be delicious, as do we. Since it vexes me to see plants die, instead of banishing hundreds of extra shiso seedlings to the compost pile, I keep as many as possible and bestow the rest upon family and friends who — because of my ongoing giveaways — jokingly call me The Shiso Queen.
Shiso is an aromatic plant with attractive foliage, it does well in full sun to partial shade, and common varieties grow 18 to 36 inches tall. Fresh shiso isn't widely available in stores, but an internet search reveals retailers with seeds for varieties including purple-red (also used as a food dye), green, green leaves with purple-red undersides, large flat leaves, and micro leaves. Depending on the variety and your palate, shiso tastes of mint, basil, clove, cinnamon or anise. Sometimes it's listed under different names such as Perilla, Japanese Basil, Ooba or Beefsteak Plant.
Even if you don't recognize shiso by title, you may have seen it; fresh shiso leaves are often used as a garnish or wrap for sushi and sashimi. In addition to the leaves (used fresh and dried), the flowers and seeds are also edible, and all three are used to flavor meat, seafood, rice, noodles, vegetables and more. I frequently make shiso pesto, and even shiso ice cream. In my recipe for Tofu and Mushroom Soup with Shiso, I've found that two or three large leaves and/or flowers per bowl is enough, but as always, my fellow sovereigns, you are free to issue your own royal edicts in your kitchen garden kingdoms.
Tofu and Mushroom Soup with Shiso
Prep and cooking: approximately 40 minutes │ Yield: 6-8 servings
• 14-16 ounces extra-firm tofu cut into small cubes
• 1 pound broccoli cut into small florets
• 1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced (I often use oyster, shiitake and portabella)
• 3 large carrots cut into small pieces
• 1 large onion, diced
• 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
• 6 cups vegetable stock
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 tablespoon tamari sauce (or soy sauce)
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 16 to 24 shiso leaves and/or flowers
1. Coat a stockpot or Dutch oven with olive oil, add garlic and ginger. Bring pot to medium heat while stirring to coat the ingredients with oil. Add carrots and onions, once again stirring to coat with oil. Cook until the carrots begin to soften and the onions begin to turn clear (5-10 minutes).
2. Add vegetable stock to pot, bring to boil, immediately reduce heat to low. Add tofu, broccoli and mushrooms to pot, stir gently. Simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Taste the soup, add tamari sauce, taste again, add more tamari or salt and/or pepper to taste.
4. Simmer soup on low for 10 minutes, ladle into bowls, garnish with shiso and serve.