You Are What You Eat: A rose by any other name would be… shiso, zisu, hangul, perilla?

By Katy Wilkens, MS, RD

The newest plant in my garden is inspiring me to try lots of fun recipes. Called zisu by my Chinese neighbor, shiso by a Japanese-American friend, hangul by Koreans, this basil-like herb is known as perilla in English. I don’t care what you call it. I will trade any rose in my garden for shiso because, unlike the rose, it is the basis for wonderful recipes!

Perilla doesn’t seem to need much sun and heat to grow, so it may be a good basil substitute in years when we don’t get much summer sun. Perilla comes in two colors, red and green, and they taste quite different. Green shiso is often described as cinnamon-flavored. I think it is quite citrusy, with complex background mint flavors. Red shiso is more anise-like, but still with a citrusy kick.

With an herb this flavorful and easy to grow, you’ll have fun finding ways to add its fresh herbal, salt-free flavor to your cooking repertoire. Plus, you’ll use less unhealthy salt while adding a new flavor dimension that your family and friends will love.

Give shiso a try in the recipes below. You can also make tempura out of the leaves, or pickle them (see my salt-free pickling recipe).

Jinxin’s fish or chicken with perilla
One whole small- to medium-sized fish, like tilapia, per person, or one chicken breast per person
1 cup chopped fresh perilla leaves
2-inch piece of ginger, cut in thin slices
1/3 to 1/2 cup water

Handful of fresh perilla leaves
Pan-fry the fish or chicken on both sides until golden brown. Add chopped perilla leaves and a small amount of water. Cover and simmer – fish for 5-10 minutes, chicken for 20-25 minutes. Flip the fish or chicken. The broth will thicken so be careful that it doesn’t dry up. Add more water if needed. Garnish with a few fresh leaves, sliced thinly.
Nutritional information:
Calories: 132, Carbohydrates: 1 gram, Protein: 24 grams, Sodium: 133 milligrams

Ryan’s red shiso syrup
4 cups red shiso leaves, washed
1 cup sugar
4 cups water (can substitute 1 cup rice vinegar for 1 cup water)
¼ cup peeled and grated ginger root (optional)
Put washed red shiso leaves in large pot with sugar, water and ginger. Add vinegar if desired. (Make sure you use plain, unflavored rice vinegar. Seasoned rice vinegar has lots of added salt and sugar.) Bring to a low boil, then cool to room temperature. Strain and refrigerate syrup.
To serve, add 1/4 -1/2 cup of syrup per 1 cup of water or seltzer water.

If you alter the proportions of this recipe, you can use this syrup to make a lovely sorbet. Use ¾ cup sugar for every 1 cup of liquid. Once strained, use in any recipe calling for simple syrup and fresh fruit. Try the traditional combination of red shiso and Santa Rosa plums or use ripe pears, melon or peaches.
Nutritional information (per two tablespoons):
Calories: 52, Carbohydrates: 13 grams, Protein: 0 grams, Sodium: 3 milligrams

Perilla pesto
½ cup pine nuts
¼ cup minced garlic

½ cup olive oil

3 cups green perilla leaves, washed
½ cup grated parmesan cheese

In a small saucepan toast pine nuts and garlic. Put in food processor or blender with olive oil, perilla leaves and parmesan cheese. Whirl until blended.

Serve tossed with pasta. Will keep in the refrigerator a few days, cover the top with oil just like regular pesto.

Nutritional information (per two tablespoons):
Calories: 112, Carbohydrates: 2 grams, Protein: 2 grams, Sodium: 39 milligrams

The recipes in this column are meant for people who want to keep their kidneys healthy and blood pressure down by following a low-sodium diet. In most cases, except for dialysis patients, a diet high in potassium is thought to help lower high blood pressure. These recipes are not intended for people on dialysis without the supervision of a registered dietitian.

[Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. She has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See more of her recipes at]

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