The Most Refreshing Shiso Drink Ever
Welcome to the summer from hell. We're going to find salvation in some leaves from my front yard.
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Listen, I don’t have to tell you that it’s hot as hell right now. It’s also very humid where I live, and it feels as if God is punishing me for making one too many “but it’s a dry heat” jokes.
One remedy for this heat is a cold, refreshing drink. My family loves a cold, refreshing beverage, and they love nothing more than when I forage for leaves in my front yard, boil them up and serve it to them over ice in a beautiful glass.1
OK, I know the “leaves from my front yard” comment may have squicked you out, but trust me on this. Red perilla juice (known in Japan as “aka shiso”) is delicious, and it’s good for you. Plus, just look at that color! Everyone who has had this drink at my house has commented on how beautiful the deep red color is.
The leaves of the red perilla or beefsteak plant are those plummy, slightly minty leaves that you see as a garnish or a wrap in Japanese food, especially sushi. They are used to color and flavor those salty, puckery umeboshi plums. You can wrap rice in them to make onigiri, instead of using nori seaweed.
All you need to make this juice are:
Red perilla leaves
Apple cider vinegar
Oh, and something to cut the finished syrup with, like club soda or water, because it’s fairly sweet.2
It grows wild on my property, but if you do not have wild perilla where you are, you can start growing them from seed or purchase perilla leaves online. The only thing I will tell you if you decide to grow it is that this plant is in the mint family, and if you don’t contain it in some way, you will have more perilla than you know what to do with.3
I’m not going to be able to give exact measurements for this recipe because, well, I don’t use them. Amounts will vary depending on how much shiso you have. Remember that you are the boss here, and you can make this juice as strong and sweet as you want. Strong and sweet = less water and more sugar. Make it to your taste.
So here we go. If you are working with fresh shiso (as opposed to dried), remove the leaves from the stems and rinse the leaves thoroughly.
They’re interesting looking, aren’t they? Drain water and reserve the leaves.
We’re basically making a large pot of tea. Place the leaves in a pot with enough water to cover them by a few inches. Bring the water to a simmer. As the leaves steep, the red color will permeate the water and the leaves will turn green. That’s a good thing.
As the leaves are steeping, put another pot or the largest bowl you have into the sink and put a colander inside the pot or bowl.
When the leaves have turned green and the water has turned reddish, turn off the fire and allow the pot to cool enough so you can pick it up. Pour the juice into the colander and second pot/bowl. Using a large spoon, press on the leaves to drain the rest of the juice from them. Toss the leaves if you like. I compost them because that’s just what I do.
Now you have a ton of shiso juice, but we’re not done yet. Your filtered juice may not look as pretty as the photo at the top, but we’re going to fix that in two easy steps.
We’re going to sweeten it (which also helps preserve it somewhat)
We are also going to do science and brighten up the juice by adding an acid to it. That’s where the apple cider vinegar comes in.
Pour the shiso juice back into the original pot and add white sugar. Remember, I can’t tell you how much to add, because I don’t know how much shiso you have. But as you stir it in, taste the juice, and when it’s sweetened to your taste, stop adding sugar for God’s sake. Stir until all of the sugar is dissolved.
Next, add the apple cider vinegar. You guessed it: how much is up to you, although I will say that it is primarily there to add a bit of tang and brighten the juice. Go slow and taste as you go. We’re not making vinaigrette here. Stir the vinegar in until the juice lightens a bit in color.
Look at that. Now that’s pretty.
Allow this gorgeousness to cool.
We’re going to strain this one more time, just to make sure we’ve gotten out all of the leaf bits. Wash out some bottles with the hottest water you can stand and allow them to dry.
Slowly ladle the juice into your bottles, leaving an inch or two of headroom at the top. I am a big fan of flip top bottles because they are easy to open and close. These are the ones I use.
When you are done, put the bottles in your fridge and allow them to chill. With the sugar and the vinegar, they should last for about six months, but trust me, they will be gone before that.
Because on a very hot and humid day, you are going to get out your prettiest glass, pour the shiso juice to about halfway, and top it off with some cherry or pomegranate seltzer. Maybe you’ll add a squeeze of lemon, who knows? And then, you will put your feet up, raise your pinky and, as you drink, you will be happy that you have something this lovely and delicious to cool off with.
Until next time,
This sounds a lot worse than it is. Stay with me. Also, please do not consume anything you forage if you cannot positively identify it. I researched this plant for about a month before I felt confident that it was definitely perilla, even though the scent is a dead giveaway.
With the way things are going, I wouldn’t blame you if you threw in a shot of vodka.
People who have never grown mint are probably saying, “Oh c’mon, how bad can it be?” while those who have grown mint are nodding their heads and saying “Yup. Put that thing in a container. And then run.”