I felt compelled to answer a question from Rowena and provide some useful information on “shiso” or perilla/beefsteak plant in a simple posting that I hope will help Japanese food lovers and vegetarians!
First of all, one can grow shiso, be it green or violet, almost anywhere as long as you have plenty of sunshine and water opportune times (as long as you water it yourself, fine!).
For example, Rowena presently lives in Italy and has successfully grown some from seeds I sent her.
Seeds should be planted in March/ April. The hotter the prevailing climate, the earlier it should be done. Prepare some moist vegetables-growing soil and make small shallow holes on top at a comfortable distance from each other. drop 2 or 3 seeds in each hole. Cover with more soil and spread a newspar sheet over the lot. Keep in shade. Once the first shoots have come out, take newspaper out and expose to sun all day long. Water morning and evening at the base of the stems, not on the leaves (or they wuld “burn”!).
By August (or earlier) to September the shiso will start flowering!
These flowers, if picked early enough are edible!
(Pic taken at Tomii)
Reputable Sushi and Japanese restaurants extensively use them all year round. They make for exquisite decoration and are really tasty!
Now, if you want your own seeds, wait until the folwers and stems turn brown and shake them over a plate. You should get plenty of minuscule seeds for the following year. I checked this very morning with my neighbour, a retired farmer who is looking after his own garden. He said there is little use to keep them indoors in winter unless you want to start a greeh House business with all the hassles involved! Just collect the seeds and replant! Actually such seeds could become a source of business in Italy and elsewhere!
Now, the leaves can be accomodated in hundred of ways. Pick them up young and tender enough. The Missus keep them in a plastic Tupperware-type box with a sheet of clean kitchen paper imbibed with clean water (put it at the bottom of the box) before storing it in the fridge vegetables compartment.
You can wrap them around nigiri/rice balls instead of nori/seaweed.
Make a liberal use of them with sashimi!
They are also great as tenpura!
Do not hrow away the small or damaged leaves. Chop them fine and add them to fresh salads or to any stews and ratatouille!
The violet variety is edible of course, although the Japanese do not use for decoration like the gree one, except for the flowers.
They usually pickle them for their sake or add them to other pickled vegetables such as cucumber.
They also make juice, sherbet or sauces with them, too.