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Red Shiso Juice: Recipe

One of two bundles harvested from the garden.
My mother often advises me to be careful what you wish for. Most of the time it works out well. Once, on a hike in Hokkaido I really wished for a hiking pole. A day or so later a friend discovered one discarded along the trail. The timing couldn't have been better as I'd just bruised pride and right knee in a fall coming down to a natural onsen (hot spring). Later, I wished for a pair of gloves. They, too, magically appeared along the side of the trail.

"Why don't you wish for a million bucks?" quipped my husband, and we all laughed.

"The universe does seem to be listening to you," said our friend, Ryan, and I sent up a small word of thanks. I still have the gloves and the hiking pole.

However, when it comes to aka shiso (red shiso) I should have been more careful. "I wish aka shiso grew in my garden," I said this spring. Used for making umeboshi, the deep red almost purple leaves of akashiso give the pickled plums their distinctive color and add flavor. The leaves are later dried to make furikake that is out of this world. Since moving to Japan seven years ago, I have become an ardent fan of these tasty leaves, incorporating them in salad, asazuke, and the occasional cocktail.

So, when two small seedlings appeared in my Kanagawa garden I carefully dug them up and replanted them. "How cute!" I exclaimed. They did look rather lovely, I must admit, next to the violas and alyssum on the border.

Like Gremlins, Tribbles, and even mint, the shiso expanded beyond belief in short order. Two plants became three then four. I turned my back for a minute - one minute! -  to find four small shrubs of red and two of aoi shiso (green shiso). This was a bit beyond my expectations and the capacity of my garden.

I called in the reserves and we hauled home two giant bundles and began making shiso juice. (I've already made umeboshi for the year.) Twelve liters and a small batch of asazuke later, the shiso was gone. The juice - sweet, sour, and distinctively shiso - makes a great gift, can be frozen, goes well with gin or vodka or water (carbonated and regular), and is darn tasty.

Aka Shiso Juice
300 grams shiso
450-700 grams sugar*
2 liters of water
20 grams citric acid OR 400 ml vinegar

Remove the leaves from the stems and wash. Bring the two liters of water to a rolling boil and add the shiso leaves. Let them simmer a good five minutes or until they turn green. Drain off the liquid and add the sugar. Stir to help it dissolve. Add the vinegar and watch it turn a vivid red. Let it cool before bottling. Mix with water using a 1:2 ratio or to taste.

*I opt for less sugar, but that's just us. Some recipes I've seen suggest 800 grams.


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