I have been sitting cross-legged on the living room floor for two hours. Spread around me is a semi-circle of plates, bags, stripped stems and a light sprinkle of soil. The scent of mint and anise hangs heavy in the warm air, and my fingers are stained black from the work, but I've finally finished prepping eight-pounds of fresh-picked perilla, also known as Korean sesame or kkaennip. There's going to be a lot of kimchi this winter.
I let some of my perilla plants go to seed last fall, so I could gather seeds for future plantings - something I do with many of my favorite plants. A wind kicked up and I lost a small percentage of seeds from their husks. When tiny volunteers started popping up in the beds this spring, I transplanted some to a distant plot and turned the rest into the soil with the winter's blanket of manure.
Cabbages went in those beds, and some curly kale, too. Perilla popped up in the walkways, and I let it grow. The caraflex and redbor mini cabbages didn't seem to mind, and the kale did fine as well, so I let the perilla get bigger until it completely outgrew my cole crops.
I had to intervene. I pulled it all in one fell swoop. It filled a kitchen trash bag and promised hours of work in picking and washing leaves and making kimchi, pickle and pesto. Perilla goes bad quite fast, the leaves develop black spots then turn completely black and limp. I found it interesting that the cabbage grew to harvest-size with very few bugs bothering it. Cabbage is notoriously hard to grow organically in these parts; maybe the fragrant, minty perilla protected the little heads.
I'm resigning myself to potentially losing some leaves as I work through the stacks and bags as time allows, but I hope I can get it all done. There seems to be a lot of that sentiment around here these days. As they say, "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride." I haven't harvested any perilla from the other garden I transplanted to this spring, so there will be more to play with in the coming months and more seeds for the future.
I made pesto first, not the cooked pesto I wrote about back here, but a more traditional pesto. Or, that's how it started out. After crushing and toasting almonds (no pine nuts on hand) and churning them in the food processor with perilla, olive oil, garlic, Parmesan cheese and salt, I found it needed something more. I added mirin and toasted sesame oil - getting there. With an apology to the almonds I took a big scoop of fresh-ground peanut butter and sent it down the chute. Perfect! Now it tastes like a mix between pesto and peanut sauce, and it was very tasty on noodles. Perilla is hard to find in my locale, unless you feel like driving a couple of hours to the closest Super 88 Market (Dorchester, Allston or Boston in Massachusetts.) It is very easy to grow, however, and can even be a little aggressive, befitting a member if the mint family. Like lemon balm and mint, it smells fabulous when you walk through it.
I am not including the kimchi and pickled-leaves recipes, because I make them very much like this, and she even includes a nice video to teach you how to do it. If I happen to develop some kind of fusion perilla sauerkraut you'll be the first to know. Or maybe rice and bulgogi-stuffed perilla leaves made like stuffed grape leaves?...
Fusion Perilla Pesto
4 C perilla leaves
1/2 C olive oil
3 cloves garlic crushed or minced
1/3 C almonds, pine nuts or walnuts, crushed and toasted
1/2 C freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp coarse salt or a half tsp table salt
1 Tbs mirin
2 tsp dark sesame oil
3 Tbs freshly-ground peanut butter
Pulse the first four ingredients in a food processor until a paste forms. Add the other ingredients, one at a time, pulsing between each addition to incorporate fully. Cover tightly if not using immediately.