I used purple shiso (Perilla frutescens) leaves in this version to give the ginger a pink color and interesting herbal background flavor, but homemade pickled ginger is also good without the shiso.
If you do decide to use shiso, you’ve basically got two choices: grow it or forage it. I’ve only rarely seen it for sale even though it is a staple in Japanese cuisine.
If you choose to grow beefsteak plant (another name for shiso), it is a fast-growing annual worth starting from seed even as late as midsummer. I got my seeds here.
Shiso grows wild not far from human habitation as a garden escape. I’ve found it growing wild in Central Park in New York City, and outside of a farm in California’s Marin County.
There are two forms, green-leaved and purpled-leaved. Keep in mind, though, that the purple can revert to the green form if it isn’t getting direct sunlight.
Look for broad teeth on the leaf margins, a wide base and pointed leaf tip, opposite leaf arrangement (the leaves join the stems in neatly lined up pairs), and square stems (shiso is in the square-stemmed mint plant family, Lamiaceae).
Shiso looks like the cultivated plant coleus to many people, and they’re not far off: wild coleus is another name for shiso.
More info on identifying wild shiso in Northeast Foraging.
Pickled Ginger with Shiso (Gari)
Makes 3/4 cup, about 6 servings
Pickled ginger (called gari in Japan) is served as a palate cleanser alongside sushi and sashimi.
Commercial brands of gari, come in two colors: the natural light tan of raw ginger root, and a shocking pink color that nowadays comes from food coloring. What that pink is supposed to come from is very young ginger, which does turn ballerina pink when pickled.
This recipe gives you that color naturally even when you’re working with older ginger root, and subtly flavors the pickle as well.
4 ounces fresh ginger root, peeled
1 teaspoon non-iodized salt such as kosher or sea salt
4 – 5 large purple shiso leaves, torn into a few pieces each
1/2 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
Use a vegetable peeler to scrape off thin slices of the ginger. Place these in a bowl and rub them with the salt until the salt starts to dissolve and lose its gritty feel. Let sit at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours.
Transfer the ginger to a sieve and rinse it under cold water. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible, then put the ginger into a clean glass jar. Tuck the shiso leaves in among the ginger (a chopstick helps with this maneuver).
Put the vinegar, sugar, and water into a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Pour the brine over the shiso and ginger. Use the back of a spoon to press out any air bubbles and make sure that the brine completely covers the solid ingredients. Cover the jar and refrigerate. At first the ginger will resist the color seeping into the brine from the shiso leaves. Wait at least 1 week for the flavor and color to develop before tasting.
“This is an essential book for anyone interested in food preservation.” – Ellen Zachos
“A book that wild food gatherers of all skill levels will want to own.” – Sam Thayer