salt and shiso

IMG_3859One wouldn’t think an herb so fragile and leafy as shiso (aojiso or ohba, sometimes labeled as perilla or beefsteak) would take kindly to salt, but it does.  If you grew a plant or two this year, consider making the traditional salted pickle from Japan, or a shiso kimchi from Korea.  Personally, I’m partial to the clean, simple flavor of the salted shiso, but have enjoyed both.  Either lasts for several weeks to months in the refrigerator, but quality is best after at least a few days of curing.

In Japan, red shiso (akajiso) is used as a dye for umeboshi, pickled plums, and a delicious addition to pickled cucumber or eggplant.  It’s also dried and used as a furikake, or crumbly delicious crunchy topping for morning rice.  Mmmm.

Why don’t I eat more Japanese breakfasts?

Because I don’t have a Japanese wife to make them, duh.

Ah, right.

Green shiso leaves are chiffonaded and mixed in with rice, or used to wrap bits of ground chicken breast and pork and grilled.  I often pick a few leaves and eat them with rice, using them like those little nori strips that are now popular with the nutritionist crowd.  The basil-anise-Thai basily green flavor is exquisite, and again I urge you to grow your own, as the stuff in the market is rare, expensive, and fades quickly. I’ve grown two kinds of the green shiso: one that has a purple underleaf, and one that doesn’t.

It is also preserved, most successfully with salt, but sometimes with soy and a little garlic. One can also use the seeds fresh or salted, but I scatter them in my herb bed for another crop.

The Korean form of shiso (kkaenip, sometimes called ‘sesame leaf’, Perilla frutescens var. frutescens) is a different strain of the Japanese perilla (Perilla frutescens var. crispa) and the ornamental perilla (coleus).  See a good picture in the LA Times here.  If you can find it, use it for kimchi.

IMG_2339Salted Shiso Pickle

The recipe couldn’t be easier.  Pick the largest leaves of your fresh green shiso, then sprinkle a little sea salt on each leaf, stacking leaves in a container. You might weigh them down (as I did above, with ocean beach stones) or not.  Let cure in the refrigerator for a few days, then enjoy for months.


Shiso Kim Chi

You will need to make a souse, but this recipe doesn’t ferment the kim chi like cabbage or radishes.  It’s milder and softer, perfect for summer.

  • 3 cups medium to large shiso leaves
  • 3 tablespoons very thinly sliced red onion
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 3 green onions
  • 3 tablespoons julienne carrot
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon powdered Korean red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Prepare the shiso leaves by rinsing them, if necessary.  Prepare the vegetables for the souse.  Thinly slice the red onion and mince the garlic; thinly slice the whites and greens of the green onion; julienne the carrot. Toss the vegetables with the sugar, fish sauce, red pepper, and sesame seeds.

Layer every two shiso leaves with a bit of the sauce, gently rubbing it into the leaves evenly.  Leave some souse for the top of the pile, press down gently, cover, and refrigerate for at least a week.

cool as a melon cucumber soup

IMG_5304I’m really into cold soups this summer.  It’s like mainlining vegetables.  And my latest love, kvass (yes, yes, a recipe soon forthcoming, I promise), is making them all the better.  Kvass, a fermented drink made from bread, beets, or fruits, sours up a sweet soup and gives it depth.

This melon-cucumber soup, when done with a meltingly ripe melon from Eastern Oregon, will be too sweet, so you need the balancing agents: kvass, cucumber, green pepper, salt.  Be careful with your garden cucumbers — they can be bitter in this hot, dry weather.  Taste each one before using.

Shiso is an herb everyone should grow, both the green and purple kinds.  Its flavor is a little like basil, a little like tarragon, a little like holy basil, a little like mint.  The purple stuff provides a great dye for pickles, and dried, produces a traditional topping for Japanese rice.  The green stuff can be salted to preserve and used fresh on seafood and, as you shall see, in cold soups.

Melon Cucumber Soup with Shiso

Serves 6.

  • 1 honeydew or other pretty green-fleshed melon
  • 3-4 medium pickling cucumbers or one firm, medium-sized cucumber
  • 1/2 cup kvass, should you be lucky enough to have it, or hefeweizen or other light-flavored beer
  • 1/2 stale dinner roll or a slice of white bread
  • a pinch or two of salt
  • 1/4 cup any chopped green or banana pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons tarragon
  • 5-6 green shiso (perilla) leaves, plus more for garnish, optional
  • crème fraîche for garnish, optional

Wash and peel melon, cut into chunks.  Peel and seed cucumber only if using one of those grocery store kinds with leathery skin and big seeds.  Tear bread into pieces and soak in kvass.  Add to food processor bowl or blender melon, chunks of cucumber, kvass/bread, salt, peppers, tarragon, and shiso.  Blend until as smooth as possible.  You might try pressing through a food mill or chinois after this step, if you and your guests are fancy.

Refrigerate for several hours, up to overnight but not more, to blend flavors.  Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and a chiffonade of shiso in each bowl.

herbal cuisine

IMG_4591If there’s any one way to describe my summer cooking, it’s herbal.  I grow as many fragrant leafy things as I can, then chop and sprinkle all summer long. I wish I were a caterpillar, able to munch my way happily through my tangle of a garden — much like the little guys at work on a Taiwanese tea leaf in my header above, the image that sends the weak fleeing terrified from my blog.  (Every once in a while, I get a comment like “ohmygod, I loved your recipe until I saw the caterpillars! EWWWWWW. Now I hate it and I hate you!”  Yeah.  Don’t let a giant foot smush you as you crawl out.)

My usual summer lunch is mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil with salt and olive oil, of course — of course — but I feel the urge strongly when June hits, even if it’s so grey and chilly I make golabki.  I end up strewing summer savory, lemon thyme, and parsley over the Polish stuffed cabbage baking in the oven for two hours, because one can dream of sunnier days, right?

Or I make potstickers with chives, fennel, and parsley.

There’s plenty of tabbouli, if you want parsley, and I always want parsley.  Home-canned tuna gets parsley, chives, and savory in a salad with beans, or if fresh, grilled with charred “scallions” from culled onion tops.  When I grill a steak, my favorite topping is a gremolata, described in my screed against Steak Diane, resplendent with parsley, garlic, and lemon zest.

Gosh, what don’t I eat with fresh garden parsley?

Chicken salad gets tarragon from my miracle bush, with sprigs already three feet long and growing, or lovage, topping out around eight feet high right now. Vegetable salads like cole slaw or spring baby veg get a shower of herbs from borage and johnny-jump-up flowers and salad burnet.

Fish or potatoes can be grilled in packets with handfuls of fresh Mediterranean bay leaves (absolutely worth growing).  New potatoes and mint is an early summer ritual.

Pair cilantro with tiny Oregon pink shrimp for ceviche or with tomatoes and hot peppers in a thousand summer salsas.

Steamed rice gets a shower of shiso chiffonade, or I just fold up bits of rice in a heart-shaped entire leaf, like little fresh dolmades from Japan. Pizza? Fresh marjoram or oregano.  Grilled zucchini shares the plate with mint and pine nuts.  Blackberries get thyme and peaches get basil with rose geranium syrup.

Only raspberries shall remain untouched, I decree: those plump ruby pillows are gifts from the gods, the ones that finally smile on Oregonians in the summer.  Finally.  Lord hear my prayer.

parsley pips

Beachscape still life, unknown Dutch contemporary artist

The garden lies in waste, ravaged by the recent cold weather and the slugs that reign supreme over Western Oregon for most of the year.  No, I shouldn’t say ‘waste’ — even without serious intent, mustard greens and various alliums and artichokes are up and running, and wonderfully peppery wild arugula that reseeds each year, and a few lettuce and escarole heads here and there, and enough flowering borage to make a winter bouquet.

And ‘waste’ is wrong for the promise of spring, too.  It’s hard to feel hopeful right now.  But I know that under the hay and reddened leaves the strawberries will blossom, and the currants and gooseberries, now sticks, will emerge and fruit again. I know this patch by the shed will become a rhubarb, and that bare spot of ground is an 8-foot-tall lovage plant, and that over there is a much healthier asparagus patch than it was last winter, and this bucket of dirt is horseradish about to break free.  It’s the luxury of being rooted.

But just as there’s a place for patience, life also entitles us to say enough is enough, and we’re tired of waiting around for the wind to change.  On those days, we scavenge. I am reminded of M. F. K. Fisher’s recluse artist friend Sue, who hosts dinners on the windy coast of California on no budget at all, augmenting stolen flora and fauna with weird plants she finds in the hostile, rocky cliffs. (Although how hostile could it be if other people manage gardens and chickens. Eh. Details.) Sure, we call this ‘wildcrafting’ now and have made it a thoroughly acceptable bourgeois diversion, but ‘scavenging’ is better.  It means making something of refuse, castaways, leftovers, junk.  It’s creating value where none exists, if you’re the capitalist type, and it’s making art of one’s surroundings, if you’re the creative type, and it’s experiencing the world with your nose, the tip of your tongue, and your throat, if you are fundamentally, irrevocably, unflinchingly a cook.

Today it is the pale green tops of the overgrown parsley in the herb bed.  I usually let these go all winter, for unlike dill and quite horrifically like fennel vulgare, the fronds burst into seed and then drop them everywhere, making little parsleys that are great when thinned to enliven spring salads and greens and new potatoes. But we’re about a month from that moment and I need a burst of spring, so off with their heads!  I crush the tender new growth and the green seeds (pips, the British call seeds, a much better word because it captures the jaunty spirit of those little newborn chaps)…the parsley pips I smash down with my fingers and throw them in the pot of purple barley, which I’ll use tonight to stuff more cabbage.  For stuffed cabbage is the best reminder that life is infinitely variable, and there’s comfort in quarters unknown this morning to you.  Comfort in quarters you’ll know, I promise, by supper.

No, one can’t get tired of scavenging; it’s a mandate, really.  Carpe diem isn’t for lovers and it isn’t wasted on the young; it’s the last hope left.


march showers bring march flowers

Have to keep reminding myself of spring, now that it’s here, and we’re still mired in that cold, damp weather that makes outdoor activities miserable.  Anyone have any rosemary flower recipes?  I have a giant, spear-straight rosemary that is the sole pollinator in my garden right now, and is thus covered in bees, but I’d be willing to sacrifice a few stalks for something wonderful.  I’ve seen recipes for rosemary flower biscuits and candied rosemary flowers, but the latter seems too fiddly and the former too floury.  Maybe a riesling jam with the flowers?  Or a simple syrup?

spring vegetable supper menu

I think I’ve turned a corner on my academic work.  It’s taken me nine months of struggle to finish up loose ends left dangling from my dissertation exile, publish a couple of articles, invent a few new classes for the job I started immediately after finishing the Ph.D., start new work for conferences and grant proposals, make travel plans, plus a host of other teaching and administrative stuff that’s par for the course.  But I’ve done it.

I don’t want to say I’m out of the woods, but I feel that for the first time in a few years, my schedule is manageable and not subject to change at the drop of a hat, and I’m very, very much looking forward to having a little breathing room to do my research and well, you know, live.

Witness:  I dusted a lamp yesterday and felt infused with pleasure.  Because I actually had 2 minutes to dust a lamp and nothing but the immediacy of lamp-dusting on my mind.  The zen of dusting lamps.  Lame, huh?

Spring and summer are going to be quite busy here at Raccoon Tree Acres, but I only have a few deadlines.  The work I did this winter on proposals, conferences, and teaching my research subject makes them easier to meet, too.  I’ll be going to Maryland to visit the archive of a cantankerous modernist, London to read the papers of a sexologist, Prague to talk about dirty James Joyce, and Zurich to expound upon the literary fruits we know and love.  (Do I dare to eat a peach?  Why yes, I do.)  And we’ll have time to visit family and friends, too, in between.  We haven’t seen most of our family in years, so these are much-anticipated events.

I’m planning to blog the delights of food in all these places, of course.  But for now, I’m quite pleased at my lamp-dusting-local self and the drunken glee of Eugene on the sunny days in spring.  Our farmer’s market is glorious right now.  Our organic farms make the most of the plants they grow and sell the thinnings of their rows.  For the spring vegetable supper below, I bought new potatoes, big fat bunches of the sprouting tips of crucifers (kale, brussells sprouts, broccoli), tiny carrots and French radishes, turnips the size of a quarter, and the biggest bag of deep red rhubarb ever.

I’ll fess up to erring on the side of too much butter, cheese, and cream for the gratin and butter-braised vegetables.  No one complained, though.  The gratin was assembled by blanching the brussells sprout greens and boiling the potatoes, then layering both in a Pyrex dish with nutmeg, pepper, and a handful of chopped sprouting onions, leeks, and garlic that I had culled from my allium bed that afternoon.  Cream in which thyme and savory had been soaking was poured over the top, then a fontina-like Italian cheese whose name I can’t recall was grated over the whole shebang.

For the chimichurri marinade for a gorgeous piece of chinook salmon, I used the tender fronds of my caraway plant, fennel fronds, thyme, savory, lovage, celery, onion, lemon, and olive oil.  We grilled the fish on alder planks, so it was a lovely combination of fresh green and live smoke.

And the rhubarb?  Well, that was a no brainer.  I used some of my homemade granola to fancy up a crumble topping, and tossed the fat pieces with a bit of vanilla sugar and Clear gel food starch to control the juice.

I’m still full.

Spring Vegetable Supper

Fresh from the Market

To Start

Mt. Chanterelle Fern’s Edge Dairy goat cheese
Dolores’ Pickled Prunes

Rabbit Food

Green salad with nasturtium blossoms, French breakfast radishes, and young carrots with homemade lemon chive vinaigrette


Spring herb chimichurri salmon, grilled on alder planks

From the Kitchen
New potato, Brussells sprouting greens, and culled spring onion gratin
Butter-braised baby turnips and carrots with arugula flowers

From the Vine
Sweet Cheeks Rosy Cheeks
Pfeiffer Pinot Gris
Clos du Bois Pinot Noir

Sweets of Spring
Rhubarb homemade granola crumble
Noris Dairy whipped cream

food for thought: capricious caprese


I don’t really remember much of August.  It’s all a blur of words and revisions and paper and a computer screen and the sound of typing.

I do remember eating more than my fair share of the simple, elegant caprese salad, a salad that one simply can’t have at any other time of the year than late summer.  It is a sensible salad: no lettuce filler; sweet, vitamin C-filled garden tomatoes, sliced so that the juice leaches out with salt; little mozzarella balls that add a milkiness to the dressing and some heft to the mouth; olive oil; a bit of vinegar; black pepper; and herbs.  One generally chooses basil, but I capriciously added fresh fennel dust and seeds, wild marjoram, oregano, parsley…anything that seemed good at the time. Don’t be afraid to smush a tomato slice or two to make a creamier, tomato-ier dressing.

Whatever I did, it worked, and I am now the proud holder of a Ph.D.!  I start teaching at the University of Oregon in a few weeks, and it all begins again, but for now, I’m happy to relax, enjoy my tomatoes, and build up my depleted brain power.  Off to the store for more mozz…

peaches and cream with basil, rose geranium simple syrup, and apologies

IMG_0415For the next couple weeks, I’ll be out of commission finishing the final touches on my dissertation.  This means I won’t have time to cook or blog, but I do hope to post a few of the many photos I’ve been taking with my new camera, with a short explanation as necessary.

So many of my food blogging colleagues are exhibiting good sense and stepping away from the computer in these dog days of summer.  I’m not going to abandon it completely (showing my lack of good sense), but thought I should warn you that I’m otherwise occupied, and won’t be responding to comments.

So, to start things off, here is a dessert I would never, ever serve to guests, but OMG.  It’s a raw cobbler of sorts — a half a store-bought shortcake, crumbled, two local Red Haven peaches, smushed with my hands to a pulp, chopped basil, soaking in a bowl of cream and rose geranium simple syrup.

Actually, maybe I would serve it to guests.  It was my lunch yesterday, and I’m still thinking about it.

herb flower vinegar


Make your herb flower vinegar now, or forever hold your peace.  (Well, at least until next spring.)  Don’t waste the herb trimmings you’ve pruned from now-flowering plantings.  My vinegar is fortified with thyme flowers, Tuscan rosemary flowers, chive blossom heads, and a single strawberry blossom. Another lovely possibility is chive blossoms and a long, fat twist of lemon peel.

Pack the flowers loosely in a jar, then fill with a decent quality vinegar.  I prefer wine vinegar over plain distilled vinegar, since the latter is so sharp-tasting, but you could use either.  Top with a non-metal cap and let sit for a month or so before using or gifting.

salmon trim “burgers” with thai basil and chilies

I had planned to write a fat, juicy post about salmon when the season got underway, but now that it has been canceled up most of the West Coast, the wind is out of my sails. Alaskan Chinook is still available (at a eye-popping premium), and some places in Washington are still allowed to fish, but our salmon-lite fish markets look pretty sad.

So here’s a quick primer on West Coast salmon. Cook’s Illustrated devoted a text box to salmon types recently, but spent a disproportionate time discussing Atlantic salmon, which, quite frankly, doesn’t hold a candle to the Westside. We don’t eat Atlantic farmed salmon here in the PNW. And we also wish Cook’s Illustrated would get a West Coast correspondent, because they’re way too Eastside to be helpful for many product articles. Anyhoo.

Here are the major Pacific salmon you can buy at a decent fish market in Eugene:

  • Chinook or King. Dark pink, moist, fatty, large flakes. Delicious and mildest.
  • Sockeye. Red. Smaller flakes, strong salmony taste, small flakes. Can be dry.
  • Coho or Silver. Orange-red. Milder than Sockeye but not as lovely as Chinook.

Each of these salmon have slightly different seasons, and are available frozen or fresh, with corresponding prices, and from a number of different places. There’s also Chum or Dog, which apparently can be like Chinook if you get it from the Yukon River in Alaska; Pink, of which a large proportion is used for canning commercial tuna, and Steelhead, which is not a salmon at all but is red-pink like one and still rather tasty.

But the salmon we’ve been eating, thanks to our budget? Chinook salmon trim from Newman’s, at $5.99 a pound. Trim is the little bits and pieces that are trimmed off when making the fillets look pretty. One can use trim for omelets, quiches, curries, and salmon burgers. Since you can only buy nasty Atlantic farmed salmon at large chain grocery stores that price, it’s quite a deal.

Not being much of a salmon burger person but liking the concept, I transformed one of my favorite salmon recipes into a salmon patty topping. Kasma Loha-Unchit, a Thai cooking instructor and cookbook author, has a beautiful recipe for Wok-tossed Salmon with Chilies and Thai Basil in her seafood cookbook, Dancing Shrimp: Favorite Thai Recipes for Seafood. She cuts the salmon in chunks, then stirfries them with a mix of red and green chilies and a big handful of Thai basil. I still don’t have my kitchen hood installed, so stirfrying is a pain, so I baked the salmon whole instead and it was wonderful (and less fattening). I amended her recipe by adding a few more vegetables: notably arugula, since I didn’t have enough Thai basil, and a handful of winter cherry tomatoes. The arugula and cherry tomatoes worked really well to capture the sauce and add sour, bitter undertones, so I left them in the final recipe. They aren’t in the least bit authentic, but I think they add something to the dish.

If you have the funds and no salmon crisis, the Thai basil and pepper topping works wonderfully on a large fillet of salmon, or on smaller pieces for individual servings. You can grill the salmon or bake it, as I did here. Sockeye works particularly well for this recipe, as it is darker and stronger in flavor than Chinook.

But we have neither funds nor happy salmon. The picture above is an adaptation for salmon burgers. I formed one pound of raw salmon trim into four “burgers” and baked at 425 for about 10 minutes. Served cold the next day over arugula with nothing more but a squeeze of lemon and the basil chili sauce, my “salmon burgers” make a fine summer luncheon dish, too.

The roasted chili paste is crucial for this recipe. You can make your own or buy it in Eugene at Sunrise Asian market. If you can’t find it, you should be able to find Thai red curry paste, which is a completely different flavor, but still good.

Salmon with Thai Basil and Chiles

Serves 2

(adapted from Kasma Loha-Unchit’s recipe)

1 lb. salmon fillet, either left whole or sliced into two serving portions
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes (crummy winter ones ok)
1/4 cup white wine, chicken stock, or water

1/4 thinly sliced red onion
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 T. chopped shallots or the white bottoms of scallions
1/2 red and 1/2 green jalapeno, or use 1/4 red and 1/4 green bell pepper, or some combination thereof

2 t. dark soy sauce
1 T. fish sauce
1 t. roasted chili paste (substitute Thai red curry paste)

1/2 cup or more chopped Thai basil
1 cup chopped arugula or spinach
1/2 cup scallions, cut in 1/2-inch slices

Brush salmon with oil and sprinkle with a bit of fish sauce and white pepper. Add a 1/4 cup white wine or some stock or water for moisture. Add cherry tomatoes, whole. Roast the salmon at 400 degrees, covered, until center is cooked through.

*For the salmon patty adaptation, use 1 lb. of salmon trim. Form into four patties. Slick Pyrex pan with oil, then place patties in pan and season with white pepper and fish sauce. Add cherry tomatoes. Roast at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes. The time greatly depends on the size and content of fish trim in the patties, so check for doneness after 8 minutes.

While salmon is roasting, prepare prep dishes with ingredients in (B), (C) and (D) separately.

Remove the salmon from the oven when done. Add the tomatoes to the sauce in (C), smushing them into the sauce. They’ll add some texture and bitterness to the final dish.

Quickly stirfry (B). Add (C) and let flavors meld for a moment, then add (D). Wilt the greens, pour over waiting salmon, and serve immediately.