Homemade Shiso Pesto takes just 10 minutes to make and it is one of the best ways to enjoy a bounty of fresh shiso leaves. Just like the traditional basil pesto, this recipe uses pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan or Romano cheese, and extra virgin olive oil.
This is my second year growing green shiso leaves in my backyard. A kind and generous JOC reader, Bobby, gifted us a few red and green shiso plants and I’ve been successfully growing them. Shiso is my absolute favorite Japanese herb so you can imagine how happy I am that I can now harvest them in my own yard.
When I get plenty of shiso leaves, I make Homemade Shiso Pesto (大葉ジェノベーゼ) and freeze it for later use. No access to shiso? You can use this pesto recipe with basil, arugula, baby spinach, kale, and parsley. They are equally delicious!
What is Shiso
Also known as perilla leaf or beefsteak leaf, shiso is an aromatic herb from the same botanical family as mint. Shiso leaves have a fresh, citrusy, minty, bitter flavor with a texture similar to mint leaves.
There are two types of shiso:
- Green shiso – Aojiso (青紫蘇) or Ooba (大葉): Often used as an edible food separator or garnish as it helps prevent the spoilage of food. The whole leaves are used for sashimi and tempura, and the julienned shiso leaves are garnished on top of cold tofu (hiyayakko), pasta, and salad. Chopped shiso leaves are included in meatballs and there are so many other possibilities!
- Red shiso – Akajiso (赤紫蘇): More astringent and bitter flavor; therefore, red shiso leaves are mostly used for dyeing foods with its rich red color, such as in making umeboshi and red pickled ginger. It’s also used for yukari (rice seasoning) and juice.
Green shiso leaves are used in our cooking all year round, in a smiliar use as scallions or parsley. On the other hand, red shiso is used mostly during the summer months to make specific recipes.
Where to Get Shiso
You can always purchase green shiso at the produce section of Japanese grocery stores all year round. Red shiso leaves might be tricky to find, and only available during the umeboshi-making season around July.
Don’t get confused with Korean perilla leaves. They are rounder and larger, and taste differently from shiso leaves.
Fresh shiso leaves dry out easily, so wrap them in a damp paper towel before placing in a plastic bag, and store in the crisper/vegetable section of the refrigerator for a week.
Plant Your Own Shiso
Reese, one of JOC team members aka my sidekick who lives in Minnesota, has grown her own shiso in a raised planter box this year. She bought the seeds from Gaea’s Blessing on Amazon, planted them in early spring, and started harvesting in June. According to Reese, growing shiso from seeds requires extra steps, so it is important to follow the instructions in prepping the seeds, but once that’s taken care of, the rest is easy.
You can also get the seeds from Kitazawa Seed Co..
Making Shiso Pesto
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Green shiso leaves (Substitute: basil, arugula, baby spinach, kale, parsley, etc)
- Pine nuts (Substitute: walnut, cashews, almonds, etc) – They’re tender, buttery, and high in fat, so they yield smoother pesto. If time allows, I recommend toasting the nuts as they will yield an additional savory flavor and fragrance.
- Garlic – Don’t skip, but you can add more.
- Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese – Go with the weight measurement. Remember that freshly grated cheese is aerated so you need more by volume for the same amount by weight.
- Salt and pepper – Don’t be afraid to season it with salt, as it amplifies the flavor.
- Extra virgin olive oil – Use good quality olive oil, please.
Overview: Cooking Steps
It’s easy! Pulse all the ingredients (except for the oil) in a food processor or blender. I recommend adding in the oil last after the rest of the ingredients are blended well. However, I usually pour in the oil at once, instead of adding in a slow stream while processing, and it works fine.
3 Important Tips to Remember
- Process in 3 steps (my method) – I usually process shiso leaves, nuts, and garlic first so there’s enough space in the food processor for the freshly grated cheese. Then run the food processor. Finally, add in the oil and run one last time to finish making the pesto.
- Cover the pesto with oil – Before storing, add a thin layer of olive oil to protect the pesto from turning brown due to contact with air.
- Keep refrigerated – Keep the pesto in a clean/sterilized airtight jar and store in the fridge (all times) for 5 days or in the freezer for 3 months (could be longer).
Delicious Ways to Use Homemade Shiso Pesto
I’m sure you can come up with many ways to enjoy this delicious homemade shiso pesto. But if you’re in need of inspiration, here are a few ideas:
- Use it as a pasta sauce (See my Shiso Pesto Pasta)
- As a spread on sandwich, flatbread or bruschetta
- Make a salad dressing
- Enjoy it with eggs
- Use as a veggie dip
- Stuff chicken and roast
- Slather and cook the protein of your choice
- Coat the veggies and roast
- Garnish a soup
Homemade Shiso Pesto
- 1 oz shiso leaves (perilla/ooba) (30 leaves, 25 extra large leaves; substitute: basil, arugula, baby spinach, kale, parsley, etc)
- 3 Tbsp pine nuts (1 oz, 30 g; If time allows, toast them in a non-greased pan for a few minutes until light brown and let cool; substitute: walnut, cashews, almonds, etc)
- 1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese (a bit less than ⅓ cup freshly grated; ¼ cup store-shredded)
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ tsp kosher/sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (plus a little bit more for covering the pesto at the final step)
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Place the shiso leaves, pine nuts, and garlic into the bowl of a food processor.
- Pulse several times until smooth.
- Add Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
- Pulse several times more.
- Add the olive oil. Note: I never had any issue by adding the olive oil all at once. However, if you're concerned about emulsification, slowly drizzle in the olive oil with the food processor or blender still running.
- Process until smooth. Add a touch of extra oil if required to help it process.
- Stop and scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula and run again until the mixture is smooth. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, if necessary.
- Pour the pesto into a clean/sterlized jar and cover the pesto with a thin layer of olive oil on top. Close the lid.
- Store in the fridge (all times) for 5 days or in the freezer for 3 months (could be longer).
- Try my Shiso Pesto Pasta recipe!