Freakishly Good Japanese-Style Shiso Pesto Recipe

by | Jul 29, 2013
Shiso Pesto With Shrimp

Shiso Pesto With Shrimp

The first time I had shiso I was at a sushi bar in San Francisco. At the time it was the best sushi I’d ever had, but it wasn’t just about the fish. Every now and then a new flavor, one I had never tasted before, would fill my mouth with happiness. It was a fresh flavor, almost like mint, but richer, more earthy and, at the same time, ethereal.

I asked the chef what I was tasting and he explained it was a Japanese herb called shiso (also called green perilla). Ever since that day I had been on a mission to find a place to buy it so I could use it at home. Occasionally I’d find shiso at a Japanese market, but always in small quantities and often at steep prices. Not an ideal situation for a shiso fiend.

I’d always wanted to have a more regular supply of shiso, and this year I finally had the opportunity when I started my first garden. To my delight our shiso plant thrived. Or more accurately: exploded.

Shiso Leaves

Shiso Leaves

For the last few weeks I’ve had shiso coming out my ears and have been using it in salads, stir fries and everything else I could think of. It’s been awesome, but I still had barely dented the towering shiso bush that was taking over my garden. I needed to figure out a way to use a huge bunch of it so it wouldn’t go bad. And fast.

Inspiration struck when I was at another of my favorite sushi restaurants last week and we ordered a dish of soba noodles with shiso pesto. It was quite good, though it tasted more Italiany than I would have preferred. Pesto is a fantastic way to preserve fresh herbs, however, so I decided to try my own version that would retain a more traditional Japanese flavor.

I had to toy with the recipe a bit, since I couldn’t find a version online that didn’t rely on either cheese, pine nuts, or both, flavors that I feel lend an Italian essence to pesto that I was trying to avoid. Instead I opted for pistachios and miso paste to give the appropriate texture and umami (meaty-savory) flavor. I also started making it with olive oil, but switched to rice bran oil part way through for a more nutty, mild flavor. I have to admit, it turned out pretty awesome.

I tossed my pesto with some Japanese noodles and served it with some shrimp cooked in ponzu sauce, and topped with a sprinkle of bonito flakes. It was light and delicious, but also very filling.

I realize not everyone has access to these quantities of shiso (this recipe could easily be halved and still make plenty), but I wasn’t able to find anything similar online so figured it was worth sharing. If this is the first time you’ve ever heard of shiso, ask around for it at farmers markets and local produce markets this summer. It’s definitely worth a try.

Shiso Pesto

Shiso Pesto


Japanese-Style Shiso Pesto

makes 15-20 servings

  • 4 c. tightly packed shiso leaves
  • 1/2 c. raw pistachio nuts
  • 2 tbsp miso paste (any type)
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 lemon (juiced)
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. rice bran oil

In a food processor add the nuts, shiso, miso paste, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Pulse until evenly ground.

Turn the food processor to “on” and let it puree while slowly adding the rice bran oil until smooth. The consistency should be between a sauce and a paste. Miso should make the pesto plenty salty, but you can adjust the salt and acidity (lemon) to your liking if necessary.

If you made far more than you can use in a few days (as I did), you can add the remaining pesto to ice cube trays, drizzle a touch of oil on each, cover with plastic wrap and freeze to preserve individual servings. Enjoy for months!

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54 Responses to “Freakishly Good Japanese-Style Shiso Pesto Recipe”

  1. Emily says:

    This looks very interesting! I have never had shiso (that I know of) but now I’m going to look for some at the farmer’s market or our co-op. Thanks!

    • James says:

      If you’d had it you’d know. It adds great body to pork and chicken. Japanese yakitori and yakiniku booths in Japan use it as a wrapped in other preparations and it’s to die for. I can’t wait to try this pesto on soba.

  2. Brian says:

    I love shiso too & will be looking for some so I can try this recipe. I’m jealous that your plant grew so well; I tried growing shiso from seeds this year and not one of them sprouted. Any gardening tips you can share with us?

    • Darya Rose says:

      Full disclosure: I have a master gardner helping me with the garden. Whatever the opposite of a green thumb is (brown thumb?), I’m that. I know she sprouted these at her own place then planted the sprouts here.

      • Brian says:

        Thanks Darya. Maybe some of your readers have better luck than me and will share advice. I have a brown thumb also but will keep trying on the shiso.

    • Henry says:

      Just out of curiosity…did you freeze the seeds before planting. I used some good top soil to amend my garden and its growing great.

      • Brian says:

        I bought my seeds from a reputable online source. Of all the seeds I bought from them, only the Shiso failed to sprout. I also noticed they’ve stopped selling Shiso now… maybe I’ll try another source next year.

    • Sara says:

      Hi Brian,
      I just found this website looking for a way to use my abundant harvest of shiso- it was my first time growing it. I had ordered seeds from a local company, and did everything I could think of to get them to sprout, and nothing ever happened. So I ordered new seeds in a couple different varieties from Kitazawa seeds, and they really took off! I have basically no gardening experience, so I don’t think they are hard to grow- you probably just had bad seeds.

      • Brian says:

        Sara thank you so much for the source of your Shiso seeds. I will give them a try for next year’s garden!

      • Kathy Chiavola says:

        Hi Sara,
        Did you ever get your shiso to sprout? I transplanted plants from a friend’s garden and they have gone crazy! i’d be happy to send you a plant or two if you’ll pay shipping. It’s worth a try. I live in Nashville, TN
        Kathy C

      • Elisa says:

        After trying multiple different brands of seeds, I now swear by Kitazawa seeds for my shiso as well as all of my other Japanese vegetables. I tried freezing, soaking, sprout boxes, and every type of method for the other brands and very little came up, but with the Kitazawa seeds, I can broadcast spread them and they come up so easily.

        I have a ridiculous number of plants right now and I was on the hunt for a way to use them all up and this pesto recipe looks perfect!

    • Rachel says:

      I didn’t have much luck with seeds, but I found a plant at a Japanese nursery and that small plant has self-seeded every year, not matter what I do!

    • Megan McKinley says:

      Try sprouting the seeds before planting them. Take two paper towels and slightly moisten them, you want them completely wet but by no means dripping water. Place the seeds between the two paper towels and place the paper towels between two plates to make kind of a dome. Place in a warm place, like on top of the refrigerator. Once your seeds have sprouted, gently move them to pots. Good luck!

    • Alaskagal says:

      Refrigerate seeds for a week before planting. Cover to retain heat/moisture.

  3. Kristen says:


    I have an herb garden going, and would love to try adding a shiso plant (and then make this recipe)—do you happen to know anywhere in San Francisco that sells them as starts or seeds?



    • Shane Thompson says:

      Hi Kristen,

      SF is a great place to find shiso. I had someone give me some ao-shiso plants. They reseeded and now I have hundreds coming up.
      I know Nijiya market has a seed rack by the registers. Also the hardware store in Japan town sells seeds too. The cool thing about shiso is how easily it reseeds though. I collected a lot of seeds and gave them to people. I sprinkled the rest and voila. They did take several months to come up though. I had to kind of forget they were there and one day I went to weed the pots (I thought they were clovers/oxalis).

      if you can’t find any seeds I can mail you a few 🙂

    • Elisa says:

      Kitazawa seed company is local (Oakland) and their packets are sold all over the Bay Area. See above for my comments about them 🙂

  4. Dee says:

    It’s always good to keep your herbs plants – thyme, chives, mint, rosemary, basil and citrus in your garden…. Looks delicious!

  5. Bob says:

    Good recipe! My Japanese-American wife agrees. We too have shiso taking over our garden (in St Louis), even crowding out the basil. I used pine nuts but otherwise did as you did. Thanks!

  6. Mark says:

    This is exactly what i am looking for, I have so much shiso I don’t know what to do with it and I thought the other day why not make a pesto and here it is for me to try, watch this space i’ll let you know….

    • Mark says:

      Okay so I’ve made the pesto and it’s great, I cannot wait for my Japanese friend to come home and try it on him, i think with prawns or scallops with pasta this is a winner.
      Thanks Darya this is very good

  7. Isobel says:

    I am growing Perilla this year, and I know it leads to masses of shiso leaves so, thank you for an inspired idea! Can’t wait till my plant is mature enough to start harvesting.

  8. Rachel says:

    I think this would be GREAT with sesame oil and ground seeds for the nutty part. Maybe tahini for texture.

  9. Susie D says:

    We got our Shiso seeds from Japan…my daughter-in-law’s mom brought them to us (I know it is not permitted, but she smuggled in a tiny baggie of them in her purse) when she came for our kids’ wedding. We planted them in a sunny spot, and the soil is really not very good. They seem to love it there, though, and have reseeded every year since 2009.

  10. Dale M. Musilli says:

    Shiso/Perilla is one of the easiest to grow herbs. It generously reseeds and germinated fine after our harsh 2013-14 Midwest winter. Anyone who tires growing this will be amply rewarded. The red variety is a colorful addition to any garden.

  11. Anne says:

    For those of you having trouble getting the seeds to sprout, I read online somewhere that it helps to soak them for 24 hours before sowing. I tried this and my seeds sprouted in about a week. Keep the soil moist. I now have two pots with wildly growing, beautiful plants.

  12. Oji says:

    Shiso is the star of my 2015 garden. On island off the coast of Maine, lots of fog, cool temps, used Johnny’s seeds. Thanks for the great idea, no lemon juice but Ume (pickled plum) adds tartness & Ume is yum. Pecans worked well.

  13. foodislove says:

    Anybody tried this recipe with purple shiso (perilla)? We are overrun.

  14. TimB says:

    I’ve made this twice, it is fantastic. Substituded Kadoya sesame oil for the rice bran oil. Used two kinds of shiso: Ao shiso and Korean perilla, for a different flavor.

    For a real treat, make a shiso pesto pizza with halved sweet cherry tomatoes such as sungold and a mild cheese like havarti.

  15. Will Baxter says:

    When germinating, it helps to plant the seeds very shallow and have a strong light on them, or put them in the sun. They need light to sprout. The seeds are tiny, and a bag of seeds may have hundreds. You may only need a few to sprout because if you give them enough room they will grow bushy. There are 3 kinds: Korean which grows taller and the texture feels more fuzzy, Japanese which grows great floppy bunches of leaves, and Philippine which grow shorter but make a consistent size of leaf that is flat with even serrations on the edge which is what they use on sushi platters.

    • Erin Sellers says:

      I read somewhere that the trick to getting shiso to sprout is to soak the seeds overnight in the fridge. So we I ordered my first pack of seeds that’s what I did and the sprouted right away and now every year I harvest the seeds and do the same thing and I have a huge amount of shiso each year.

  16. Maria Green says:

    A co-worker gave me his extra Japanese and Korean shiso plants in July and I potted them to see what would happen. They practically exploded into bushes! I found this recipe for pesto and made it twice, once for each variety. I am officially in love with shiso!! I could not find rice bran oil so I substituted canola. I used rice vermicelli one night and regular linguine the next. It’s great on both. I sautéed Vidalia onion and summer squash and threw that in. So versatile! Basil pesto is very different and much more aromatic, but the shiso pesto is a delightful surprise! I am going to freeze the leftovers to use later on grilled scallops and grilled veggies. Thank you for sharing this marvelous and simple to make recipe!

  17. André says:

    I just made the recipe with just a little lemon and used pumpkin seeds instead of pistashio and its delicious

  18. A_Boleyn says:

    A friend sent me some seeds in the late fall and they germinated into beautiful plants. I tried to overwinter a couple in a pot set in a sunny location in a spare room, but the leaves started to drop off one by one and I ended up with a single bare stick with some dried flowers on it.

    Frustrated, I left the pot in the room that I rarely go into, and in the spring I found that one lone seed had dropped off the flower stalk and self germinated even though I had never returned to water the pot. I sprinkled the rest of the seeds in the same pot and watered generously. I ended up with over 20 seedlings which had to be transplanted and I did so though I only had 4 pots of different sizes. They grew into leggy plants with HUGE leaves. I know that they should each have had their own pots but I didn’t have a lot of hopes for them all surviving.

    So I made pesto.

    Thank you for your inspiring recipe idea.

  19. David Alleman says:

    Have you tried the red form of shiso? Does it make a difference which one uses? I found shiso as a “weed” in my compost. It reseeds readily if western Virginia (zone 6)

  20. Terri says:

    Shiso starts are becoming more available in nurseries . This year, mine became almost tree-like in a container. Then your dilemma becomes ” who can I give this to?” One year I took some to my favorite bartender who turned it into creative cocktails! It keeps very well picked – – wrapped in paper towels in plastic wrap in the fridge.
    I love this recipe with the pistachios – – would not have thought of that. This really doesn’t need any tweaking, in my opinion. Pasta it is then! Your photo shows with shrimp, but I bet it would be fabulous with chicken, fish, pork!

  21. Rita Carroll says:

    Great Recipe!!! I have 3 very large plants.

  22. Sharon Sakai says:

    The shiso pesto recipe is awesome! I fell in love with the flavor of shiso during a trip to Japan, and the plant in my garden (purchased at a local Japanese market) went crazy, so I was looking for a recipe to use a bunch of it. This was delicious, served with the shrimp with ponzu and fresh bonita flakes as you recommended.

  23. Amanda says:

    I made it with toasted pumpkin seeds, sesame oil instead if rice bran oil, red miso paste and half the amount of shisho, and it’s great. Served on rice sticks with tofu and veggies.

  24. Cheryl M. says:

    Omg – I was looking for a good shiso pesto recipe to use my abundant crop in, and this is it! So delicious! I used a blender, which gave it an aioli-like consistency, and I also added a tablespoon of yuzui-based hot sauce (from Trader Joe’s). Amazing!

  25. Cheryl M. says:

    Omg – I was looking for a good shiso pesto recipe to use my abundant crop in, and this is it! So delicious! I used a blender, which gave it an aioli-like consistency, and I also added a tablespoon of yuzui-based hot sauce (from Trader Joe’s). Amazing!

  26. Cheryl M. says:

    *yuzu (not yuzui)

  27. Cheryl M. says:

    *yuzu (not yuzui)

  28. Dave says:

    About 10 years ago I grew some from seed (both red and green) and it took off. I let it go to seed and ever since it volunteers all over my yard from my garden to mulch pile. As time passed I began to find wild patches next to trails I regularly hike in the St. Louis area. So I started pulling it in my yard. Every year I’ll still find several plants someplace in my yard so there’s never a shortage for kitchen use. The plant is not bad looking either.

  29. Huyen says:

    I saw your recipe and really want to try it. Is there anything I can use as substitution for the 1/4c. Of rice bran oil? I have ALOT of Shiso (thanks to my 2yr old daughter wanting to “help” with gardening/planting) and would like to make pesto with them. Mine are both green and red. Can I mix both green and red in the recipe?

  30. Sharon says:

    I bought an entire LITER of rice bran oil just to make this recipe, and after trying it tonight, I’m so glad I did! What was once my tiny shiso plant has transformed into a massive shiso bush over the last few months, and I’ve quickly been running out of ideas for how to use it all. Luckily I came across this recipe, and I today harvested enough shiso to double it. Vac-sealed and froze half of it, and had some for dinner tonight over soba noodles and Asian style pork meatballs. The shiso pesto was phenomenal in that context, and I’m confident it’d be great with other types of dishes too. We’re going to try it on fish next. THANK YOU for the inspiration and for putting our backyard shiso bounty to work in such a wonderful, creative way!

  31. Sam says:

    This recipe is absolutely fantastic! I am growing shiso for the first time this year and have WAY more than I expected, so using a lot of it for pesto seemed like a great idea. (I’m going to have to make more soon, or the shiso plants will take over the whole bed.) I have used it so far to coat fish for baking, and for soba noodles (with a few extra ground pistachios). I agree cheese and pine nuts just don’t seem right for shiso. I have basil for that. This recipe is genius! Thanks!

  32. Asanthi says:

    Ok I am so happy to have stumbled on this recipe! Miso is such a good idea to replace the Parmesan but still retain that umami flavor. I have overflowing shiso too – can’t wait to try this out!

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