Well, summer is almost over.
And seeing as it’s been one of the hottest I’ve ever experienced in Tel-Aviv, I for one am happy to say, “Goodbye Summer- And don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out!!”
However- my joy is tempered with sorrow, because almost to the day, the last of summer means the end of the shiso season..
For those of you who know me, and my garden, you know that among other treasures lurking in the green oasis, such as pandan leaves, galangal, sky-pointing chilies, kaffir lime leaf trees, and lotus lilies,
there exists my most precious culinary jewel- the elusive, elite, and absolutely irreplaceable SHISO.
For many Authentic Japanese specialties, you just cannot make them unless you have fresh shiso leaves.
If you live in Japan, Asia, San Francisco, NY, or Paris (the only city in Europe I’ve ever seen them, although there may be others) getting fresh shiso won’t be a problem.
However, if you live in Tel-Aviv, you can forget all about it.
I found this out the hard way 11 years ago when I moved here, and decided to make a Japanese dinner.
Fat and happy, I waltzed to the market, thinking I would surely be able to get shiso leaves- Only to be met with blank stares of incomprehension, and later when I asked horticulturists and suppliers, that it is impossible to grow them here because of the climate.
Well, I didn’t accept that, no way.
I ordered seeds from Japan, and spent the next 4 years trying to grow them:
I froze the seeds for 3 months to simulate the harsh Japanese winters.
I warmed the soil on coffee-cup warmers.
I tried planting the seeds in every month of the year.
Using different soil mixtures.
In short, I drove Alon insane with my experiments. Nothing worked.
Finally, in defeat, I threw years worth of pots and their contents into a big pile of soil I planned on mixing with compost, and resolved to forget my hopeless dream.
Imagine my surprise in the Spring when dozens of little shiso seedlings popped up in the compost heap.
Since then, they grow by themselves every year, reseeding themselves.
They grow to towering size, and the first growth leaves are comically gigantic, like lettuce leaves.
I’ve used these giant first growth leaves like sheets of Nori to wrap maki rolls, spring rolls, and other things…
And people from all over the country gradually heard about my shiso and
come grovelling and begging me to share them.
Now usually, I share anything, either ingredients, or knowledge, with anyone who asks.
But my shiso is different.
I worked for years to grow it, and I am not going to fork it over to some
nick-nack coffee-house cowboys to shove in the frig for 3 days and then put inside some atrocious bastardization of a Japanese dish that I wouldn’t feed to my cats!! No way!!
To this day, the only chef I have ever shared my precious shiso with, is the mighty chef Oren Goldwasser, a true expert in Japanese cuisine, who once had the only truly authentic Japanese restaurant in Israel, “Tatami”, in Haifa.
Which unsurprisingly, he closed, due to no one knowing or appreciating REAL and AUTHENTIC Japanese food here.
If I had to guess, the reason he closed probably was he got sick and tired of hearing clients ask him why he didn’t have a deep-fried chicken shnitzel and cream cheese maki on the menu.
(I wish I was joking, but I’m not. The photo below ,which to make it clear, OBVIOUSLY is not mine!!! is what I found when I googled
“cream cheese maki”. WTF.)
In any case- Oren, much to my sadness at his not still having his Japanese place, now has a great fresh pasta place, “Fiori”, down in the Shuk ha’Namal, and needless to say, he doesn’t have any use for shiso leaves there.
Nonetheless, if he ever has a personal special dinner and asks for them, I make sure he gets them!
As for anyone else: Dream On!!
Here, by the way, is a link to a photo album of my yearly Shiso Kaiseki Dinner, photos by my friend, the talented clarinet musician Michal Beit Halachmi :
Now without further ado, let me share with you (let’s face it, this recipe will only be able to be used by those of you who don’t live in Israel.
Unless someone here other than Oren impresses me enough to share, but oh well. Life isn’t always fair!!)
FRESH SHRIMP in TEMPURA SHISO:
12 extra large, live or almost live, whole fresh shrimp.
Peeled, heads cut off, keep the very last segment of the tail shell on, clean the sand vein by cutting through the back with a tournee (oh and believe me: fresh live shrimp have a lot of crap in them an it’s pretty gnarly job cleaning them. Make sure to rinse them well after cleaning the guts.)
Under no circumstances use frozen shrimp for this dish!!!!!
I ONLY buy fish and seafood from Moshe (Musi) Penster, who in addition to having THE BEST fish shop in town, ( 03-510-1863) is also like a brother to me and is one of the most hilarious guys you’ll ever meet, and a crazy perfectionist, too!!!
Here’s a photo of him, plus me and Alon, at his shop one night when we had “Sushi Night” in the market!
12 fresh shiso leaves
Tempura flour, 1 cup
Shichimi (togaroshi) japanese chili powder
Ice cold water
For ponzu dipping sauce:
Soy sauce, 1/4 cup
Yuzu juice, 4 TB
Mirin, 6 Tb
Lemon juice, juice from 1/2 fresh lemon
Mix all Ponzu sauce ingredients. Set aside.
Wrap each fresh shrimp in a shiso leaf as shown in photo. Secure with a toothpick.
In 2 bowls, split the tempura flour in equal parts.
Mix about 2/3 cup ice water with the flour in one of the bowls.
Make sure not to overmix, in fact, it should be lumpy, and look terrible and as if it isn’t mixed right.
It should be very thin, NOT a thick “pancake” batter, like most people here seem to think Tempura batter is suppposed to look like.
Heat a heavy bottomed pot filled halfway up with canola oil. Heat up gradually, on med-low heat, not quickly heating it on high heat. Test by adding a drop of the batter. It should sizzle
and float immediately.
Dredge the wrapped shrimp in the other bowl containing the reserved dry tempura flour, knock off excess by banging on your hand holding the shrimp, with your other hand (don’t touch the shrimp itself)
Dip the shrimp, in batches of 4, in the tempura batter, amd shake off excess. It should look very light and you should see the shrimp and leaves colours very clearly, if the batter looks like it is covering it too thickly, add more water.
Fry in batches of 4, turning once, for about 1 minute total, until just barely cooked and the leaf is crispy.