Shiso Pesto Pasta with Uni

Green Shiso Pesto Pasta

When I was little, my grandparents had huge bushes of shiso in the back yard of their home in Kadogawa, Japan. Every morning, I would be dispatched to pick some leaves for breakfast. I still remember stepping outside, and marveling at the giant dew covered spiderwebs that had magically appeared overnight.

These were no ordinary cobwebs, we’re talking massive Harry-Potter-sized webs strung between meticulously manicured oversized bonsai trees. The smell of the damp moss-covered earth underfoot mingling with the fresh aroma of the shiso was intoxicating and I remember delighting in the spray of cool water that rolled off each leaf as I plucked it free. For a kid, it was a magical world unlike anything back in suburban California, and for weeks upon returning home, I’d pine for the tastes, smells, and scenery of Japan.

Green Shiso (perilla)

Shiso is one of those ingredients that’s rare enough in the US that most groceries that carry it will put five leaves in a pack and charge you a buck fifty. That relegates it to garnish duty most of the time, which is sad, because it has such a wonderful flavor.

Imagine my delight when I found two vendors at the Union Square Farmers Market selling whole bunches of shiso, complete with flowering stalks, a few weeks ago. I happily counted out three dollars and change, and as I walked away with my find, it occurred to me that this was an awful lot of shiso.

Green Shiso Pesto Pasta

Pesto may seem like a cop out, but the fresh, almost minty aroma of green shiso pairs marvelously with grassy green olive oil. When you toss it with long strands of golden pasta and top it with a few pieces of sweet creamy sea urchin, it makes for a sublime pasta dish that’s like the sexy hapa offspring of a Japanese-Italian couple.

I’m all for rustic hand chopped pesto in most cases, but since green shiso can have rather course leaves, you’ll want to puree it in a blender. I was really hoping to serve this with some roasted coco nibs, but upon returning home disappointment set in as I realized I didn’t have any left. Instead, I toasted pine nuts until they were a handsome bronze, which added a wonderful nutty note, balancing out the sweet richness of the uni and the fresh green flavor of the pesto.

Shiso Pesto Pasta with Uni

2 ounces green shiso leaves (japanese perilla)
1 ounces grated pecorino romano
1 teaspoon kosher salt (halve if using regular salt)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lime juice (from 1/2 a lime)
8 ounces linguine, cooked according to package directions
small handful of pine nuts or coco nibs, toasted
1 ounce uni (optional)

Put the shiso, cheese, salt, olive oil, and lime juice, in a blender or the work-bowl of a food processor and whirl it around until it’s a fine green puree.

Boil the pasta according to the package directions in generously salted water. When the pasta is done, strain it well and toss it in a bowl adding the pesto a bit at a time until it reaches your desired level of flavor.

Plate the pasta and top with toasted pine nuts or coco nibs. You can also add some uni or ikura on top for some extra color and brine.

  • Xiaolu

    I’ve been hearing about shiso for a while but am not sure where to get it (though I live by DC so it’s gotta be around here somewhere). Anyway, this looks like the perfect upfront introduction to what sounds like a lovely herb.

  • Vivienne Chen

    I had shiso sorbet as a palate cleanser recently in japan…haha i didn’t know what it was at first and thought the waiter said ‘sea-salt sorbet’ hehe. love the flavour of it tho! the pasta looks great!

  • Anonymous

    here’s a head scratcher for you…..I have weeds growing all over my property (in Nassau Country) with green and purple versions of something that looks a lot like shiso. But this isn’t japan, so how could that be? I was just curious if you know anything about it growing here

    • Anonymous

      It’s probably in the same family though I couldn’t say for sure without
      seeing it. Vietnamese Perilla is green on the topside of the leaf and purple
      on the bottom side. The flavor is more similar to Japanese Red Perilla than
      the green kind, but it still tastes great. As with anything you’re
      unfamiliar with, make sure you have someone check it out before you try to
      eat it. As for how it got there, there are lots of Asian plants that have
      taken hold in the US due to immigrants, or public works projects (in the
      case of Kudzu).

      • Anonymous

        Thanks! I have a few Asian neighbors, maybe they were growing it? I have already tried it and I like the flavor (and Im not dead) so I will continue to enjoy it and not worry about labeling it.

  • Kalynskitchen

    I discovered Shiso in San Francisco and had good intentions of finding the seeds or plants so I could have it growing in my herb garden this year, That didn’t happen, but I’m still on the lookout for it. I’m adding another herb bed so I can have more varieties and I’m saving a spot for this and for Vietnamese Coriander (which I think is sometimes called rau ram?)

    Sounds like it would be lovely as a pesto with Asian noodles.

    • Anonymous

      If you’re in SF again, there’s a hardware store in Japantown that carries
      seeds for both red and green shiso.

  • Sasa

    I have a bit of a sob story about shiso – my dad grows heaps of it and I got a friend to send me some seeds…suffice to say Austria must be a bit too cold for them to take because 4 months later, my shiso levaes (all 3 of them) are still about 5 cm tall and yellowy T_T

  • Lisa

    Anything with shiso in it has my vote! Another stunning dish that has me hungry for more…

  • Gtrine

    Ah this looks FANTASTIC!! I absolutely adore shiso and uni together. I will definitely be making this. Thanks!!!!

  • Debrasamuels

    Hi Marc!
    It’s Deb Samuels – It was great to meet you at the Korean Buddhist dinner in Manhattan.
    I have that shiso bush in my yard. I even thinking of having a page devoted to shiso in my book!
    And I make a shiso pesto with soba. My shiso bush is so happy where it is. I have hundreds and hundreds of leaves and now the shiso no mi, which I salt for the winter.
    Yours in shiso,

  • tamara

    This sounds like a very good match. I’m trying to grow shiso, but obviously I haven’t a green thumb or it simply doesn’t like the climate. Pity, really. – You have an inspiring blog by the way!

  • tasteofbeirut

    have never had this herb but it sounds wonderful and especially in a pesto sauce; was admiring your photo too, wishing I could be having some of your pasta for dinner tonight!

  • kero

    The spiderwebs your talking about… were the spiders ginormous? I remember seeing huge and colorful spiders with giant webs while spending my summers in Okinawa. My brother and I tried to look for some the last time we were back a couple years back, but didn’t see any even though we used to see them everywhere as kids. Ah, nostalgia.

    • Anonymous

      Yep, they’re called “wood spiders” I think. They’re huge and have a yellow
      zigzag pattern on their stomachs with some red as well.

  • Anonymous

    I fell in love with shiso last year and was as excited as you when I was able to buy a plant at our farmer’s market. It grew much better for me than my basil so I think next year is going to be the year of the shiso at our house. Thanks for the pesto idea.

  • Foodshethought

    I have always loved shiso in small amount but never considered as a main flavor. Recently I made tempura shiso wrapped uni from the Nobu cookbook and it totally altered the way I consider shiso. I am definitely going to be making this. Uni and shiso are beautiful companions.

  • Claudia

    A wonderful and unique dish. It would go over big in Hawaii, with the shiso and uni.

  • jen cheung

    Congrats Congrats going onto challenge #4!!! Must be exciting for you! Good luck and all the best. Happy Thanksgiving to you! You’ll be getting the next vote from me :) Your awesome!

    Have a happy thanksgiving!
    jen @

  • Lownbrow

    So unique though I must admit, while I like the components, this combination sounds absolutely dreadful.

  • Ms Gyspy

    I love the idea of this. But I have red shiso in my backyard. What is the difference between red and green shiso?

    • Anonymous

      They’re in the same family, but flavor is quite different, kind of like the
      difference between peppermint and spearmint. Red shiso is much more floral
      in flavor. It should still work as a pesto, but I’m not sure how well it
      will pair with the rest of the ingredients in this recipe.

  • Kathryn

    Yum! I eat pasta for practically every meal :) My favorite fall pasta dish, though, is this pumpkin and goat cheese lasagna! I made it once and I’ve been hooked ever since!

  • Muneeba

    I’m biting my hand! ‘coz I want to DIVE into that plate so badly! I’ve not been lucky enuf to have either shiso or uni, but i’m DYING to try some. Gorgeous plate.

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  • injection mold

    That is a gorgeous dish! Lovely flavors. Great post!

  • Sue Sebastian

    I had Shiso in a dish for the first time last evening and it is wonderful. Does anyone know where in SF I can find it fresh?

    • Anonymous

      There are a couple grocery stores in Japantown that carry it. I think one of
      them is called Nijiya to the far west side of J-town.

    • Brian S

      Just bought some fresh shiso today in the Mission at Duc Loi at 18th/Mission.

  • Yuki


    I love the recipe and the photos are beautiful! I run Japanese cooking Lessons in London, please have a look and do come to one if you are ever in London. There is a Shiso recipe on my blog too!


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  • Colette .

    Shiso pesto, that’s brilliant!

  • Erika Penzer Kerekes

    I planted shiso this year on a whim and it’s taking over. Looking forward to trying this recipe as soon as I get a chance to give the plant a haircut.

  • Elise

    Where do you get your uni?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      If you’re in NYC they carry it at Sunrisemart, or you can head across the river to Mitsuwa.

  • épicurieuse

    Thanks so much for the idea, Marc! I tried the recipe and loved it…. with uni and another kind of seafood called “couteaux” in french. I posted it on my blog : with a link to yours. Thanks again!

  • Marc Matsumoto

    Looks good, love razor clams!

  • JME

    I love this… Humbly herby yet so rich with yummy uni :)

  • JK

    Hi, this sounds great, as I have a bit of overabundance of shiso in my garden – I have a question: you said as a kid, you were dispatched to pick shiso leaves in the morning by your parents – what did you parents do with shiso for breakfast? I’m all ears so I hope I get your response! Thanks so much for a wonderful post!


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