Add Shiso to Summer Salads for a Refreshing Change of Pace

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Shiso is an herb that adds a great, unexpected flavor to salads. Vicky Wasik

My earliest experiences with shiso were pretty much limited to an oversize leaf garnishing a plate of sushi. It just never occurred to me to eat it. It wasn't until years later that I encountered the herb in all its minty, peppery, grassy glory, standing in for mint in a delicious Japanese twist on the classic mojito.

I'm a fanatic for herb salads, so since that mojito, I've kept a window box of shiso growing right next to the mint, basil, thyme, and rosemary. Like those other herbs (not to mention sage, oregano, and lavender), shiso is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae (yup, that's right, nearly every herb you're likely to use is technically a variety of mint). Its flavor is restrained and clean, akin to basil and mint, with a faintly bitter character that makes it a great counterpart to sweeter food and drink.

In fact, it's shiso's bitter, cooling qualities that made me beeline for it at a recent trip to the farmers market, where I was picking up a hodgepodge of fresh ingredients to throw into an easy lunch. I have a pretty consistent summer salad repertoire: raw crunchy-sweet corn, sliced right off the cob; spicy radishes; juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, and tangy feta cheese. With both corn and tomatoes at their peak, I was looking for something with a little oomph to counteract that sweetness; when a big bunch of shiso caught my eye it was a no-brainer.

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The best part about this recipe is that it's practically not a recipe at all: you could easily swap one or all of the ingredients or change up their proportions and have an equally successful meal. But throw on some shiso and the predictability of your go-to salad heads right out the window (in the best possible way). Here, I've added basil for a little extra nuance, but you could easily use shiso on its own or mix it with anything from arugula to parsley or thyme for different results. Follow your gut—you may just be surprised where it takes you.