Most diners will be familiar with Japanese shiso (Perilla frutescens var. crispa), whether on sashimi platters, as tempura or tightly rolled in a pork belly skewer at a yakitori joint. However, it’s just as delicious when added to drinks or desserts: As a member of the mint family, shiso’s bright, anise-like flavor has much in common with sister herbs such as basil and other mint varietals. It also pairs beautifully with lemon.
Inspired by a limeade recipe from Lindsay-Jean Hard’s “Cooking with Scraps,” this shiso and lemon syrup is a zero-waste way of wringing out one more use from leftover lemon rinds. Most simple syrups — a common addition to cocktails and drinks — consist of equal parts sugar and water heated together. Here, I skip the cooking and macerate shiso and lemon in sugar.
Sugar is hygroscopic, which means it’ll draw out the liquid (and flavor) from any plant material it’s in contact with. Don’t expect instant results. Maceration is a slow, hands-off process, as it takes time for water to leach out of the leaves and rinds into the sugar. But it’s worth the wait — the final syrup tastes like distilled sunshine. This technique will work with any tart or bitter citrus fruit, such as lime, shīkuwāsā or yuzu. Play around with quantities and see what you like.
This syrup is incredibly versatile. Use in any cocktail that calls for simple syrup. Add it to sparkling water along with a few shiso leaves for a zippy warm-weather drink. Mix it with lemon juice, water and ice to taste, and you’ll never buy overpriced, premade lemonade again.
Prep: 10 mins.; macerating: 6-12 hours
• Two large, non-reactive bowls (glass, ceramic or stainless steel)
• A fine-mesh metal strainer or colander
For the syrup:
• 6 medium lemons (approx. 400 grams), washed and halved
• 20 large shiso leaves, cleaned and dried
• 200 grams (1 cup) sugar
1. Juice the lemons, and reserve the liquid for another use. Remove any seeds.
2. Roughly chop the lemon rinds into large chunks and place in the bowl. Add the shiso leaves. (You can also roll the leaves together and chiffonade them before adding.)
3. Pour in the sugar, and mix with your hands or a large spoon for maximum coverage.
4. Cover and let stand at room temperature (or in the refrigerator during warmer months) for at least 6 hours and up to 12 hours. Give it the occasional stir.
5. Place the colander or strainer over another non-reactive bowl and drain the syrup. Press on the rinds and leaves with a spoon or potato masher to squeeze out any extra liquid. Discard the rinds and leaves or, better yet, compost them. The sugar should have completely dissolved in the syrup, but if it hasn’t, add a little lemon juice and stir. Try to avoid heating it, as this will mute its fresh, bright flavors.
6. Transfer the syrup to a clean glass jar or desired container, and keep refrigerated for up to a week.
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