Red shiso furikake made in a microwave

The only plants to escape the ruinous hailstorm earlier this week were the red shiso seedlings. They were protected by a hard plastic tunnel cover that even with strong winds and a barrage of golfball-sized hail, managed to stay put and nary a leaf was bent out of place. I wouldn’t have minded if half of the lot was wasted, because each year I end up with more than I know what to do with. Shiso leaf oil, in pickles (the leaves bleed a dark purple red), in salads, pesto, and even as leaf wraps for ground pork, I have done them all but it never makes a dent in the crop.

This morning I got it in my head to decrease the production so I snipped off the top half (I’m hoping they’ll die out) and gathered a small bowlful of young leaves. I’ve seen the leaves used in furikake, but not wanting to turn on the oven for hours to dry them, I used a trick that I’d seen on MasterChef Australia…I dried them in the microwave!

What you’ll need:
Fresh shiso leaves (I didn’t bother to measure mine but let’s say half of a colander’s worth)
White sesame seeds
Golden brown sugar
Bonito flakes
Sea salt

The process is simple: loosely place rinsed and dried leaves (no need to destem) on a plate large enough to fit in the microwave and nuke for 2 minutes at 1-minute intervals. After the 2 minutes, remove plate – careful, it’ll be hot! – and allow to cool until leaves are easy to handle. Feel them. If they are crisp-dry, good. If not, zap for another 30 seconds. Transfer cooked leaves to a large bowl and repeat process with remaining leaves. My microwave doesn’t have a high/med/low; I just use the preset factory setting, that is, ON and OFF.

This next part is optional but it adds some umami to the end result: microwave a half cup (loosely packed) of bonito flakes for 30 seconds until super dry. Set aside to cool.

While you’re waiting for the leaves and bonito flakes to cool, place 1/2 tablespoon of toasted white sesame seeds and 1/2 tablespoon golden brown sugar in a spice blender and pulse to a coarse texture. Tip into a small bowl and stir in 1/2 TBSP whole sesame seeds and 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes.

Make your furikake: gently crumble leaves with your fingers, removing the bits of stem as you go. I ended up with a third of a cup. Crumble bonito flakes and stir into the shiso. Add the sesame seed mixture and stir to combine. Taste for salt and add more salt flakes if needed. Store in an airtight container.

One step forward, two steps back

Two evenings ago we had the worst hailstorm that I’ve ever experienced in all my time here. Golfball sized orbs of ice pummeled the ground for a good 15 minutes, creating a roar that sounded as if a thousand hammers were going off all at once. I was in the shower at the time and remember thinking that it was extraordinarily loud for the usual teeny pellets from other storms, so you can imagine my shock when I stepped out to find the pergola in tatters.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the reality of what happened didn’t really sink in until I looked at the ground – the lawn was glistening white with hailstones! Broken leaves, branches, and pieces of plastic vases everywhere. When I moved several of them away in the flower bed to check for damage, deep pock marks were left behind.

When the storm hit, Man of the House was enroute to Como and missed the storm completely. Only once in my life have I been in a car while it hailed, but it was tiny pellets and nothing like what I gathered from the yard. I think the plum and persimmon harvest won’t amount to much this year, but that’s the extent of any serious damage. The hail netting in the garden helped tremendously to keep the vegetables safe, but suffered some tearing in the weave and needs to be replaced. And here I thought the brunt of the garden work was all done. Thank goodness for those bottles of white and rosรฉ that I ordered last month. One step forward, two steps back, and a chilled glass for all the trouble!

The plastic tunnels that I use for protecting young transplants were especially hit hard.