Perilla leaves (kkaennip) are my absolute favorite herb, but I haven’t always loved them! They have a very strong aroma/flavor, and are part of the mint family. There really isn’t anything that tastes similar so it’s difficult to describe the flavor.
I HATED kkaennip when I was a kid. The flavor is so strong and unfamiliar- I have to admit that this isn’t going to be for everyone. I’m going to be annoying and say that you definitely need a ‘sophisticated palate’ for this dish!
It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I started to appreciate the unique, delicious flavor of perilla leaves. Probably a combination of a bunch of things- my taste buds changed or matured, I became more open-minded to food, and I so badly wanted to love something that my mom loves.
Like I said, this isn’t going to be for everyone but I think you should try it at least once! You’re either going to love it or hate it. There usually aren’t many people in between, like my husband who doesn’t hate it but would probably never reach for it.
Perilla leaves- there is no substitute for this. You can try to see if your local Asian market has it but in my experience, only the Korean markets carry them.
Onion- yellow or white, very thinly sliced.
Green onion- chopped thinly
Serrano pepper- this is optional but highly recommended! Even if you can’t do extra spicy, the serrano adds great flavor so if don’t want it too spicy but want to get the best flavor out of this, remove the seeds and veins.
Gochugaru- Korean red pepper flakes, this has no substitute so if you use something else, it won’t taste the same.
Fish sauce- Three Crabs fish sauce or vegan fish sauce.
Soy sauce- any kind of regular soy sauce will do. For things that are not going to be cooked, I usually use ‘yangjo’ soy sauce since it is naturally brewed and has a more pure flavor.
Plum syrup- you can find this at any Korean supermarket. If there isn’t one near you, you can use whatever sweetener you prefer. As a last resort you can also purchase it from Amazon here.
Garlic- do not add more than the recipe calls for!
Toasted sesame seeds- crushed into a fine powder. It’s also called “roasted” sesame seeds.
What are perilla leaves & how to eat them
I often hear people comparing perilla to Japanese shiso leaf, but they are NOT the same. To me, shiso leaves are a bit more ‘grassy’ in taste, not as strong in flavor, and has more bitter notes. Sometimes perilla is described as a cross between basil and mint, which I think is the most accurate description but still not that close. It’s a very unique flavor, and its SO good!
Kkaennip kimchi is often referred to as the “rice thief” because you can easily eat a lot of rice as it compliments saucy, umami dishes like this. Gejang (yangnyeom & ganjang) is another example of rice thief, which is called “bapdoduk” in Korean. You can treat this as a regular banchan (side dish) for your dinner spread, but I frequently eat it just with a bowl of steamed rice.
Another one of my favorite ways to have perilla leaves is for Korean bbq! I always have kbbq the lettuce-wrap way (ssam). The perfect kbbq bite for me is lettuce, perilla leaf, radish paper, meat, ssamjang, jalapeno, and raw garlic. This is a FLAVOR BOMB trust me you need to try it!
You can also chiffonade the perilla to use as garnish for pretty much anything, or add to dishes like Soondae Bokkeum and Tteokbokki.
Deep fry it to make Twigim (Korean version of tempura).
I haven’t made a recipe for this yet, but perilla is also great for making jeon! I will add this to my website soon- it’s perilla leaves stuffed with a thin layer of beef or pork, then dipped in egg and fried until golden.
Another recipe I plan to add soon is Gamjatang, which is pork neck bone soup. This uses both perilla seed powder and perilla leaves, and it’s one of my favorite soups!
How to store
You can eat the perilla kimchi right away, bit it tastes better after a day or two in the refrigerator.
Store it in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. The leaves will wilt over time and thats perfectly ok.
Perilla Leaf Kimchi
- 50 perilla leaves
- 2 oz onion thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 green onion chopped
- 1 serrano pepper optional
- 2 tbsp gochugaru Korean red pepper flakes
- 1.5 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp plum syrup
- 1 tbsp crushed sesame seeds toasted
- Cut off any brown ends on the perilla stems but try to keep as much length as you can to make it easier to pick up with chopsticks. Wash the perilla leaves and shake off excess water.
- Prepare the veggies: mince the garlic, thinly slice the onions, chop the green onions, and finely mince a serrano pepper if using (highly recommended, but it will be spicier).
- Grind the toasted sesame seeds into a fine powder.
- For the seasoning sauce mix together the chopped veggies, crushed sesame seeds, gochugaru, fish sauce, soy sauce, and plum syrup. The consistency should be like a thick paste.
- Spread the paste onto each perilla leaf and stack them neatly so that the stems are aligned. You don't need to put that much paste on each leaf.
- You can eat this right away but its better after a day or two in the refrigerator. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.