Kkaennip, as it is called in Korean, is the minty, citrusy, herbal leaves of Perilla frutescens.
You may already be familiar with the more popular shiso, aka Perilla frutescens var crispa the Japanese variant as a garnish and as an accompaniment to sushi (while in the same family, kkaennip is a little bit different – a bit less harsh in flavor from my experience). Other cultures use the leaves and seeds of P. frutescens in their cuisine as well, including China, Laos, Vietnam, Nepal, and India.
While I enjoy perilla fresh – whether wrapped around sushi or on bowls of fresh rice noodles like bun chay – I always love the Korean way of preparing perilla – pickled in a sweet, spicy, garlicky soy sauce marinade (which, to be honest, would make anything taste great. Cardboard in a Korean marinade? Table for one please).
The best part about this is that it is super easy. You don’t even have to turn on a burner – simply mix together the sauce, then assemble. Boom.
A bit of soy sauce, minced garlic and green onion, some Korean red pepper and plenty of brown sugar. We want this to be pretty sweet to balance the flavors. Oh, brown sugar is not going to hurt you unless you’re doing keto. Just add it in.
Does it smell heavenly? Then you’re doing it right. Stick your nose down into the bowl to be sure. That’s some good stuff right there.
Grab a bowl or a storage container of some sort with a perfectly flat and level bottom. Place a perilla leaf on the bottom of the container and place about a teaspoon of marinade over it. Don’t worry about spreading it evenly over the leaf – because you will then place another leaf over that, and thanks to surface tension the marinade will instantly spread out between the two leaves.
Repeat until you’re out of leaves, then pour the remaining marinade over. Cover it, and let it sit for a couple of days. You may notice it accumulates more liquid over time as the salty marinade pulls the moisture of the perilla leaves. This is good.
After you’ve let it sit for a couple days, you now have some delicious pickled perilla leaves. Sweet, spicy, and salty from the marinade, you’ve also got the citrusy, minty, green and herbal notes from the perilla leaves themselves. A whole lot of flavors going on there.
What do you eat them with? Like kimchi and other Korean side dishes, they go well with barbequed meats and heavy soups. They’re also a delicious way to eat just plain steamed rice – you kind of pile up a bit of rice in the middle, then wrap it up like a little mini sushi roll or burrito and consume. Or, if you’re really awesome, you can do it one-handed with chopsticks (my parents did this in front of me when I was a kid, and for about ten years I was extremely frustrated at the limitations of my fine motor skills that didn’t allow for me to do this. The struggle is real)
These delicious little guys will keep for about a month in the fridge. Unless you’re like hubby and I. They’ll be gone in about three days or so.
Korean Pickled Perilla Leaves
2 dozen Korean perilla leaves (if you can’t find Korean perilla leaves, which is difficult unless you either live in Korea or grow your own, you can use shiso or Vietnamese perilla. Once you douse them in the sauce, they will taste just fine)
5 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp minced green onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp Korean red pepper
- Wash perilla leaves, either patting dry or throwing them through a salad spinner to get rid of excess moisture.
- Mix together soy sauce, brown sugar, green onion, garlic, and Korean red pepper thoroughly until you get a delicious salty-sweet marinade.
- In a flat-bottomed storage container, place one perilla leaf on the bottom. Place about 1 tsp of marinade on top of the leaf, in the approximate center.
- Place another leaf on top. Place another teaspoon of marinade on top. Repeat until you have run out of leaves or marinade.
- Pour any remaining marinade over the leaves. Cover, then let it sit for a couple of days to allow flavors to mix together and leaves to pickle fully.
- You can make it more or less spicy based on your taste. My parents bought one kind of kkaennipp that was so spicy it made me cry, scarring me so much that I developed an irrational fear of spicy kkaennipp that took me ten years to resolve.
- If you run out of marinade, mix up a little bit more. If you really have way too much marinade, you could use it on something else. Or you could go buy more perilla leaves. It’s up to you. You really can’t have too much of this dish.
- Other serving ideas include using it as an ingredient in bibimbap, wrapping around grilled fish, using as a condiment or garnish with bossam, or mixed in a seaweed salad.