In the summer of 2008, my mom and I went to the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, where she produced the programming for the demo booth at the Korean Pavilion. Roy Choi and his Kogi truck team flew in from LA to headline the demo and we were working with them to prepare kimchi quesadillas to sample to attendees. At the time, I was intrigued by Roy’s choice to serve a quesadilla and was worried that it might be too pedestrian to serve to the attendees of a restaurant show. I wondered, how could sandwiching cheese and kimchi between a tortilla possibly be that good?
Let me tell you, it can be really damn good, just like the rest of his food I would eventually try. Turns out that Roy’s secret “sauce” that made it a winning dish was not a sauce at all, it was the Korean perilla. While the kimchi and cheese were the dominating flavors, what made the quesadilla really gel together was the unexpected contrast between the kimchi and cheese and the perilla leaves. Suspended between the oozing cheese and piquant kimchi were thin shreds of julienned perilla leaves, which added an unexpectedly bright and clean flavor in each bite. Since those kimchi quesadillas, we now grow perilla plants in abundance on our rooftop garden.
So, what are perilla leaves? A more robust cousin to Japanese shiso in the mint family, Korean perilla (sometimes called “sesame leaves”) is used regularly in Korean cuisine and is commonly eaten either fresh (as wrap for barbecued meat) or pickled.
Fast forward 6 years to a few weeks ago, my mom was producing a demo at the Korean Pavilion, this time at the Fancy Food Show in New York and we were brainstorming what we could serve. The recipe we ended up serving was a crudités cup of bell peppers, carrots and pear with a seaweed crisp, a gochujang dipping sauce, and of course, perilla.
Korean Crudité Cups
1 Korean Shingo Pear
3 Bell Peppers (red, yellow and green)
1 bag of Seaweed Crisps
1 bunch of Korean Perilla Leaves
1/2 cup of Gochujang Sauce
1. Slice the pear, carrots and bell peppers into matchsticks
2. Serve vegetables and pear in a small cup with a dollop of gochujang and a seaweed crisp