Elwood 5566

Monday Market: Sesame Leaf (갰잎) Perilla Frutescens

Posted in plants and trees, Quintesentially Korean, seasons, vegetables by 노강호 on May 18, 2010

A field of sesame. (갰잎) Perilla Frutescens. (Ch'eonan) September.

I used to pass a field of sesame everyday on my way to school in Ch’eonan (천안). In the late summer, you could always smell the scent in the air especially in the muggy weather or when it was raining. The scent of sesame is quintessentially Korean. I feel in love with sesame leaves the first time I ate them though I often hear wayguks (meant endearingly), say they don’t like them. Being a fat twat, I eat most things. Indeed, after my first visit to Korea I grew sesame in my garden for a couple of years. Yes, they have a distinct taste and smell both more pronounced than the other types of leaves used to ‘parcel’ the components of a Korean barbecue. In addition, their texture, slightly furry and definitely more ‘leafy’ than lettuce,  distinguishes them.

Sesame leaves with boiled pork. (보쌈)

Sesame, in all its forms, as a vegetable, kimchi, as seeds, oil and powder are an essential part of Korean cooking. The leaves are available throughout the year in portions reflecting the weather of that particular growing year. Late summer is when they are most abundant and at their largest in size, approximately the span of a large, adult hand.

Washed leaves of sesame

The leaves can also be made into a kimchi and pickled though I find the process laborious. In supermarkets they are often sold washed in bags, or more traditionally, as in the street markets, in small bundles, folded in half and bound with a piece of twine. While not particularly tasty on their own, they are excellent when used as a wrap – provided of course, you like them in the first place. My favourite parcel – meat of some kind, a little boiled rice, raw garlic and cabbage kimchi or bean paste – delicious!

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