In Japan, caviar is not a rare food reserved only for special occasions. They appear in meals – from simple salads, rice dishes to sushi.
As a little girl, my favorite foods always revolved around caviar (plump orangy-red salmon roe, little tight flying fish roe, crunchy yellow herring roe, powdery pollock roe), and I remember special wintery evenings when we ate the seasonal kazunoko caviar (herring roe) which are only available in the cold months of December to February, sitting around a warm table with me insisting on getting the last piece. My mother told me that I barely knew how to speak, but at merely 2 years old, I insisted on eating all of the kazunoko placed carefully on a serving dish. I also remember the special scent of shiso leaves from y childhood years – Japanese basil. Its minty citrous perfume always bring me back to my grandmother’s garden, where dark and purple bushes would sprout skywards between her carefully tended flowers.
So for me, caviar and shiso combined make for a very nostalgic dish. It reminds me of Japan, of evenings with my gentle grandparents, surrounded by cousins, aunts and uncles, me and my brother being the youngest member of the family with joy permeating every corner of the house.
And later, as an adult, when I learned just how powerful caviar and shiso leaves (perilla leaves in the U.S. – the highest vegetarian source of DHA) were as super-brainfoods, both with mega-levels of DHA Omega 3 fatty acids and Vitamin B12, I had even more of a reason to provide my son with these foods.
But in Japan, I rarely ate caviar with shiso, and until recently, I never really combined them – until I discovered baby shiso leaves. These are sold like sprouted beans in little containers in the refrigerated section of the Asian grocers or organic food stores. Unlike the mature shiso leaves, these baby leaves are milder and subtle, so you can combine it with everything. I use it in rice, soups, sandwiches, and like in this recipe, in dips.
Dips are a great finger food. Although my son has never been an enthusiastic dipper, he is coming around. Dips are versatile, and you can integrate so many different kinds of flavors and textures, combining them with vegetables, protein or carbs. And if you make it as a project with your child, you can have a great time mixing together the ingredients, making test samples, doing bling taste tests and trying out fund combinations.
This recipe is a simple white cheese dip mixed with dried onion, chives, black caviar and topped with baby shiso leaves. It makes a great snack, as well as an elegant amouse-bouche for cocktail hour, served with little sesame puff sticks like we made here. For the sticks, we used pre-made puff pasty, drizzled eggs, sesame and sea salt. A perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon, making dips and baking together.
Black Caviar Dip with Baby Shiso Leaves
2 cups fromage blanc or sour cream
1/2 cup philadelphia cream cheese
1 teaspoon dried onions
1 teaspoon dried chives
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons (or more) or black caviar (I used lumpfish caviar, which is the easiest to find, but you can use any kind of caviar. Flying fish tobiko caviar works great as well)
1. In a bowl, mix all of the ingredients together except for the caviar to blend well.
2. Cover with plastic and put in the fridge for 30 minutes to let the flavors infuse the cheese.
3. Take out of the fridge and before serving, fold in the caviar, being careful not to crush them or break them. A spatula should be used to gently fold in the caviar. Serve immediately.