Vegan Caviar & Shiso Appetizer

I invented this appetizer last Spring for The Illuminati Ball, an immersive excursion “The Illuminati Ball”  created by artist, protectress of animals and all around bad ass Cynthia Von Buhler.

Sometimes the ball takes the form of a massive party in NYC and sometimes it is an intimate night of immersive theater featuring, amongst other delights, a meal created and cooked by me (with some serious help from the awesome kitchen and sevice crew). Hey Jasmine, Lou, Boo, Oona, Sam L. & Sam V.! You were all amazing.

We did this event regularly for three years running before the pandemic and revived it one last (and best) time last year. You can see photos and links to recipes for all of the seasonal dishes that we have offered over the years in this post- A Decadent Eight Course Vegan Tasting Menu.

This dish was a new offering for our last show. The guests are taken to a secret location an hour and a half outside of the city, so they arrive in need of a snack! We used to have bread or crackers with spreads and dips on the table for guests to share as they were seated. No one wants to share food anymore, so I created this plated appetizer, so that guests could have something beautiful and delicious as soon as they sat down. I am so proud of how this looks and tastes.

The ingredients, where to find them & substitutions

I use a delicious black vegan caviar from Paramount Caviar (which is my favorite place to buy caviar). It is made from seaweed and Paramount can ship it to you anywhere in the country. I have never tried it with black fish caviar. If you try it with fish caviar please write me a note to tell me how it was! The flavors in this recipe were tested and balanced for the vegan caviar. If you are feeling skeptical about vegan caviar, just give it a try! It is VERY affordable compared to fish eggs and it is honestly delightful. I love real fish caviar, but I also love this vegan caviar!

The other star of this dish is shiso leaf, also known as perilla, sesame leaf or beefsteak leaf depending on what kinds of Asian grocery you are in. I treated and used shiso leaf in 3 ways in this dish and I think it really showcases this herbal delight beautifuly.

  1. The entire dish is composed on a perfect, small shiso leaf for each guest. These are easiest to find at Japanese grocery stores although I’ve also gotten lovely ones from the Korean Market.
  2. Fresh shiso leaves are blended into a cashew cream that is rich and full of fresh, herbal flavor. You can use larger leaves that have been less meticulously packed for this. I think the bigger leaves might actually have more flavor? These are more common in Vietnamese grocery stores (labelled Perilla) or Korean stores (Labled Sesame leaf). I mention it because these ones are usually MUCH cheaper.
  3. A generous amount of Shiso Fumi Powder is used as seasoning. Shiso Fumi is made from dried shiso leaves and it has an amazing and totally different flavor! You can find this in the furikaki section of you Japanese, Korean or Pan Asian grocery. It is a dry powder in a plastic container. It is crucial to the dish and you will become addicted to it and have no trouble using up the leftover (which keeps forever as long as you keep that little packet of moisture absorbing stuff in the container).

Black rice (my favorite kind of rice) lends the dish some substance. It’s sweet earthy flavour is perfect against the herbal shiso and it looks beautiful with the black caviar. I would not recommend substituting a different kind of rice, but you could omit it enitrely if you want a lighter appetizer. Just place the caviar directly on top of the shiso cream.

Watermelon Radish provides a vibrant pink color, a bit of spice and crunch. Purple Daikon radish is also a lovely option. You could also use jicama or white daikon radish, but they would not add any color. Watermelon Radish and Purple Daikon are both in peak season in the Winter and Spring! So make this dish now. The Illuminati ball was postponed from the Spring until the Summer and I had quite a time finding watermelon radish!

Edamame Beans offer lovley color and little bursts of chewy sweetness. I have also used fresh fava beans here and they are lovely if you have access to them in the spring and the patience to prepare them. I actually prefer the edamame myself and they are MUCH simpler to prepare.

Black Sesame Seeds these are nice, but optional. Don’t stress out if you can’t find them. Don’t repalce with white sesame seeds.

Advanced, simplified & summer variations

The composed appetizer (pictured above) requires a bit of well timed advance prep and meticulous plating. It was a bit stressful to plate for 40 people! It would be very special and not too stressful for a romantic dinner or small, fancy dinner party. The leftovers make an outragously delicous (and easy) salad (below right) . You could also just make the easy and delicious salad and serve the caviar on shiso leaves as a super simple appetizer (below middle). I’ve posted directions for all these options if you scroll down in this post! The leftover salad is so delicious, beautiful and easy that I was inspired to make black rice bowls (below left) with the kids who I work with at the Run a Luncheonette Cooking Camp. So, if you would like to see a summer version of this dish check out this post .

Do Ahead Preparation

For the Black Rice

Make this in advance so that it has time to cool before plating


  • 2 cups forbidden black rice
  • water to cover
  • a bit of salt


  1. Cover the rice with plenty of water. Add a bit of salt and bring to a boil.
  2. Once boiling, turn the heat down and cook for 18-20 minute (or until tender but not mushy)
  3. Drain through a sieve and allow to cool.

For the Edamame

Prepare these in advance so that they have time to cool before plating

Prepare 1 bag of frozen shelled edamame by adding them to a pot of boiing, salted water for 4 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Allow to cool before using.

For the Shiso Cream

Make this right before you plate, so that the shiso flavor does not fade.


  • 1 cup raw cashews soaked for at least 4 hours and up to overnight
  • 3/4 oz chives
  • 1/3 cup strained lemon juice (more to taste)
  • teaspoon of salt (more to taste)
  • 1 oz shiso leaves (I buy much more than 1oz and pull out prettiest ones to use for plating. I cut off and discard any wilted bits on the reject leaves and use them here)
  • 1/4- 1/3 cup ice water to help with processing


Drain the soaked cashews and add them to a blender or food processors along with the chives, strained lemon juice and a teaspoon of salt. Blend it until it is as smooth as you can get it, then add the shiso leaves and continue blending while adding ice water as needed. It is important that the water be cold. The blending will create heat which will slightly cook the shiso and ruins the taste and color. Using ice water prevents that. You want to blend it until it is absolutely smooth. Taste it an add more lemon juice and/ or salt as needed.

To Finish the Dish

Ingredients and amounts for composed appetizer

  • 1 perfect shiso leaf for each guest
  • 1 scant teaspoon of shiso cream for each guest
  • 1 Teaspoon cooked forbidden black rice at room temperature for each guest.
  • 1 small watermelon radish for every 10 guests, shredded, preferably on a sharp mandolin. You need a few pinches for each guest.
  • 5 shelled, cooked and cooled edamame for each guest
  • about 1/4 teaspoon Shiso Fumi for each guest
  • a pinch black sesame seeds for each guest (optional)
  • A teaspoon of black vegan caviar for each guest

Directions for composed appetizer (in words)

Plate this right before serving on chilled plates. Both the shiso and the caviar need to stay cool.

  1. Put a perfect shiso leaf on the plate and add a small dollop of shiso cream to the middle of the leaf.
  2. Measure out and press the black rice into a little lump using a wet teaspoon. Place it right on top of the shiso cream. The cream, should keep the rice from scattering all over the place. Don’t stress out if there are a few stray grains, you can cover them up later.
  3. Arrange a few pinches of the shredded watermelon radish curving along one side of the rice from the stem to the tip of the shiso leaf.
  4. Place 5 shelled, cooked and cooled edamame or fava beans curving along the other side of the rice from the stem to the tip of the shiso leaf.
  5. Totally cover the exposed black rice with about 1/4 teaspoon of Shiso Fumi and sprinkle a pinch of black sesame on or near the edamame
  6. Place a tiny teaspoon of caviar near the stem of the shiso on the watermelon radish side of the plate.
  7. To eat the dish, scoop the caviar on top of the rice, pick up the leaf and pop everythign into your mouth in about 2 bites.

Directions for composed appetizer (in pictures)

Simple Variations/ ways to use leftovers

Black Rice & Edamame Salad

Toss the cooked black rice and edamame beans with glug of sesame oil, the juice of 1 lemon (strained) and salt to taste.. Garnish with shredded watermelon radish and shiso leaves cut into thin ribbons. Toss a dollop of leftover shiso cream on top of each serving and season generousy with Shiso Fumi and optional black sesame seeds.

Simple Caviar and Shiso Leaf Appetizer

Plate smoonfuls of caviar on small, perfect shiso leaves right before serving.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Joann says:

    This looks AMAZING! So delighted I stumbled onto your space through a post from your sister and “Valerie”! 🙂

  2. Looks wonderful. Thank you 🙏🌍

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