Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wild Grape Leaves

I love stuffed grape leaves.  My love affair with this Grecian treat started of all places at the Willowbrook mall in New Jersey.  I am sort-of from New Jersey a little.  Anyway, in the food court there was an eatery called Athenos or something like that.  They had an amazing stuffed grape leaf salad.  I'm not sure what would have compelled me to order a salad topped with little green logs filled with who-knows-what at 12 years of age, but I did and I've been hooked ever since.

I happen to have a massive amount of grape vines growing in my back yard.  I have something of a teeny tiny wilderness back there and they thrive.  The vines thrive not the berries, there's not enough sun for those.  So, in trying to use everything I have at my disposal I decided to go and harvest some and try my hand at making these little tastes.
 This is a little bit of my wilderness, what isn't grape vines is goutweed a nasty invasive. 

I checked out out this site, consulted Steve "Wildman" Brill's book, and looked up a recipe in the Joy of Cooking, melded my new knowledge and came up with these! 
 The first thing I had to do was collect them.  Grape leaves are best tasting in the spring and early summer. I'm not sure what happens after that, but my guess is that they become tough.  Once they start wearing leather jackets and carrying switch blades it's best to stay way from them.  Medium-sized ones are preferable, not too small to roll up but not too big and tough.  You do need some big ones though, so that you can line the pan and cover the stuffed ones (more on this later).  I just took a bucket and picked all the good ones I could get at easily.  I ended up picking about 100 leaves in no time at all.  (I think I also got about 100 bug bites).
Be careful to inspect your leaves, this one had some sort of hatching beetle on the back of them, and the one below shows the trail of leaf borers.  They're just bugs, but if you want your meal bug-free take a close look at your leaves.

I sorted them into leaves to roll, and leaves too big, too ripped or too small for the pan.  Then I prepared a filling.  I used white rice, amaranth, chopped walnuts, chopped dried cranberries, and onions and a couple dried figs.  (I'll have the full recipe at the bottom along with how to freeze them for later use). Then I prepared the leaves.  Steve Brill says he just rolled them up with a filling and pressure cooked them.  I didn't try, but I suspect that without cooking the leaves a little bit it would be difficult to roll them up without tearing.  The joy of cooking says to soak them for an hour in hot water because they are assuming you're using jarred leaves.  So I just steamed them for about a minute or so.  Even this I think may have been more steaming than I needed and next time I plan to cover them with very hot water for a minute or two. 

Then you simply take a spoonful of the filling, place it on the base of the leaf (where the stem would be), vein side up and roll it up like a burrito! For those of you who have never made a burrito or are inept at rolling them (it happens, don't feel bad) that would mean: roll it up so the filling is just covered and then fold the sides over and continue to roll so the sides are all tucked in and it's like a neat little package.

 Place them seam side down in a pan you have prepared by lining the sides and bottom with grape leaves.  This took about 5 large leaves for my #8 cast iron skillet.
 Place all your little grape leaf rolls side by side all snug and then pour stock or water over them, drizzle them with olive oil, cover them with more grape leaves, weight them down with a plate and cover the pan.
The Joy of Cooking says to cook them for about 30 minutes, but they were using raw lamb and I wasn't so I cooked them for about 15.  After that, take them out, put them on a plate and let them cool down completely.  I sprinkled them with a little vinegar so they would have the taste that I'm used to.  They came out really great!

There's the recipe: Makes about 10 Stuffed Grape Leaves

20-25 Fresh Grape Leaves.  10 medium sized ones to roll and 10-15 to line the pan.
1.5 cup cooked white rice
1 cup cooked amaranth (I thought I was using quinoa, while I was cooking it, realized it was amaranth, so I think you could use either!)
1/4 cup finely chopped onions
1/4 cup walnuts chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries chopped
5 dried figs chopped (you could leave these out if you don't have them, I thought it was a nice touch.  You can also use any dried fruit you want)
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup water or stock
4 tablespoons olive oil

To prepare the filling:
Mix the amaranth and rice together with a fork.  Amaranth* is a bit sticky and porridge-y, it's not really tricky or anything, but the goal is to separate the amaranth into the rice so there are no clumps.  Saute the onions in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until tender, add the dried fruit and walnuts and saute until fragrant.  Mix the onion mixture with the rice mixture.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

Prepare your pan:

Prepare the leaves:
Stack up ten leaves (11 is you think you might mess up!) and lightly steam them.  Really only steam them for a minute.  Their color will change to a dull green.  You can try to place them in a bowl and over them with hot but not boiling water until they change color and then strain them.  I haven't tried this yet, but I think it will work. Take one leaf at a time and place vein side up, stem side toward you on a clean surface.  Put a spoonful of filling on the end and roll up, folding the sides over as you go. Place them seam side down in the prepared pan.  Once the pan is full with your 10 rolls pour 1 cup of stock or water over them and drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Cover with the rest of the leaves, weight them down with a plate and cover with a lid.  Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.  Remove them from the pan and let cool.  Sprinkle with vinegar if you desire and enjoy!

To Freeze:
 Take 25 leave and  stack them.  Roll them up and tie with a string.  Dip them one at a time into boiling water for a minute to blanch.  Let cool and put them in a plastic bag.  Press out as much air as possible (I actually vacuum sealed them) and pop them into the freezer.
This was so super easy that I really really hope that it's works!

*Amaranth is also a super food, filled with good for you stuff like lots of protein.


  1. love it...
    unbeknown to many i grew up in a greek home. i lived on stuffed grape leaves (dolmathes) and yogurt. i have a traditional greek recipe if you'd like! i can scan it and send it too long to type! haha