What does the final week of June mean to you? For most of us, it’s a celebration of the true beginning of summer, school is out, the days are warm and long, the fawns are capering with the bunnies, and the baby owls are finding food all on their own. Time for swimming, hiking, and long walks after supper.
This is the week that always prompts me to think about foraging grape leaves. I first learned about stuffed grape leaves in high school, from my friend Gary, whose Greek mother taught him how to make classic dolma. When I was in grad school, I met Arlene, who was taught to make Lebanese style lamb-stuffed leaves from her mother-in-law.
Arlene and I worked at a hospital in New Jersey in the early 1980’s. We decided to go out on the hospital grounds and pick. According to Arlene, the last week of June is THE week to get them because the leaves are big enough to stuff, but are still thin enough to be tender. So, we were out by the parking lot, picking and chatting, and someone in a car stopped to ask what we were doing. We explained, and they warned us about poison ivy (which seems always to grow and flourish in immediate proximity to grape vines). Another person pulled over and warned us about poison ivy. When the fifth car stopped and the driver asked what we were doing, I said, “We’re picking poison ivy.”
There are many different grape leaf traditions and kinds of stuffings. I’ve made them with rice and with meat, and with meat and rice together. I like them all. This week, I find myself in a low carb mood, so I decided to make these riceless. I happened to have some organic, boneless chicken thighs on hand, so I ground them up myself. Ground turkey, beef, or lamb work equally well.
These are really fun to make and so delicious. They are savory, with a pop of sweet from the currants; the compact shape and size makes them perfect finger food for a party. Enjoy them as a snack, appetizer, or the center of a lunch or supper. They are a great focus for a big Mediterranean spread including hummus (or hummole) or baba ganoush, feta or halloumi,. They’d pair wonderfully with Summer Lentil Salad and/or Tahini Sauce with Herbs, Sriracha Lime Sauce, or Tzatziki.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
Makes 15 or so.
These are terrific hot, room temp, or chilled.
2 dozen grape leaves*, plus a few for lining the pot
1 lb. ground chicken, turkey, lamb, or beef
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
½ lemon, sliced
¼ cup minced parsley or dill
3 tbs. pine nuts
3 tbs. currants
drizzle olive oil
salt, to taste
In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the leaves and lemon. Microwave or pan fry a teaspoonful to check for seasoning.
Line a saucepan with extra or torn grape leaves to prevent sticking.
Use a generous tablespoon of filling (depending on the size of your leaves). Follow my pictures so you see how to orient the leaves and filling. Fold down the top first, then bring in the sides, then roll up, like a burrito. Because this stuffing includes no grains, you can roll them fairly tight. Place them, as you roll them, in the leaf-lined pot. You may stack them once you fill the bottom of the pot.
Once they are all rolled (it went faster than you thought once you got the hang of it, right?), scatter with the lemon slices and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Add ½ cup of water to the pot, cover, and place over high heat. Once the water boils, turn down to simmer. Cook for 8 minutes or so until the rolls feel firm to touch. Feel free to slice one and check for doneness; have a little snack and admire your handiwork! Good job!
*So, you want to forage? Read on! If not, purchase jarred, brined leaves.
Carefully identify grape vines. They grow next to the poison ivy. Choose leaves that are 4-6 inches across. It is best to choose those that are a slightly lighter green; the thinner ones have more light passing through.
When you get them home, cut out the stems with a sharp pairing knife or scissors. Stack 15-20 in a bundle, roll them up like a cigar, and tie with kitchen string. Place the bundles in a pot and add about an inch of water and a good pinch of salt. Cover, and bring to boil. The leaves will turn olive green (see photos). Pull them out of the water with tongs, drain, and cool.
At this point, you may unroll and use them, or wrap in plastic and pop in the fridge for a couple of days, or into the freezer for long term storage. Thaw completely in microwave or salted boiling water before using.
Blog Notes: Pots are selling like hotcakes in our new Etsy Shop. Make sure to check back often as we will be restocking soon!
Please join me in sending good energy to my mom as she recovers from surgery. Loads of love, Mom!