Dan and I have always liked dolmades, those delectable grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs that figure prominently in Mediterranean cuisine. We have only had dolmades at restaurants or from a pricey can from the grocery aisle, but when I saw instructions for preserving grape leaves on Kalofagas and Foodycat I bookmarked this information and stored it away until the wild grapevines that encircle our pool fence were springing forth once more.
It was a project which took the better part of a hot, sunny morning (I did prune back the grape vines at the same time as I harvested my grape leaves) but finding unblemished leaves free of bird poop and beetle chomps was a task, as was finding the correct sized leaves. My web friends advised picking leaves where the center portion was about the same size as one's palm. If you harvest leaves from a friend or public spot, do be sure to inquire if the leaves are also pesticide-free.
I followed Kalofagas' instructions, but used 6 quart-sized canning jars as I wasn't sure what "medium" Mason jars were and found I needed to prepare 50% more hot brine to fill my jars. A couple of my jars didn't seal so I tucked them into the refrigerator since I wanted to make a couple of batches of dolmades within the week. I also liked his recipe for baking the dolmades rather than trying my hand at sauteeing them (less opportunity for stuffing leakage) so that was my course of action.
I made one batch of Kalofagas recipe with sauteed ground beef (I'll bet ground lamb would be amazing too) and one batch without meat. Both came out of the oven perfectly tender and delectable, although they were a little more salty than I prefer, so I would leave out seasoning the filling with additional salt next time. We liked them so much that I plan to cook up another batch and trot them out this weekend when we have guests.
Having these jars of brined leaves in the pantry seems so luxurious now. I can whip up a batch of dolmades easily if I have leftover cooked rice and then throw them in the oven for an hour to steam away. Thank you Foodycat and Kalofagas for such tempting and easy to follow culinary advice!
This adventure in harvesting, preserving and cooking with wild grape leaves is being sent in to Weekend Herb Blogging #190, which is being hosted by Laurie of Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska. I'm sure Laurie is familiar with stuffed grape leaves but they were a new and exciting exploration for me. Weekend Herb Blogging is a weekly blog event that highlights fruits, vegetables and herbs and is permanently headquartered at Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once. I always learn something new and usually bookmark a few more recipes to try with WHB, so be sure to check out the roundup after the Sunday deadline.