From this grape arbor, we had swings hanging, a tire swing, and a hammock. The grape arbor was fun to climb on, and the really daring used it as monkey bars. We built a club house attached to the grape arbor. The grape arbor was useful for a great many things, but the one thing it never was successful at was growing grapes...
Our grape vines grew widely over the grape arbor, but we never got grapes from the vine, despite me or a sibling of mine unrolling bird netting over the arbor every year to attempt to protect the fledgling grapes from the birds...
The one thing our grape vine actually did provide us with was grape leaves. Every year, my siblings and I would pick a whole bunch of grape leaves, which my mom would then stuff with us. My mom's recipe for grape leaves is from an Armenian cookbook (whose name I don't know, or I would credit it), and unlike the more famous stuffed grape leaves, don't contain either meat or pine nuts, which makes them much cheaper than the standard ones.
Now I no longer have a grape vine in my backyard, but I go foraging and pick grape leaves from some communal grape vines in my community, which I then stuff using my mom's recipe. Grapes vines are one of those foods that even the novice foragers should be able to forage, as the woody stem, 5 pointed veined leaves, tendrils, and grapes make them hard to mistaken for something else. Not only can you forage typical grapes, but there also are wild grapes that you can forage in certain parts of the world. Here are a few different pages about different types of wild grapes that you can forage, though I have to admit that I've never used truly wild varieties for stuffing, only cultivated grape leaves. However the leaves of the wild variety are also edible, and I suspect they would work the same as the cultivated variety.
Why forage grape leaves?
Well, firstly, because they're free. As are all foraged food.
Secondly, because they're just yummy. Grape leaves have a lemony taste to them that is pleasant when mixed with other flavors, like as one of many types of greens in a salad.
Thirdly, because they're pretty darn nutritious. Vitamins C, E, A, K and B6, niacin, iron, fiber, riboflavin, folate, calcium, magnesium, copper and manganese are just some of the many nutrients they contain.
Fourthly, because then you can make this fancy looking dish and pay nearly nothing, having cheapo fancy food.
And guess what? Many, many people I know have access to fresh grapes from a grape vine, either their own vine or a neighbors' vine (picked with permission, of course), but for those of you who don't, you can buy jarred grape leaves in the grocery store to use to make these stuffed grape leaves. So this recipe isn't just for the foragers among us, though we foragers can make it more cheaply.
Here's how you can make really delicious stuffed grape leaves pretty cheaply. Fancy and cheapskate- you know that's something I love!
A bunch of grape leaves. At least 40.
1 large onion
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 cups raw white rice
1 1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup oil
3 tablespoons dried dill or 1/2 cup fresh
1 tablespoon dried mint or 2 tablespoons fresh
1. Chop up your onion finely. Chop up fresh herbs if using.
2. Mix your onion with all the ingredients other than the grape leaves. Your mixture should look something like this.
3. Wash your grape leaves off. If using canned, wash off the salt from the brine. If using fresh, wash off any dirt, dust or bugs.
4. Choose your pot that you will be using. In this recipe (sneak preview), you'll need to cook the stuffed grape leaves covered with a plate. Make sure that you have a heat safe plate that fits well in a pot. (Play around with various size plates and pots until you get one that fits.) Line the bottom of that pot with a few grape leaves.
5. Lay your grape leaf on a plate, with the veined side up. Trim the stem as close to the leaf as possible. (If you're noticing that the grape leaves are different colors in the pictures, and even within the same grape leaf, grape leaves start off a bright green, and when they sit in water, or are pickled, or are cooked, they turn a darker, olive green. The grape leaf in the picture below was soaking in water a bit longer, and part of it started changing colors. Its totally fine.
6. Take a spoonful of the rice mixture, and place it in a straight line as shown in the picture below. I used a lot of filling in that one- you can use less filling to make smaller grape leaves.
7. Fold over both sides of the grape leaf to meet in the middle, and slightly overlapping each other.
8. Start rolling up the leaf from the bottom end facing you.
9. As you roll it, tuck in the sides. Roll it all the way.
The completed roll. You don't want to roll it too tightly, but you don't want to roll it too loosely either.
10. Place the stuffed grape leaf, seam side down, in the put at the edge.
11. Roll more grape leaves and put the finished leaves around the inside perimeter of the pot.
12. Fill in the center with more circles of stuffed grape leaves. You want them packed as tightly as possible so they keep their shape while cooking.
13. Once the first layer of stuffed grape leaves is full, make a second layer on top of the first layer. If you have more after your two layers (because of a narrower, taller pot), then you can make a third layer. Just make sure each layer you make is a complete layer.
14. I put another layer of grape leaves on top, but you don't have to.
15. Place your plate in the pot on top of your stuffed grape leaves.
16. Put water in the pot, enough to cover the whole thing, and to cover the plate partially.
18. Bring to a boil, then cook on a low flame for an hour to an hour and a half, or until all (or almost all) the water is absorbed, and the rice in the stuffed grape leaves is completely, completely soft.
The finished stuffed grape leaves.
Serve garnished with lemon slices.
Have you ever made or had stuffed grape leaves before? What was in your recipe? Meat? Pine nuts? Or have you had a similar recipe to this? Do you pick your own grape leaves or do you buy jarred stuff? Do toy know anyone who grows grapes/have access to a grape vine?
Ever see this technique with a plate in a pot instead of using a cover for a pot?
Does this look like a recipe you'd try out?