Stuffing the Wild Grape Leaves

Fox grapes and lunaria

Fox grapes and lunaria

Euell Gibbons I’m not, but I am really pleased about this one. When I saw the tender shining wild fox grape leaves in the hedgerow  they looked so nice I thought I’d try stuffing them. Turns out it’s not hard. Here’s how to do it.

First, go pick 50-60 grape leaves. You want to do this when they are in active growth, like May around here. Get leaves about the size of the palm of your hand or bigger, but not too mature. Look for a vine tip and go back 2-3 nodes to a larger size, but a leaf that is still lighter in color than further towards the root. If you get some that are too dark colored or otherwise unsuitable you can still use them for lining the pan.

Prepare your leaves by cutting off the stem and any thickish veins. I didn’t see any veins worth worrying over. Lay them in a stack.

Bring a medium sized pan of water to a boil, cut it off, and plunge your leaves into it. Cover and let it sit 5-7 minutes. Interestingly the smell is somewhat grapey. I actually use the infused water for tea, and it is delicious; rather like regular chinese black tea. It makes great ice tea. Grape leaves are a delicious green and a wonderful liver tonic but also a good poultice for bug bites.

Drain, roll, and set where it can’t dry out. Pick your filling.

dolmades filling

dolmades filling

You can wrap all kinds of stuff in grape leaves for what Greeks call dolmadakia. You can even wrap several leaves around grilling foods like fish. You can freeze the leaves, dry them, or pickle them in brine.  But here we are talking about the cute little rolls sold n salad bars. You can wrap them around a traditional rice based filling, and here is the recipe I like best, adapted from Caroline Cummins on

olive oil

1 onion

3-4 garlic cloves

1/2 c. chopped walnuts

1 1/2 c. rice

2 1/2 c chicken or veg stock

1 organic lemon juiced and zested (grate off the skin)

3 handfuls of herbs such as fennel, dill, mint, and parsley, chopped

Fry the onions and garlic in 3 tbs olive oil, 5-7 minutes.  Add the walnuts and rice and stir until rice is lightly toasted. Add stock and simmer on low about 15 minutes until absorbed. It will not be quite enough water. Add the lemon zest, herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Let cool so you can handle it.

Get a pot about 12 inches across the bottom, fairly sturdy and thick bottomed. Put a few skewers or chopsticks across the bottom to prevent stickage and then put 2-3 layers of grape leaves across the bottom. Now start rolling dolmadakia.

Rolling dolmadakia

Rolling dolmadakia

Lay a leaf out flat, and put about a teaspoon sized blob of filling just above where you sliced off the stem. More if you can fit it.  Fold in the bottom side points towards the center,

Rolling dolmadakia

in some leaves there are 5 points

then the top side points,Rolling dolmadakia and then roll the whole thing up into a neat little roll. Rolling dolmadakiaThe tip of the leaf sort of seals the envelope. Lay it in the pot. Rolling dolmadakiaRepeat until the pot has 2-3 layers, then cover the dolmadakia with another layer of leaves. Add the lemon juice and another cup of water to the pot, cover, bring to a boil and then lower heat. Simmer about 20 minutes. Watch it doesn’t boil dry as the rice is supposed to soak up the water, which is now wonderfully infused with grape leaf flavor. Let cool and arrange  on a plate with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and pretty rounds of lemon. Rolling dolmadakiaThis is called a meze in Greek- something to have on the table. (Interesting- mez is table in Hindi) We took some out on the river one night, anyway. Delicious!