Now is the perfect time to collect grape leaves in our area. You can collect any variety of grape you like, but the ones I am talking about are wild and grow everywhere on our property. They are easy to identify, easy to pick and the easiest of all to store. I usually just blanch them in boiling water, then stack them in plastic bags and keep them in the freezer where I try to store enough to see me through to the next year.
I hope to come up with some new recipes, or at least ideas, to use these. I will begin with a recipe for dolmas which I made in the slow cooker. Dolmas are simply stuffed grape leaves and are a common dish in Middle Eastern and Greek cuisine. I prefer the vegetarian variety because the herbs, garlic and olive oil dominate the flavour and go so well with the unique flavour of grape leaves.
You can make these in a regular pot on the stove too, but in that case I recommend lining the bottom of the pan with a layer or two of sliced, raw potatoes, then piling the dolmas in, placing a heavy plate or board on top, pour water to cover the dolmas, cover the pot and cook on a low heat until the water has all be absorbed. The nice thing about this method is you get some pretty nice potatoes to boot.
Here are the grape vines at the end of our drive.
Vegetarian Dolmas recipe
For this recipe, you will need about 60 leaves. Choose ones which are about 3 inches broad at the widest part, ones which are unblemished and still young-looking (the older leaves are darker green).
Blanch the leaves in boiling water for a few seconds, until the colour changes to an olive shade. Rinse them under cold water. If the stems are still attached, remove them. (I try to do that when I pick them to save time.)
For the filling:
1 1/2 cups rice (brown or white)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
1/2 tsp. salt
juice of one lemon
4 minced cloves of garlic
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup mint, finely chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup cooked or canned chick peas, coarsely chopped.
Mix all these ingredients in a bowl. Lay the leaves out flat, vein side up, and place about 1 tsp of filling near the base. Roll them up one turn, then fold in the sides and continue to roll. They should be firm but not too tight, as the rice will swell with cooking.
Place them in a slow cooker, touching but not pressed together. Pour over them 2 1/2 cups of water, which should just barely cover them. Cover and cook on automatic for about 4 1/2 hours or until all the water has been absorbed.
Serve hot, cold or in between with plain yogourt or sour cream.