Along the Grapevine

Pickerel in Grape Leaves with Mushroom Za’atar Sauce



Pickerel, or walleye as it is often called here, is a fresh water fish common in North American lakes. It is the fish I might have caught had it been warm enough to go ice fishing, but given the small number of fishing huts in the area, I am not the only timid one. I did manage to find a good source of fresh, local fish which I’m sure is as good as any I would have caught. Besides, it came all cleaned and filleted. So this is my contribution to The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday – seasonal, easy and wild.

This fish is a close relative of the pikeperch, so that could be substituted in this recipe, as well as any white freshwater fish. The other main ingredients are grape leaves and za’atar, and those are available in most areas. If you don’t have a stock of wild grape leaves in your freezer from last year, regular leaves are sold in jars in some supermarkets. Just be sure to rinse the brine off before using. If you don’t have za’atar, or the ingredients to make it, use any recipe for za’atar and replace the sumac with grated lemon zest.

Pickerel in Grape Leaves

1 1/2 lbs fish fillets

3 Tbsp finely chopped sweet onion

2 Tbsp za’atar

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp salt

2 Tbsp olive oil

30 grape leaves, approximately

Remove the skin from the fillets if there is any. I used the skin to make stock which I used later in the sauce. Just cover with some water and allow to simmer until you are ready for it.

Cut the fillets into pieces – some will already be small from the skinning process, but others can be about 2 inches long. Place them in a bowl and mix in the remaining ingredients, except for the leaves.


Lay two or three leaves on a flat service overlapping slightly. If the leaves are very small, you might need four – two if they are very large. Place a large spoonful (1/4 cup) of the fish mixture at the base of your leaf arrangement. Fold upwards once, tuck in the sides and continue to roll up. If grilling, it might be wise to secure them with toothpicks which have been soaked in water.


If using an oven, place them in a casserole dish, brush with a little olive oil and garnish with lemon slices. Bake in a 425 degree F oven for about 1/2 hour.


These can be eaten hot or cold. I’m thinking of making some next time I pack a picnic. Meanwhile, I served these warm with saffron rice and a mushroom sauce. No need for a sauce really, or you can make whatever kind you like. This is how the sauce was made.

Mushroom Za’atar Sauce

Fry about a cup of sliced mushrooms in butter until lightly brown. Make a roux with 1 Tbsp butter, 1 Tbsp flour (I used chestnut flour to  make it gluten-free), and 1/2 cup of fish stock. When the sauce has thickened, add the cooked mushrooms, 1 tsp of za’atar and salt and pepper to taste. Heat through and it is ready. This is a small quantity for two people, so just multiply it to get the amount you need.


The grape leaves keep the fish from drying out or getting scorched if being grilled. They also add flavour to the delicate fish, and provide good packaging for any leftovers to be eaten cold the next day. There doesn’t seem to be any difference in flavour that I can detect between wild and other grape leaves, so just use whichever is convenient.


Author: Hilda

I am a backyard forager who likes to share recipes using the wild edibles of our area.

21 thoughts on “Pickerel in Grape Leaves with Mushroom Za’atar Sauce

  1. Looks yummy. Any good links on how to prepare grape leaves to a state they can be used to cook? Do you have to get them when they’re young? Any special type of grape vine?


    • Thanks for visiting my blog. I should have included a link to my original post when I collected the leaves. If they are fresh, they just need to be blanched, then I use them or freeze them in stacks. If using ones from a jar, they need to be rinsed until most of the salt is cleaned off them. I usually pick them quite young, but big enough to be ‘fillable’. I did pick later in the season, with great care not to get ones that were tough. It seems the vines do put out a few new leaves throughout the season.


      • Thanks, Hilda. I do some foraging – just ran out of frozen milkweed – and I always wondered about grape leaves. Have to give them a go this year.


      • Thanks for dropping by. Grape leaves are really one of the easiest things to forage – it is just a question of having some ideas of what to do with them, I think.


  2. Lovely idea for this fish which I know as Walleye Pike from the summers I spent in Bemidji Minnesota. We would eat it fried with cornmeal, but I love this preparation!


    • Thanks for commenting. I noticed that walleye is really a thing in Minnesota. It is pretty new for me since I moved to the country. I hope you get a chance to try it.


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  4. Hilda, this sounds really good, even though it’s fish, lol… No, seriously, grape leaves and za’atar, I’m sold. The plate with the bundles nestled against the saffron rice looks very appetizing to me! I need to google what pickerel is. Tilapia is on sale at the grocery. I wonder if I could use that, instead.


  5. This looks so delicious… your photos are so beautiful.. I would really love to give this a try! I’m going to have to ask around here where I can find grape leaves. I’ve never cooked with them, so I’ve never really looked for them! I’m wondering if I’d find them in the produce section.. Lovely post!


    • Thanks. I haven’t bought grape leaves in a while, but I would think particularly in shops which specialize in any Mediterranean food would carry them. And in the spring, you can start looking for wild vines growing in ‘clean’ areas.


  6. Thanks for the comments. I would think tilapia would work well. It has a similar texture and mild flavour too.


  7. This looks so delicious especially with the use of za’atar spice. I have never cooked with grape leaves but your recipe is tempting me to try it!


  8. Both the filling and the sauce sound amazingly spicy and delish!


  9. Thanks. I think the sauce might even be worth making for other dishes e.g. polenta.


  10. Wow, this is a very interesting grape leave dolmehs. I don’t know why I never thought of wrapping marinated solid meat in grape leaves. You gave me an inspiration. 😀


  11. Thanks for dropping by. I really wanted to wrap whole fish and bar-b-q it but couldn’t find decent, wild whole fish and there was too much snow outside, but I hope I can do that recipe some day. By the way, I am just now baking some of those delicious cookies on your recent blog. Thanks again for all those great recipes.


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