Along the Grapevine


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Quiche in Wild Grape Leaf Shells

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I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect there won’t be many wild grapes along the grapevine this year thanks probably to a frost in late May. On the bright side, the leaves are doing fine and at their best for picking now and for the next couple of weeks.

As I have described in past posts at this time of year, the leaves can be preserved easily by freezing after blanching lightly. For a change I decided to use fresh leaves for this recipe, but frozen or preserved in brine, which is how they are usually sold in markets, would work just as well.

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So for Fiesta Friday #72 I wanted to share some of my delectable harvest in the form of a shell for quiche. The custard is a very simple cream, egg and vegetable mixture. You can choose from any type of seasonal vegetable, but I decided to roast the vegetable first. If you have milkweed flowers available, they make a perfect pairing with the flavour of grape leaves, and can usually be harvested in roughly the same place at the same time. However, asparagus would be a fine alternative, and if you live in a part of the world where neither is available, any vegetable will do. But if you are picking milkweed, please bear in mind – given that most milkweed plants have six flowers, you should leave at least three on any given plant so that it will bloom and feed the pollinators, notably monarch butterflies. They should be picked before they open, while they are still green or just beginning to develop a rosy hue.

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To make these quiches which I baked in muffin tins, first snip off any stem from the base, then brush the bottom side – the side where you can see the veins – with olive oil. Place them in the pans, bottom side up and slightly overlapping. In muffin tins I used two large leaves or three small ones.

Brush the vegetables with oil and roast until tender. For the custard, mix thoroughly 2 eggs, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup cream, 1/4 cup grated cheese (I used feta). Stir in about 1/2 cup roasted vegetables chopped.

Fill the leaves with the mixture and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees F.

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The leaf ‘pastry’ will be brown and crispy. The flavour of the grape leaf is what makes these little quiches so special.

Related Posts:

Devilled Eggs with Milkweed Flowers;  Milkweed Bud Fetuccine;  Milkweed Flowers and Lambsquarters Soup;

Grape Leaves with Roasted Vegetables;  Pickerel in Grape Leaves with Mushroom Za’atar Sauce;  Grape Leaf. Herb and Yogurt Pie;  Vegetarian Dolmas;  Dolmas with Meat.


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Milkweed Shoots

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I have already written about the other three edible parts of the common milkweed or asclepias syriaca (leaves, flowers and pods) in previous posts but this is the first spring where I have enough shoots to harvest them. In contrast with the other parts of the plant which can be picked off in small amounts without damaging it, collecting shoots means there will be no further growth. So unless you have plenty of them already well-established, you’d be well advised to allow them to grow. I have been encouraging their propagation for a few years now, and they are appearing virtually everywhere – among my perennials, in my vegetable gardens and in containers. There are still plenty in the ‘wild areas’ to provide ample sustenance for any monarch butterflies who make it here in the summer when they are in full bloom.

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How to identify them: The shoots resemble young asparagus, but have leaves in opposing pairs pointing upwards against the stem. They have a milky sap and should not have a bitter taste. Any milkweed which tastes bitter, spit out and disregard. Make sure you do not confuse it with dogbane which has a smooth, as opposed to slightly fuzzy stem. Also, the colour of dogbane’s stem is reddish and thinner at the top where milkweed has a consistently green stem and is of equal thickness from top to bottom. Both have milky sap so do not rely on that fact for identification. Be sure you have properly identified it before eating.

Where they grow: This variety is native to  the eastern part of North America, and grow wild in open fields, roadsides and hedgerows. Some people cultivate them as ornamental flowers, and their seeds are easily spread. Toxic to many livestock, farmers try to keep their fields clear of it.

How to prepare them: The shoots need to be cooked, but not aggressively. If you are unsure or haven’t tried them before, you can boil them and discard the water. The flavour is similar to that of a cross between green beans and asparagus. If you have a small amount, they can be mixed with these vegetables and prepared in the same way.

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The ones I picked were between one and six inches.

As this was the first time I had prepared them I kept it simple. I sauteed them in olive oil with dried garlic flakes and maldon salt for a few minutes until they were cooked through – a thoroughly tasty side dish.

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Related posts:

Milking the Weeds

Milkweed Bud Fetuccine

Milkweed Flower and Lambsquarters Soup

Milkweed Flowers

Stuffed Milkweed Pods</a

Milkweed Shoots on Punk Domestics


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Milkweed Bud Fetuccine

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I usually try to make original recipes, but occasionally I come across something I haven’t thought of and want to try. Once I tried this recipe for fetuccine made with the leaves and buds of milkweed I decided to bring it to  Angie’s Fiesta Friday #23 and  share it with any of my readers who have milkweed. And if you don’t have milkweed, broccoli leaves and flowers could be used in their stead.

The Forager Chef creates some of the best and most innovative recipes using foraged ingredients I have found. The recipe in its original is here – and you might like to look through his blog to see some of his creations, especially those using a great selection of wild mushrooms.

Two things made me want to try this recipe. First, I have such an abundance of milkweed now as we have tried to encourage its growth for the sake of the monarchs, none of which has shown up yet.

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The other incentive was that I really like home-made pasta, especially when it is a recipe which is unusual enough that it is only available if you make it yourself.

I made only minor changes in the recipe. I used lime instead of lemon, and cheddar cheese instead of parmesan. The milkweed has a delicate floral flavour, and the lime zest is a perfect pairing for it. The pasta was easy to work with, but having added just a tad too much water I dusted it liberally with semolina when rolling it and once it was cut.

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I blanched the leaves and flowers together along with a few plantain flowers I was using for something else, and used the stock from cooking these  in the pasta and for the pasta sauce.

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Milkweed Flowers

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Lately I have been writing about weeds which are so plentiful, even invasive, that foraging them can be done with impunity – things like grape leaves, lambsquarters and nettles. Milkweed does not exactly fit into that category. Although they are very plentiful where I live, I treat them with utmost care and encourage their proliferation. The reason for this is that they are valuable sources for the pollinators, especially the monarch butterfly which depends on them for survival. Our fields are a virtual oasis for butterflies next to a dessert of heavily treated cornfields where there is not a healthy weed in sight! I am so hoping the butterflies find their way this summer to our land of plenty. If you are interested in helping save the monarch butterfly, check out this article.

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There are many varieties of milkweed, but the one I am talking about is the common milkweed (asclepias syriaca), until recently considered a noxious weed in Ontario but now undergoing a change of status. It was considered noxious because the toxic milky substance is harmful to livestock. However, in light of the importance to the survival of the butterflies, we gardeners are now free to grow them in our gardens.

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There are several parts of the plant that are edible, as long as they are harvested at the right time. The young shoots, flowers, and seed pods when still small are all edible, although the usual precautions should be taken when first trying them, i.e. trying a small sample. I pick a few shoots which are growing in place where they interfere with my garden vegetables. In the fields, I pick only one flower or pod of each plant to ensure its survival. It is not something to eat in huge quantities, but if you have access to the plants, small amounts are wonderful to add to your favourite summer dishes at the appropriate times.

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Now is the time for the delectable flowers. Last year I offered a recipe for a soup made with the flowers. My new recipe is for devilled eggs, with just enough of the flower to give them a little extra crunch and flavour. I kept the ingredients simple so as not to overwhelm the delicate flavour of the flowers.

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Devilled Eggs with Milkweed Flowers

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

6 eggs, hardcooked

1 Tbsp cream cheese

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp milkweed florets

salt and pepper to taste

sumac powder or paprika and a few florets for garnish

Peel and cut the eggs lengthwise. Scoop out the egg yolks into a bowl and mash them with the cheese, mustard, florets, salt and pepper. If you want them creamier, add more cheese or a little mayonnaise. Fill the egg whites with the mixture. Garnish with a few more florets and sprinkle with the sumac or paprika.

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Wild Grape Leaves on Punk Domestics