Grape Leaves -  Harvesting
In early to mid-summer, when the grape leaves on the vine are large, green, and tender, they may be harvested for culinary use.

Use: Fresh grape leaves should always be blanched or brined before using. Middle Eastern cooks blanch grape leaves, then stuff them with rice or a mixture of rice and meat, and roll them into cigar-shaped dolmas. In France, grape leaves are used to protect and flavor some small cheeses. The flavor of mushrooms is enhanced when cooked in a pot lined with grape leaves. Wrapping quail, goat cheese, and anchovies with grape leaves before grilling over coals or baking imparts a special flavor. Some cooks put grape leaves in brine for cucumber pickles to make the pickles crisp.

Availability: Fresh grape leaves are not generally sold commercially, but cooks who live near vineyards will probably find vineyard owners willing to part with some for personal use. (Try wild grapevines) Grape leaves bottled or canned in brine can be purchased at Middle Eastern markets and some well-stocked supermarkets.

Storage: Refrigerate grape leaves in their brine in an airtight, nonmetal container; they will keep indefinitely.

Preparation: Blanch or steam fresh grape leaves briefly just to soften. Rinse canned or bottled grape leaves before use to remove brine flavor. Be careful when removing grape leaves from bottle or jar; they tear easily.

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Fresh mint, plenty of garlic, and a little feta cheese enliven these classic Greek dolmas. These are a perfect hors doeuvre because, if you like, they can be prepared up to one week ahead. Refrigerate them in their cooking liquid and bring to room temperature before serving.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Blanch grape leaves in boiling water 45 seconds to remove briny flavor; drain and refresh under cold running water. Drain well and pat dry.
  2. In a small skillet heat oil and butter. Add shallots and garlic and sauté over moderate heat until soft and slightly colored. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add rice, currants, raisins, mint, parsley, dill, feta, and salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Toss well with a fork to blend.

Lay a grape leaf out flat; put about 1 ½ tbsp. filling near base of each leaf. Roll leaf into a cigar-shaped package, tucking in sides as you roll. Repeat with remaining leaves. Transfer leaves to a roasting pan large enough to hold them snugly. Cover with stock and poach in the oven, covered, for 20 minutes. Cool in stock. To serve, mound grape leaves on a platter and accompany with mint sauce and a bowl of lemon wedges.

  • 1 jar (1 lb) grape leaves preserved in brine
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1/3 cup minced shallot
  • Tbsp. minced garlic
  • ¼ cup dried currants
  • 2 tbsp. golden raisins
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
  • ¼ cup finely minced parsley
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh dill
  • 2 oz. crumbled feta cheese
  • Salt, pepper, and fresh lemon juice, to taste
  • 3 to 4 cups hot chicken stock
  • Mint sauce & lemon wedges for garnish