My dear friend Kathleen introduced me to stuffed grape leaves or Dolmas. She was a consummate entertainer; she really knew how to throw a fun party. She was an equally great cook; her food was colorful, bountiful and exotic. She introduced me to many international specialties: lumpia from the Philippines, stuffed chicken legs from Vietnam, raclette from Switzerland and stuffed grape leaves from Greece.
Kathleen served stuffed grape leaves or Dolmas at every party that included appetizers. She would purchase canned stuffed grape leaves, which in my opinion are one of the best prepared products I have ever tasted. Dolmas surprise me almost every time I eat them. They have a rich, sultry quality from the olive oil and rice but an equally bright quality from the tangy and salty grape leaves. I just love them!
Wild grape leaves growing within a block of my house
I live in southwest Michigan now, and this area has the most diverse microclimate in America, with over 300 distinct microclimates. It used to be the hub of produce for America because of the diverse and plentiful amount of food we can grow here. California has a much longer growing season so ultimately when California started shipping food all over the country, it won out as the main produce source for America.
If you are interested in eating local and live in the area, you should have no problem finding plentiful produce right here. If you want to try to prepare something hyper local, one of the easiest and most identifiable foods you can forage are grape leaves. I can drive down any street in the area, and I find grape leaves growing. In fact, it is probably a whole lot easier to make my own grape leaves where I live than find them at the market. They are also as easy to make as they are to forage.
You can harvest grape leaves anytime but I like to pick them here in July. The grape leaves are still young but have matured enough in size to be viable to make Dolmas. If you don’t have grape leaves growing on your own property like I do, you may need to do a little exploring. It's likely you have them growing around you but haven’t really noticed them before. Grape leaves grow wild in most climates and conditions; they just don’t yield grapes in less-than-ideal conditions. Look around and see if you can identify them in your area and if they are on your neighbor’s property just knock on the door and see if they will let you pick some. They grow like weeds, so most people are happy to be rid of them! Avoid heavily trafficked areas that might be sprayed with pesticides or be exposed to a lot of auto emissions.
Preserved Grape Leaves
Yield: 60 leaves
Prep Time: 30 minutes, not including foraging
Cook Time: 5 minutes
60 Grape leaves
2 tablespoons kosher salt, use 1 1/2 Tablespoons if using table salt
1 cup boiling water
Step 1: Harvest and Clean the Grape Leaves
Pick 60 leaves ideally 5 to 8 inches at the widest point of the leaf. Rinse each leaf thoroughly under cool water. Divide the 60 leaves into 3 piles of 20 and roll them like a cigar.
Step 2: Prepare the Brine
Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and add salt, stir until salt is dissolved.
Step 3: Pack the Jar and Brine
Place the rolls of grape leaves in a clean and sterilized jar. Pour the hot brine over the grape leaves and screw on the lid.
Place the grape leaves in the fridge, they will be ready for use in two weeks.
The grape leaves will keep refrigerated for at least a year.
Once you have these groovy grape leaves, I am sure you’ll want to know how to use them in their most famous preparation, Dolmas. Here is my version of Dolmas. Please note this isn’t an entirely authentic recipe, but I have been making it for years and can attest to its deliciousness!
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
For the Filling:
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced small
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 cup sushi or Arborio rice
2 cups chicken stock
3 Tablespoons fresh dill
For the Marinade:
2 cups whole canned tomatoes crushed (*do not use crushed tomatoes)
1/2 cup olive oil
Teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons fresh dill
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Step 1: Make Filling
Sauté the onion and garlic in 3 tablespoons olive oil over a medium heat.
Once translucent add the rice and sauté for 1 minute.
Add the chicken stock and bring the rice to a boil. Once the rice has come to a boil, turn the heat to low, cover the pot with a lid, and cook for 15 minutes.
Turn off the heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
Stir in the dill and remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, being careful not to smash the rice to much.
Let the rice cool for 20 minutes before stuffing the leaves.
Step 2: Make Marinade
Crush the whole tomatoes in a bowl and stir in the olive oil, dill and vinegar
Step 3: Assemble the Dolmas
Remove the grape leaves from the brine and squeeze out any excess water. Remove the stems.
Place 1 tablespoon or so of rice at the base of the leaf, right above where you cut the stem off. You may need a little less or more filling depending on the size of the leaf.
Fold the sides over the filling and then roll up the grape leaf.
Step 4: Marinate the Grape Leaves
Place some of the marinade in the bottom of a Mason jar or Tupperware container and place a layer of Dolmas over it. Pack them tightly so they don’t unroll. Apply a layer of marinade between each layer of Dolmas. Once all the grape leaves are packed, pour the remaining marinade over the grape leaves.
You really can eat these right away but they are even more delicious the next day. They also keep well for at least a week. So if you want to prepare them in advance for your next party that is an easy thing to do. I know we are all in party mood at The Chopping Block with the resumption of our in-person cooking events. If it is too soon for you to delve into big in-person parties, our virtual parties are here to stay. I hope you enjoy this recipe and that we see you soon, either in person or virtually.