Working with wild grape leaves is surprisingly rewarding.
Wild Grape vines commonly grow throughout our Carolinian forests here in Ontario. Around London they can be foraged from various nature pathways or perhaps you've even seen families foraging along country road ditches and farm line fences. You may have caught yourself wondering "what they are possibly gathering from in there?" More often than not, its grape leaves! Although the grapes aren't ready to harvest til late fall the leaves can be harvested to make a dish often referred to as Dolmades. Stuffed grape leaves are super popular in Greece, Balkans, South Caucasus, Central Asia and in the Middle East. And we're seriously missing out on a great dish that can easily be made here at home.
There are some grape vine look-alikes like Virginia creeper or Moonseed. However once familiar with the heart-like "maple" shaped leaves and knowing that grape vines climb vertically, thanks to specifically the tendrils (which is a key identifier), you should have no problems learning how to properly identify grape vines. Leaves are best harvested while young and tender in late spring or early summer, once the leaves have reached a size similar to the palm of your hand. If foraging is new to you but you would like to try grape leaves check out your local grocery store, as they are almost always located in the international aisle or with the canned vegetable and beans.
Nutritionally, grape leaves are a great source of beta-carotene and vitamin k. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant and precursor to vitamin A. Antioxidants play a protective role in the body which may help to prevent disease by scavenging free radicals. Free radicals are produced in various ways, including exposure to radiation, tobacco smoke, and pesticides. Vitamin K is an important nutrient for normal blood clotting and bone health. Vitamin K is required to calcify our bones and prevent calcification of our soft tissues such as our kidneys and blood vessels. Even if we are taking an abundance of calcium, without adequate levels of vitamin k our bone health will suffer. Six grape leaves provides 102% of your recommended daily value of beta-carotene (vitamin A) and 24% of your recommended daily value of vitamin K.
Together in collaboration with Katelyn Landry @forijthrills we curated a fun grape leaf recipe you can try at home! It's destined to be a favourite new dish in your household. The lemony citrus flavour the grape leaves contribute is surprisingly fresh when eaten raw! Although due to the tough texture of the leaf, with a simple 4 minute blanche they're ready to fold, roll and stuff with this amazing mixture of rice, herbs and ground beef!
12 grape leaves
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 cup cooked rice
1/2 cup cheese, crumbled (I use vegan cheese)
1 tbsp each of chopped fresh basil, rosemary, thyme and parsley
1 tsp of salt or to taste
1/4 tsp of dried peppercress seeds or pepper
olive oil for cooking
Bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare an ice bath. Once the water has boiled, remove the pot from heat and blanch the grape leaves by submerging them in the boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Remove from boiling water and place in the ice bath for a few seconds to quickly cool. Remove from the ice bath and set aside.
Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Place a drizzle of olive oil, the ground beef, salt, and pepper into the skillet and sautee until the beef is browned. Add all the fresh herbs, cheese, and cooked rice, and stir to combine. Remove from heat.
Lay a grape leaf on a flat surface. Add 1-2 tbsp of the beef mixture onto the center of the leaf. Start rolling the leaf by lifting the bottom edge up and then folding in the bottom left and right side of the leaf and roll froward into a little wrap. Repeat with each leaf.
Heat a grill to approximately 400 degrees. Lightly coat the outside of the rolls with olive oil. Cook the rolls for about 6-8 minutes turning once halfway through.