Unexpected Dolmas, and Notes on Grape Leaves

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The tiny dolmas that you see on the edge of the plate above were never meant to be a post; they were meant to be a sort of amuse-bouche incorporated onto the main plate. But they were so delicious that I ended up writing about them.
They are simplicity itself. For two servings, start with eight fresh grape leaves, chosen according to the notes below. You pull a splendid chunk of Mount Vikos feta out of its wrapper, or if you have a really good locally made feta, you drain a goodly chunk of it and cut slices about half an inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long, or smaller depending on the size of your grape leaves. You need eight slices. Center each slice on a grape leaf, put a large pinch of chopped dill or chopped fresh fennel on top, and roll up the dolmas. The fresh leaves are a bit stiff and you will have to coax them. Heat up a nonstick ceramic skillet, and when it’s good and hot put in about 3 tablespoons of good olive oil. After a few seconds for the oil to heat, put in the dolmas with the last fold downward, to hold it in place. Fry until browned but not blackened, flip, and brown the other side. Serve. Eat. Simple as that. I can’t help noticing that these would make a great Cook’s Treat, a meze for one, eaten standing while working on other aspects of a large meal.

Now, about catching your grape leaves. I don’t know why some are tender and tart and others are papery and  unchewable, but I do know that it’s imperative to taste a leaf from the plant before you try to use them in cooking. I have two wine grape vines, a Syrah and a merlot, that have delicious leaves even when they have been on the vine a while, and a Concord that has totally inedible leaves even when tried very young. But I have tasted wine grape leaves that were awful, so taste your own vine or the vine that you have (legal) access to. If the leaf chews up without much of a problem, you are good to go. If you are left chewing something that feels like a papery candy wrapper to the teeth, no skill on the cook’s part will overcome this and you are better off with commercial brined grape leaves.
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These are the leaves of my Concord vine, and they look perfect for stuffing, but don’t try to eat them unless you want an impaction.
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These are the leaves of my Syrah grape, and they look too deeply lobed to cook with, but they are tender and sorrel-sprightly to eat.

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