Posts Tagged ‘fresh grape leaves’

A Quick Summer Lunch, and more on fried grape leaves

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Since writing about frying grape leaves crisp in the Crazy Salad post, I have become more and more interested in the range of flavors and textures produced by frying and toasting leaves. Grape leaves remain my favorites, because of the exquisite lemony-sorrel burst that follows the delicate crunch.
Before you try cooking your leaves, please read the part of the Crazy Salad post that deals with selection of leaves. The short version is : chew up a piece of leaf from the exact vine that you are thinking of cooking. If it chews easily, proceed. If you are left chewing what feels like a bit of wet paper between your teeth, rethink or find another vine. That fibrous quality will not go away when cooked in any fashion. I have liked the leaves of my wine grape vines best.
This is an easy and quick impromptu lunch or light dinner, vaguely Greek in its inspiration. Here I used a garnish of fried grape leaves and capers to add tang and herbaceous pizazz to a nice piece of black cod fillet. For each person eating, you need a 4-5 oz piece of Alaskan black cod fillet or salmon fillet, a handful of capers in salt, 5-6 fair-sized grape leaves, a clove of garlic, a small handful of lightly toasted pine nuts, a quarter of a lemon, salt, and 1-2 glugs of good olive oil.
Prep: Rinse the capers of loose salt, soak them in cold water for about 20 minutes, drain, and squeeze them dry one handful at a time. Rinse the grape leaves, shake them dry, snip the stem away, and stack them up for quick slicing. Slice them crosswise into strips about 1/4 inch wide. Salt the fish pieces, not too heavily because the capers will still be quite salty. Chop the garlic.
Cook: Heat a good nonstick skillet that can easily accommodate the fish pieces over medium heat. When it is hot, pour in 2 good glugs of olive oil. I would guess that this is about 2 tablespoons or a little less. Throw in one strip of grape leaf, and if it sizzles and changes color and crisps in several seconds but doesn’t burn, you are good to go. Otherwise, fiddle with the heat and try again. When the heat is right, toss in the grape leaf strips and stir-fry rapidly until they have all changed color and crisped and there are browned but not blackened spots. Scoop them out onto a paper towel to drain. Check crispness. Limp leaves will not give the right effect. Set them aside.
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Wipe out the pan quickly, heat it again, put in the same amount of olive oil again, and add the chopped garlic and the capers. Saut√© until the garlic is cooked but not browned at all and the capers have darkened a bit. You aren’t going for crisp this time because it would burn the garlic. When the garlic looks cooked, squeeze in the lemon juice and add the pine nuts. Cook a couple of minutes more and pour out into a bowl.
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Reheat the pan, add a touch more olive oil, and put the fish fillets in skinless side down and cook over medium-high heat until they color an attractive gold in spots. Now turn skin side down and cook to your preferred degree of doneness. Personally, I like salmon medium-rare but black cod cooked until it flakes. Plate the fish, put the caper mixture over the top of each, and finally top with lavish drifts of fried grape leaves.
This is a good healthy dish for ketogenic and low-carb dieters and Paleo dieters, as well as for everyone else.

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.