Remember the pile of grape (Vitis spp.) vines I found near my house last week? I couldn’t resist the chance to cook with grape leaves again. But wrapping those little leaves around stuffing is such tedious business …
… correction. Stuffing dolmas would probably be great fun with friends and family working together to wrap them all. However, at the moment it’s just me.
So instead I opted for something which should have been more simple: a rice pie encased in grape leaves. Like one BIG dolma.
Two lessons from this adventure. 1) There may be such a thing as too many modifications when you follow a recipe. 2) Be pickier when harvesting wild grape leaves.
To the first point: I have a strong focus on lower-energy eating, aka food that is local and in season, so I might’ve gone overboard with substituting local (or local-able) ingredients with this one! My creation was tasty, but I suspect the original was even better.
- One lb ground turkey to make this into more of a one-dish meal.
- I would have loved to substitute wild American rice (Zizania spp.) but I haven’t reached that level of foraging yet! But I cut back the amount slightly, just using 3/4 cup Jasmine rice in my rice cooker.
- I replaced the pistachios with black walnuts that I lightly pan-toasted for a few minutes before adding to the mix. (OK, they might’ve been Hammon’s, [link]but at least I have foraged black walnuts before.)
- Yes, I KNOW I could grow parsley and mint but I didn’t have any on hand so I substituted what I did have: dried bee balm (aka wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa). Two tablespoons, in lieu of the two cups of the other two herbs.
- Oh and it would have been nice to use actual red or black currants (Ribes rubrum or Ribes nigrum) in lieu of the “currants” (aka Zante currants, a variety of dried grape) sold at the grocery store.
- I didn’t have any pomegranate molasses. Nor any leftovers from my sad attempt to develop an autumn olive replacement for pomegranate molasses last fall. So I just left it out.
Issue number two: When harvesting grape leaves, as will so many wild greens, larger leaves tend to be older, and subsequently tougher and more bitter. They are also generally darker colored because they’ve been exposed to sunlight longer. (I suspect that domesticated grapes (Vitis vinifera) have larger and / or more tender leaves, because the original recipe source says nothing about how to harvest leaves.)
It’s important to harvest grape leaves that are big enough, but no bigger
And then… I completely forgot to remove the tougher parts of the veins before assembling the pie. So despite blanching for 2 minutes in well-salted boiling water, I encountered many bites that were, um, chewier than I found pleasant.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. But I would just borrow the approach and use my own original recipe from last year, rather than completely hacking someone else’s ingredients list!