Wild About - Grape Leaves
A few days ago, I was driving home from a job in the mountains, when I decided to stop by the creek to enjoy the cool water and a snack - you know, relax. But no sooner than I sat down, did I realize that I was surrounded by food. It was everywhere I looked! Whereas I used to look at such a scene and see plants in the generic sense, now I see specific foods.
So, despite the fact that I was hot and tired, I went back to my car, grabbed a bag and my camera, and picked myself some tasty treats.
Wild grapes (Vitis vulpina) are abundant in the lower mountain canyons here. The shiny leaves, at first quite small, can eventually grow to be as large as my outstretched palm. The younger leaves tend to be more tender. But I nonetheless pick the larger ones, because they are fun to use for rolling up foods. On this occasion, I simply wanted the grape leaves. However it is good to know that the young tendrils of grape plants are also edible. And of course the fruit is as well. Green grapes can be used to make the tart sauce called verjus, and ripe grapes can be juiced, jellied, and so much more.
Preparing Grape Leaves
I started by removing stems, then plunging the grape leaves into boiling salted water for a few minutes. I then drained and submerged them in a bowl of ice water. After drying them off, they were ready to fill.
I tried three different fillings for the grape leaves. One batch was filled with chorizo, rice, purslane, and cheddar cheese. Another was filled with refried beans, roasted poblanos, and queso fresco. The last batch I turned into sushi, and filled them with seasoned rice, cucumber, trout, and spicy mayo. All three were great, but I think I was most excited by making sushi from the grape leaves.
It takes a little practice to get these to roll up tightly while keeping the filling contained. I had the best luck when I rolled from stem-end to tip of the leaf, using all of my fingers to keep the edges tucked in as I rolled.
I've had grape leaves out of a jar before, and I think I attributed their taste to the fact that they had been preserved. So I was a little surprised to find that grape leaves don't just taste green, they have a lemony and tart essence, which reminded me of sorrel. Keep that flavor in mind if you are inventing grape leaf recipes of your own.