a short guide on preserving fresh vine leaves
Vines, so many reasons to love them. For the juicy grapes in August, the aromatic wine that warms up our souls and the abundant shade in our gardens as we stay outdoors to cool down from the summer heat. Of course, there are dolmathakia too, stuffed vine leaves, a mezze to die for.
Head straight to the recipe.
I remember making dolmathakia as one of my very first entries for this blog. Dolmathakia with rice and a bountiful of fresh herbs. You can stuff vine leaves with just about anything. Choose grains and herbs, add mince meat or fish. There are so many ways to enjoy them.
If you fall into temptation of buying the canned ones, I would advise you not to. Even the best delicatessen style dolmathakia can sometimes be escorted by bitter disappointment. I have succumbed to temptation myself and dully regretted it at first mouthful. So, get yourselves some nice vine leaves, jar bought will do the trick as well.
If you are lucky and live in a warm Mediterranean country you should be able to find fresh ones. In Greece, fresh vine leaves appear in farmers market, even the grocery section of the super market nowadays from late spring – late April, through May and June. Most often than not, we Greeks are privileged enough to know someone with a vine at their courtyard. Most likely, the oval shade they have created to park the car under.
I got mine from my mother’s yard. She keeps some finely pruned tall vines in her garden, as we do love green grapes. Late spring when the vines need a bit of tender love and care, she will go ahead and prune them. As you can imagine nothing goes to waste in Greek kitchens – these fine leaves are dully preserved to make the most delicious of dishes: Greek style dolmathakia.
You can read a short guide on how to pick and preserve below or scroll a bit further down to check out the recipe for bulgur wheat dolmathakia.
When to harvest vine leaves
The best time to harvest the young vine leaves is spring, from late April beginning of June when new leaves are abundant and the plant will appreciate a little bit of pruning.
Word of warning: you want the vine leaves you pick to be organic. If collecting from a vine yard, make sure they haven’t used any fertilisers before pruning them.
What type of vine leaves should you pick
The young leaves that are tender, light green at the tips of the vine is the vine leaves you are after. They should be approximately the size of a lady’s hand. If they are small and cute, you will be having a hard time stuffing and rolling (they are still delicious though). If the vine leave is too large then you might find the veins of the leaves a bit chewy even after cooking.
How long can you keep vine leaves
If fresh, they can keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Normally when you collect a large batch you would like to preserve them for later use.
How to preserve freshly picked vine leaves
- In the freezer – perhaps the most common method in Greece. in order to keep them in the freezer, you should blanch the vine leaves first. Wash the vine leaves and cut off any remaining stems as close to the leaf as possible. Batch together approximately 20-25 leaves, lightly roll together in a cigar-like bundle and secure with twine. Bring a pot to the boil and immerse them for about 1 minute. Remove with tongs and drain well. To store in the freezer, please make sure there is no excess moisture, you can squeeze out any water (or it will create crystals). Place the blanched vine leaf bundles in suitable containers and freeze.
To use frozen vine leaves, simple thaw.
- In jars, with brine – After thoroughly washing, use a large bowl to make a simple brine solution. For a batch of approximately 150 leaves you will need 2 litres of water and 180 gr (a cup) of coarse sea salt for the brine and 2 glass jars. Batch together the leaves in bundles of 20s as before and tightly stuff into jars. Use a large bowl to add the salt in the water and allow to dissolve. Immerse the glass jar in the salted water until it fills up and secure with lid. To use, rinse and blanch. They keep in a cool place for about a year.
Tip for jar bought leaves – rinse and blanch as with homemade brined vine leaves. That’s how you get rid of the extra saltiness.
- 250 gr of fresh vine leaves or 1 store-bought jar
- 150 gr bulgur wheat washed and drained
- 2 dry onions finely cut
- 3-4 spring onions the white & tender light green part, finely chopped
- 8-9 sprigs of dill no stems, finely chopped
- 8-9 sprigs of parsley leaves and tender stems, finely chopped
- 11-12 sprigs of mint leaves only, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp tomato paste dissolved in 100 gr water
- 500 gr tomatoes finely chopped
- 1 large lemon for its juice
- 150 ml olive oil
- A bit of salt and freshly ground pepper
- How to make them
- In a large pot, add half the olive oil and add the onions to saute for 5-6 minutes. Continue by adding the bulgur wheat and give it a good stir.
- Add the dissolved tomato paste, the tomatoes, all your herbs and season with salt and pepper. Leave it on the hob for just a few minutes to absorb any excess liquid and then set aside to cool before stuffing the vine leaves.
- To roll a dolma, place a leaf with the veins downwards on a flat surface, add 1-2 teaspoons of filling depending on how large the leaf is. To roll, tuck in the sides and the bottom of the leaf and roll tightly. Continue until all the leaves are used.
- If you have any torn leaves, do not discard, you can use them to secure the bottom of the pot.
- Once all the vine leaves are stuffed and rolled, move them in the pot. Cove the bottom of the pot with a thick layer of leaves. You should place each dolma with the ‘seam’ looking downwards and very close to the other in a circular fashion, allowing no breathing space between them. Normally, this quantity should give you 2 layers.
- Once all the dolmathakia are in the pot, add the rest of the olive oil and water, approx. 500 ml to cover them. Place a heavy plate on top to stop them moving.
- Bring the pot to the boil, then lower to low-medium heat and cover with lead. They will need 40-45 minutes.
- You can accompany them with plain Greek yogurt.
I hope you have braved making dolmathakia. Good things require effort and if you are into this delicate taste I am sure you will appreciate every bite of tightly stuffed vine leaves. So, what type of stuffing is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below.
from Athens with love,