About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Vine Leaves

Without a doubt, the grape vine is one of mankinds most important plants and is grown on every habitable continent around the world. It's one of our little quirks that the reason we grow grapes so widely is that they provide us so much pleaure in the form of wine as well as being an important fruit.

But that's not the whole story either. From the Levant countries of the Mediterranean to as far west as Greece, grape vines have been providing a leaf wrapping for savoury rice fillings, either completely vegetarian or with a little meat, for millenia.

Known as dolmades in Greece and simply as vine leaves elsewhere, it's probably no accident that leaves of the grape vine are used in this manner in a region not noted for the quality of its wines; quality sometimes so poor that the Greeks came to add pine resin to certain wines (retsina) and thought it an improvement!

There is no doubt though, that vine leaves are extremely tasty and not a little addictive. The version I like best are those made with brined vine leaves and containing a little meat - fresh, unsalted leaves seem better suited to subtle vegetarian fillings.

Brining the leaves seems to turbocharge their flavour, adding a salty, slightly sour note and seems to be the preferred version in many countries, perhaps because the leaves can also be stored, unrefrigerated, for extended periods.

By all means, use fresh leaves when you can get them, but make sure they come from unsprayed plants. It is also a cooking job best suited to at least two people, one to unfold the leaves as the other stuffs and rolls them.

Vine Leaves
(adapted from A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden)

500g preserved (salted) vine leaves
250g long grain rice
500g lamb or beef, minced
2 tomatoes, skinned and finely diced
1 large onion, finely diced
small bunch parsley, washed and finely chopped
handful of finely chopped celery leaves
salt and fresh ground pepper
4 tablespoons tomato concentrate
4 cloves garlic, slivered
juice of 2 lemons

Place the preserved vine leaves in a large bowl and cover with boiling water for at least 30 minutes, teasing the leaves apart as best you can. Drain and soak in cold water for another 30 minutes, again teasing the leaves apart, then drain.

Rinse the rice and add it to a large bowl with the meat, tomato, onion, parsley, celery leaves, tomato concentrate, season with salt and pepper and mix well

Take a vine leaf and place it on a work surface, veined side uppermost and place a teaspoon of filling at the base and start to roll. As you do, fold over the side leaves and continue to roll until you have a neat cylinder. Even if it isn't neat, declare it so and move onto the next one, you'll soon get the hang of it.

Preserved vine leaves are a little delicate and you will rip the occasional leaf; this is a good thing as torn leaves are used to line the bottom of the cooking pot. When you have used up all the mixture, line the bottom of a pot large enough to take all the rolled vine leaves with any torn and leftover leaves. If there is any mixture left, use it to stuff another vegetable like a capsicum.

Arrange the vine leaves in the pot, seam side down and as close together as possible, along with any extra vegeables you may have stuffed, placing slivers of garlic amongst them. When they are all in the pot, add the lemon juice and enough water to come to the bottom of the top layer. Find a plate that will fit snugly in the pot, this will help to keep the leaves from unravelling. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer and cook for about 2 hours or until tender. Serve them hot and if you like, with some Greek yoghurt flavoured with chopped mint.
  posted at 4:59 pm

At 2:02 am, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

First time I tried these Gorn & I were having lunch at a small Greek sandwich place in an industrial section of town. Wow! I was blown over. Never made them and I sure should. Yummy photo.

At 2:56 pm, Blogger Ran said...

i recently made silverbeet rolls as i didnt have any vineleaves and they were fabuluous too.

At 6:59 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Neil. Ran, Stephen Downes mentions silverbeet rolls as being sweeter in his review of a Greek restaurant in yesterday's paper.

At 10:21 am, Blogger Gigi said...

We had some of these in Greece and Turkey and they were WONDERFUL!

*Welcome back!

At 11:13 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi tanna, know how you feel, I'm totally addicted to them, even asking my kids to pinch some when they visit their relatives!

Hi ran, anything wrapped up in a leaf is excellent in my book, being partial to cabbage rolls too. Silverbeet rolls sound wonderful.

Hi kitchen hand, have I really been gone that long? Yeah, guess I have, Started a new job up your way, in Richmond; the works much harder, but getting slowly used to it.

Hi gigi, I'm still so jealous about that trip of yours!!! Isn't the food of that region so good, nice to be able to make some of the things at home at least.

At 12:26 pm, Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

I'm impressed. Never made these myself, but I do love them.

At 3:09 pm, Blogger Ran said...

yes i love cabbage rolls havent made themself though. i prefer the vego rolls in general except for the cabbage rolls which needs to be meat!

i dont know if silverbeet rolls are sweeter - i put currants in my rice mix so it could have been that. I did find they were better cold though

they are a great way to use up excess silverbeet from the yard.

we have some small vine cuttings we have planted so next spring i think we will be awash in them. i am so excited! When i was growing up in sydney, there were only a few edible vineleaf 'trees' in the suburbs and all the arabs would go there on the weekends and pinch them from over the fence which hung over into a park. It was so funny, there would be 20 people out there. the owners must have known

At 6:40 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And you know you don't have to convince me of the gorgeous-ness that is the hand-rolled dolmade. Come on over next year - AOF's 50-year-old grape vine is enough to make anyone jealous.

All blokes welcome!

At 11:00 am, Blogger Intrepid in the Kitchen- JdG: said...

Looks amazing Neil... nice to have you back. Been missing your food magic.
In the leaf wrapped world, don't forget a good san choy bow- lettuce leaves ain't so bad either!!!

At 11:14 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi kalyn, they're not hard to make, just time consuming, especially by yourself; I think it took 3 hours to roll 5oog of leaves, but on that particular day I needed something soothing to distract my mind.

Hi ran, you might find quite a gathering at your place for years to come!

Hi lucy, lucky 50 year old vines don't lose their leaves the way 50 year old blokes lose their hair! Happy to bring some blokiness to your next gathering, it's a job that goes much better with many hands.

Hi jdg, happy to be back too. You've mentioned another weakness I have, nothing like a good san choy bow. Have you ever tried eating tabouli in lettuce leaves?

At 12:41 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Neil
Welcome back. Been missing you

At 12:47 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're very patient to spend so long rolling and cooking. They must be nicer than the ones in the can though!

At 4:55 pm, Anonymous Max mickle said...

Thanks a lot. This is an interesting recipe. At last I have found something interesting about Vine Leaves.after read your post i am very impressed.thank you for shearing your post.

At 2:16 am, Anonymous Lisa said...

Have you ever visited Greece? I doubt. Who told you that the wines in Greece are not good? You are just an ignorant. Yes, they do put pine resin in a type of wine, named retsina, which is made of inferior quality wine, but otherwise the Greek wines are excellent.

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