Preparing your own grape leaves for dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) is a cinch. Store-bought grape leaves are usually packed in heavily salted brine, so using fresh leaves is a healthier (and lower sodium) option. Read how to select and blanch grape leaves from the garden for a delightful Mediterranean treat.
To continue with our Low Sodium Greek Food Festival, Sue’s posted a delicious dolmades recipe on her blog, Please Don’t Pass The Salt. Happy Eating!
Harvesting Your Leaves
Younger, medium-sized leaves 3-4 inches in diameter are optimal for dolmades. They are large enough to stuff, and still tender. Older leaves develop a tougher structure and can get chewed on by bugs, or otherwise aged and damaged.
Spring through early summer is the best time to harvest, as new leaf production is plentiful. However, summer and early harvests are okay too…you may just need to search a little deeper for the younger leaves. Our wild and crazy grapevine continues to produce new leaves well into the late fall– taking over our entire yard in the process.
Here’s what to consider when harvesting:
1) Make sure the vine has not been sprayed with pesticides;
2) Leaves are best when light green in color with no holes;
3) Look for leaves that are not too deeply lobed (indented). Think about wrapping the leaf around a one to two inch length of rice stuffing;
4) Clip the leaves at the stem and try to keep them shaded and cool while harvesting;
5) Blanch as soon as possible to prevent drying out. From the garden to the kitchen will yield the best results.
I think the process of blanching is actually easier than separating and washing packaged grape leaves. It’s a quick, four-step process:
1) Bring a large saucepan or pot of water to a gentle boil;
2) Clip the stems off your leaves and rinse under cool water;
3) Place leaves in flat bunches of 5-10 at a time in the boiling water for 3-5 minutes and cover;
4) When flaccid and dark green, remove to a plate with a large slotted spoon or spatula. They’re now ready for filling and rolling.
Yes, it’s that simple. What I noticed through the process was the great changes in color the leaves go through. From their native hue to a bright, nearly phosphorescent green, ending with the dark green typical of dolmades. Another thing I noticed was that the leaves are not too fragile. Yes they are soft, supple and pliable, but you need not worry too much about handling them.
For best results, use the blanched leaves within a few days (keep refrigerated). To freeze for later use, do not blanch. Rinse your leaves, tamp dry and place flat in a sealed freezer bag, air removed. Grape leaves tend to tenderize over time while stored in the freezer. After thawing, remove a leaf to test for flaccidity – if it feels tender and can be rolled, no blanching is necessary. If not tender, then blanch.
Now the stuffing and rolling party begins…then the best part…eating delicious, homemade dolmades!