Stuffed Grape Leaves Recipe Using Fermented Grape Leaves
Preserving Grape Leaves Gives Lots of Options In the Kitchen
When we planted a dozen grape vines on our backyard homestead 10 years ago, we weren’t thinking about ways to use them in a stuffed grape leaves recipe. Our original intention was to grow enough grapes so that my husband, who was already accomplished at making his own beer, could start making his own wine. We even sought out grapes from a specialty mail order vineyard that were hardy to -40o F so that they could withstand the long, cold winters in this part of upstate New York. We were more focused on using the fruit, the grapes, than we were on using the grape leaves.
But after many years of trying unsuccessful bird and deer deterrent strategies and fighting some kind of fungus that kept returning and ruining most of the fruit, we learned quite accidentally that a good grape leaves recipe would let us use at least part of our investment. Since we have two dozen laying hens at any given time, we wondered, can chickens eat grapes? Once we found out that they could, we started feeding most of the leftover grapes to the chickens while we picked and preserved the grape leaves for other uses. We still had to learn how to outsmart the deer and the bugs, but at the height of the summer, we had plenty of grape leaves to pick and plenty of ideas for using them in recipes.
Grape Leaves Recipe for Fermented Grape Leaves
Why would you want to ferment grape leaves in the first place? Well, fermentation food preservation is a great way to extend the shelf life of grape leaves so that you can use them in your favorite grape leaves recipe. Since fermenting the grape leaves won’t preserve them indefinitely, you should have a plan to use them when you get an opportunity during canning and pickling season.
When choosing grape leaves for fermenting, pick leaves that are free of rust or fungus, have no holes, and have not been chewed by deer or other animals. Start with about three dozen grape leaves and three cups of saltwater brine (1/2 cup sea salt dissolved in one gallon of un-chlorinated water).
We rinsed the grape leaves in cool water and let them float in a glass bowl of clean water while we prepared each batch of leaves. In a clean glass pie dish, stack eight leaves. Roll them together tightly and trim the stem ends with a scissors for a smooth edge. (The grape leaves will fit better into the glass jar with the ends trimmed neatly.)
Pack the leaves into the jar, just under the shoulder of the jar, and pour in enough salt water brine to cover them completely. Loosely cap the jar, and store out of direct sunlight in a cool place for three to four days. While we wait for the grape leaves to ferment, we cover the jar with a dish cloth or tea towel to keep the sunlight out.
The grape leaves will be fermented when they turn from bright green to a dull olive color. The brine will also be cloudy. When you store the fermented grape leaves in the refrigerator, make sure that they’re capped tightly. Top off the brine as needed to completely cover the grape leaves.
These fermented grape leaves will keep in the refrigerator for 12 months.
Grape Leaves Recipe: What Do You Do With Fermented Grape Leaves?
In addition to using grape leaves for stuffing or wrapping meat on the grill, grape leaves can be used in other fermented food recipes to keep fermented vegetables crisp. Adding a couple of fermented grape leaves to the top of your fermented pickles, carrots, or green beans will make your finished vegetables crisper than without. When my husband makes his favorite old fashioned mustard pickles recipe, he adds one of our fermented grape leaves to each jar to help keep the finished pickles crisp.
Fermented grape leaves can be used to make a traditional appetizer called dolmas. These are grape leaves stuffed with a variety of vegetables, rice and sometimes meat. I prefer to create my own recipes as I go, using whatever I have available from the garden including onions, mushrooms that we’ve foraged, good basmati rice and zucchini. Here’s my favorite stuffed grape leaves recipe.
- 1 sweet yellow onion, minced
- 1 ½ cups cooked basmati rice
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons dried currants
- 2 tablespoons slivered almonds (or pine nuts)
- 1 tablespoon each ground cinnamon, dried mint, and dried dill
- 1 teaspoon each ground allspice and ground cumin
Heat two tablespoons of oil over medium heat, and add onion. Cook until onion is soft. Add basmati rice and add enough water to cover rice. Cover saucepan or skillet and cook until rice is about half-cooked (about 10 minutes).
Remove from heat and stir in tomato paste, currants, almonds and all the spices. Mix well, and let the mixture cool enough so that it is easy to handle.
Take a small plate and place it upside down in the bottom of a saucepan.
Rinse each grape leaf as you use it. Unroll it and fill with about one tablespoon of rice mixture. Fold in the sides of the leaf and then roll tightly around the filling. Place in the pot.
To steam the stuffed grape leaves, add enough water in the pot to reach just the first layer of grape leaves. Cover the pot and simmer on low for 30 to 45 minutes or until the rice is soft and cooked. (You may need to add more water to the pot.)
Grape Leaves Recipe: Grape Leaf Pesto
You can make pesto with your fermented grape leaves, too. Just replace the basil with finely chopped grape leaves and adjust the amount of oil and garlic to suit your own taste.
Grape Leaves Recipe: Using Grape Leaves for Grilling
When grilling chicken, fish or lamb, you can wrap small pieces of meat in a pickled grape leaf before cooking. Wrapping meat in grape leaves imparts a tart taste to the meat and keeps it from drying out too quickly. You can use this technique when you’re grilling, broiling or baking. The cooked grape leaves are edible, too!
Have you experimented with fermenting or cooking with grape leaves? What kind of grape leaves do you prefer to use – wild or cultured? Leave a comment below and share your favorite grape leaves recipe with us!