A couple of weeks ago, I was making up a meal plan and ended up with preserved grape leaves on the mind and meant to go about finding some. I can’t even recall what I had wanted them for because it suddenly dawned on me that I have access to a whole lotta fresh grape leaves. Like, this many:
Except they’re not mine. This glorious plant of green eating grapes belongs to a lovely neighbour and the plant trails over into my immediate (and also lovely) neighbour’s yard. Nevertheless, I was kind of stupidly excited about the prospect of setting up my own preserved grape leaves.
Unfortunately, lovely grape plant-owning neighbour-lady was away on vacation for a couple of weeks, so I had to hold off until she was back to ask if she minded that I harvest a few (dozen) leaves from her glorious plant which was agonizing because I had to spend those couple of weeks watching the leaves grow older and tougher as each day went by.
I did manage to pin her down (not literally, guys – though I can see why one might think that) the other night and got to work as soon as possible, harvesting a big bowl for a small batch of preserves because, to be perfectly honest, I hadn’t done this in a while and I was scaredy-pants of screwing it up.
Also, I really don’t need a million preserved grape leaves. We are two people in this household and, though we entertain often enough, I don’t see myself going through a whole lotta dolmas over winter when I can easily and cheaply walk 7 blocks to buy some made with hands more skilled than my own.
I do have some specific recipes in mind for these guys, though. Stay tuned for those.
What you need:
- A pot large enough to blanch your grape leaves and boil brine
- A large slotted spoon
- A ladle
- 1/4 cup of white vinegar
- Ice – lots and lots of ice
- Jars with snugly fitting for storage. I used 500ml jars because I like the way they store better than their bigger, bulkier brethren, they fit (ok, squeeze in) about 20 leaves, which is just enough for any application I have in mind, and, if one goes off, I’m only down 20 leaves. You do you.
- Enough fresh grape leaves to sate your insatiable appetites
- Water – lots and lots of water – 1 liter + 1/4 liter for every liter of preserves + more for blanching
- Table salt for blanching
- Pickling salt – 1/4 cup per liter of brine needed
- Lemon juice – 1/2 cup per liter of brine needed
- Rocks for weights – 1 rock per jar (optional)
What you do:
- Pick your grape leaves. Choose ones that are higher off the ground (to avoid nasty stuff like puppy pee and such) and under the very outer leaves that are exposed to all of the elements. Those under leaves are the most tender. Ideally, we would be picking in late spring or early summer for super-tender foliage, but almost-autumn leaves are good, too. And we’re gonna blanch them, which will make them even more tender. I’m sure you know to pick leaves without holes and tears in them.
- With good, sharp kitchen scissors or a knife, cut the stems from the leaves without cutting into the leaves themselves, like so:
- Give your leaves a 15 minute bath in cold water and a 1/4 of white vinegar, then give them a good rinse.
- Put your large pot with enough water to blanch the leaves and enough salt to make the water taste salty on to boil.
- While waiting for the pot to boil, prep a bowl or a sink with cold water and ice for the post-blanching bath.
- Once the salted water is boiling, toss your leaves in and stir for 30 seconds, then use a slotted spoon to remove them and transfer into the cold water bath to chill. You may need to repeat this step depending upon the number of leaves you have and the largeness of your pot.
- Toss the blanching water.
- Prep your brine. You’ll need 1 and 1/4 liter of water for every liter of preserves you’re making. The extra 1/4 liter is to account for evaporation and spillage. Add the needed amount of water to your large pot, then the salt. If, for example, you’re putting up 6 500ml jars, you’ll need 3 and 3/4 liters and 3/4 of a cup of salt. Bring this to a boil.
- While you’re waiting for your brine to boil, begin rolling your leaves by stacking them in fives, all oriented the same way, then rolling in from one side until you have a grape leaves cigar. 500ml jars are often a little to short, so give them a little fold, as necessary:
- Keep rolling your leaves and filling your jars until all of the leaves have been rolled and/or all of the jars have been filled.
- Once the brine is boiling, add the required amount of lemon juice. If we’re going by the example of 6 500ml jars above, you’ll need 1 and 1/2 cups of lemon juice.
- Let the water come back to a boil, then kill the heat and ladle your brine into the jars, leaving a 1/2 inch space at the top.
- Top each jar with a rock to weigh the leaves down so they stay in the brine:
Yes, I have kitchen rocks. I also have a shower rock. Maybe one day you’ll get to see it. The kitchen rocks just came from a bag of crafting rocks that I picked up at the dollar store. They’re handy for all manner of things, them kitchen rocks.
- Use a towel or oven mitt to hold the jars and pop the lids onto each one. Store in a dark spot until ready to use. They should be good for up to a year, but I doubt they’ll last that long.