I’ve always wanted to try making my own brined, pickled grape leaves. Not only are the ones in the store shockingly expensive, they are not organic and have weird preservatives. I always loved stuffed grape leaves, but I haven’t made them in years.
This spring the wild grape leaves in the forest looked so green and tender and enticing, I found some time to wander along the edges of the trees and harvest some. They turned out excellent – tangy, and with that distinctive grape flavor…and it was so easy! I’ve already got another batch brining on the counter.
Brined Grape Leaves
This part of the recipe takes roughly 2 weeks
20-30 fresh grape leaves – look for large, even leaves
1 Tablespoon fine salt
A slice of onion or lemon (optional)
1 pint jar and lid
- Stack the grape leaves up and roll them into a neat roll. Squeeze this into the pint jar and add the tablespoon of fine salt (I like the grain of Redmond salt for pickling).
- Fill the jar up, leaving about 1/2 inch of air space. You can add a slice of onion or lemon to weigh the leaves down and keep them in the brine. Keeping the leaves in the brine discourages surface mold that can develop. The first time I brined grape leaves, I didn’t weigh them down, and the top two leaves got some white surface mold. I discarded those two, but the rest were excellent.
- Keep on the counter at room temperature for 1 1/2-2 weeks. I tasted my grape leaves after about a week, and they were tangy, but rather acrid. After another week, they tasted great. The brining must pull out tannins or something, but it definitely needs some time to develop the right flavor. When they are properly brined, they are ready for the next part of the recipe.
Stuffed Grape Leaves Stuffing
1/2 cup cooked rice
1 lb ground grass-fed lamb or beef
2 springs fresh oregano (or 1 tsp. dried)
2-3 springs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 clove fresh garlic
Salt and ground pepper
1 medium onion, very finely chopped
- De-stem the herbs and peel the garlic, and chop them all very finely.
- Mix herbs, garlic, and chopped onion with the cooked rice and season generously with salt and pepper.
- Knead in the ground meat. The filling will be like a stiff dough.
To Fill The Grape Leaves:
- Pull a grape leaf out of the brine and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. Lay out the leaf on a plate, cutting board or other clean, clear work surface with the stem side pointing away from you.
- Pinch off about 1 tablespoon’s worth of filling and roll into a fat little sausage shape. Place in the middle of the grape leaf, making sure there is ample room around the edges to roll it up.
- Fold the tip of the grape leaf up, and tuck in the sides before rolling it up so that the bottom is tucked underneath and can’t unroll. Set aside on a separate dish and continue until all the grape leaves are filled.
Cooking The Grape Leaves
For the sauce:
1/2-3/4 cup good quality olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons (I used 2 ice cubes of sour orange juice we had frozen and stored over the winter citrus season)
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
- Put a drizzle of olive oil in a frying pan.
- Mix the remaining olive oil, lemon juice, salt and water together.
- Arrange the stuffed grape leaves in the pan, and pour the sauce over. Put a lid on and cook gently for about 20 minutes, or until the meat filling is cooked.
The grape leaves are ready to serve!
If you have any extra filling, you can make great meat balls by rolling it into balls and frying in olive oil or lard.