Vine leaves

Vine leaves

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
3 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667678
Photographer
William Meppem

Over the last few decades Australia has become one of the most significant wine-producing countries of the world, and a sadly neglected by-product of all this excellent industry is the vine leaf. Throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East, however, people make good use of vine leaves as a kind of edible wrapping paper. Grape vines grow wild throughout these regions, and many people have a handy supply of the leaves right outside their back door.

There can’t be many of us who haven’t tried stuffed vine leaves as part of a Greek or Lebanese banquet. Dolmades, as they are best known to us, can be served hot or cold, with slightly different, but equally delicious fillings. Cold, they usually have a rice stuffing, flavoured with subtle combinations of cinnamon, allspice and mint, and sometimes even enriched with the pungency of saffron. The flavours merge beautifully into the lemony backdrop provided by the vine leaf itself. Turkish and Iranian cooks also like to include pine nuts and currants, and yet another popular version uses dill.

Hot vine leaves are traditionally filled with minced meat – usually lamb – bulked out with rice and onion and flavoured with plenty of spices. They may not sound quite as exotic, but braised slowly they develop a lovely rich lemony flavour. Greg’s mother, May, cooks her vine leaves on top of lamb ribs or shanks, with handfuls of garlic cloves, lots of lemon and fresh mint. In good one-pot-cooking style, the meat can then be enjoyed as a main meal after the vine leaves.

Vine leaves are not just used for making dolmades. Their chief attraction is the slightly tart, lemony flavour they impart, so they have a natural affinity with fish and poultry. A favourite Mediterranean cooking technique is to wrap vine leaves around small fish such as sardines and red mullet and chargrill or roast them. They not only look very pretty, but the vine leaves help protect the delicate flesh from the flames and keep the flesh moist, while adding a subtle hint of citrus. Meatier and oily fish, such as tuna and swordfish, and even poultry and game birds benefit from this technique. Brush the meat with a little oil and lemon juice first, sprinkle with oregano, wrap in a large vine leaf and bake in the oven.

Selecting and storing vine leaves

Even if you don’t live next to a vineyard, vine leaves are still widely available. The leaves preserved in brine are perfectly acceptable, even if the process of buying them is not be quite as romantic as plucking them straight from the vine. If you can lay your hands on some fresh leaves, they can be frozen for future use. Small younger leaves are more tender, and have a more delicate flavour.

Using vine leaves

Fresh vine leaves need to be blanched before using. Plunge them into boiling water and count to ten, then remove them and refresh them in cold water. Squeeze them dry before carefully unfurling and spreading them out on a benchtop ready to stuff.

Preserved vine leaves are stored in brine and need to be well rinsed in warm water before use.

Recipes in this Chapter

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