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There's an exciting bounty to be had in turning wild grape leaves into delicious, nutritious food. Typically used for wrapping around savory rice fillings, with or without ground meat, grape leaves can also be wrapped around other foods such as fish, meatloaf, and more. In our area we are lucky to have an abundance of wild grape vines that appreciate pruning, and in return they reward us with a substantial supply of leaves. Cultivated grapes grown without chemicals provide another great source for leaves; perhaps a grape grower in your area will kindly share some leaves from mid spring through early summer pruning (usually they throw these away). Cook them up fresh and preserve some by marinating, dry canning, freezing, or lacto-fermenting so you can enjoy them throughout the year. You'll find detailed instructions below.
Grape leaves fall into the category of “wrap cookery,” along with cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and other wild leaves. Essentially any leaf that is tasty and tender yet strong enough to wrap around food falls into this category.
Harvesting Tips for Grape Leaves
- The best time to harvest grape leaves is from mid spring through early summer, when leaves are not too tough and leathery but large enough to effectively wrap around food.
- Look for newer leaves that are lighter green and tender, found towards the tip of the vine.
- The best size leaf to harvest is about the size of an average lady’s open hand, roughly measuring 5–6 inches wide; any smaller and they are too difficult to stuff; any larger and they tend to be too tough for eating. Also, choose intact leaves, minimizing ones with bug damage.
- Remove the leaf stem completely or it can puncture the leaf when rolling or while in storage.
- Store fresh grapes leaves as you would other leafy greens, such as kale or lettuce, by putting them into a plastic bag placed in the refrigerator, where they will keep for at least two weeks.
- 1 lb of fresh grape leaves, appropriate for stuffing, equals approximately 200–225 leaves.]
How to Stuff Grape Leaves
1. Spread grape leaf flat on a plate, unfolding any wrinkles. Face shiny side (the upper side of the leaf) down, with the stem remnant (leaf base) closest to you, and leaf tip pointing away from you. When using frozen or dry canned leaves, sprinkle them with a little water if they seem dry and brittle.
2. Place stuffing onto the lower center of the leaf, about an inch away from the leaf base.
· If using a raw grain stuffing, use a heaping teaspoon per leaf.
· If using a raw grain and meat stuffing, use a heaping teaspoon per leaf.
· If using a raw meat stuffing, use a heaping tablespoon per leaf.
· If using a cooked stuffing, use a heaping tablespoon per leaf.
3. Fold the leaf base (the edge closest to you) up over the stuffing and then fold the leaf sides toward the center, encasing the stuffing. Continue to roll toward the leaf tip, tucking the leaf sides into the center as you turn, rolling until the leaf tip is incorporated into the final cylindrical shape.
4. Stuffed grape leaves made with marinated leaves and a precooked filling may be eaten right away; ones made with raw filling and leaves need to be cooked and should be placed seam-side down in the cooking vessel to prevent them from unraveling.
Spread out on the plate is a marinated leaf I picked and preserved in spring. It awaits a precooked filling. Below is the jar the leaf was pulled out of. I placed a 100 or so grape leaves in this wide-mouth pint mason jar and covered them with a marinade made of olive oil, vinegar, and sea salt. FYI, leaves were first blanched before marinating. The jar, tightly covered, was kept in my refrigerator. I can't say for how long since I forgot to label the jar. Was it last spring or two springs ago? Note to self: label all concoctions. In any case the leaves are still in excellent condition and ready to be filled.
To stuff marinated grape leaves, choose a precooked stuffing such as the Grain Salads (p. 136), Grain Pilaf Variations (p. 138), or Bean Salads (p. 139). Naturally, part of the fun is to experiment and invent fillings to suit your fancy. Fill each grape leaf with a heaping tablespoon of stuffing and, if needed, refer to How to Stuff Grape Leaves above. Note: 3 cups of cooked stuffing fills about 32 grape leaves. The stuffing I made yesterday (pictured in the photo below) is a winter variation made with brown rice (soaked and cooked), parsley, almonds (soaked, dried, and lightly roasted), raisins, scallions, dried peppermint, olive oil, vinegar, sea salt and pepper.
Grape leaf with a heaping tablespoon of filling placed onto the lower center of the leaf, about an inch away from the leaf base, ready to be rolled.
All rolled up!
A plate full of stuffed grape leaves ready for the Valentine's day party. More will be served today at the neighborhood seed-sharing gathering.
A visual journey — playing with unusual fruit and chocolate to create tasty treats for the holidays.
American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) — a native American winter fruit, picked today on Dec. 10th in the Mid-Hudson Valley of NY. Right now they taste like gooey carmel meets Barhi date in the house of apricot.
On the plate with the American persimmons are Morellos, a black sour cherry we picked in July. We put the cherries up in whiskey and maple syrup. The liquid is poured off and sipped as a cordial and the cherries are eaten straight or coated in chocolate.
Here is one of the jars we put up back in July. (The photo was taken today.) The cherries are steeping (also referred to as macerating) in the liquid and left at room temperature. No heating or canning used here, just time. When making this, the ratio of cherries, to sweetener, to liquor can vary depending on ones taste buds. However one rule needs to be followed: the concoction needs to contains at least 20% alcohol when finished, also referred to as 40 proof. This amount of alcohol preserves the mixture. You can have a higher alcohol content if you like, but not lower, or funky things can happen.
I use organic bittersweet chocolate dollops with a 67% cacoa content that I buy at my Natural Foods Coop in bulk. I gently warm the chocolate in a double boiler, just enough to melt it. Caution: don't over heat the chocolate; proceed slowly and gently.
Tim is holding the persimmon by its calyx and dipping it into the chocolate.
Once dipped, the fruit is cooled by placing it in the refrigerator, freezer or the chilly outdoors until the chocolate hardens.
Time to go to the potluck with our platter of unusual fruits dressed in chocolate. Note: make sure to warn folks about the seeds!
Fruit Mousse Pies are wonderful to serve during the holiday season. Very refreshing and perky, they balance the richness of a typical Thanksgiving meal. The recipe I share with you below comes from my book Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook.
Can you tell the difference between a blackberry and a black raspberry (see our images below)? Both are tasty and edible, so no toxic worries, yet it is still fun to know which plant you are harvesting/eating.
Here I am holding the Raspberry Mousse Pie after it has set in the refrigerator for a few hours. Now it's ready for slicing. This version has elderberries which I froze in September and sprinkled on top. The crust is a raw pressed crust made from hazelnuts and dried apricots.
Sweet offerings: Raspberry Mousse Pie sprinkled with elderberries, homemade maple-sweetened whipped cream (from organically fed, grazed cows), house-made bittersweet organic chocolate covered black sour Morello cherries (whiskey infused), and American persimmons just picked from our tree = the dessert menu from this past Friday's dinner.
Bitters speak to these upcoming days of feasting. They help us digest our food, especially when eating large quantities of rich fare. Bitters also tone and support liver function which makes many things work well in our lives (the liver is responsible for over 500 metabolic functions). As a flavor enhancer, drops are often added to mixed drinks. When poured into an attractive glass bottle featuring a homemade label, these make great gifts. Why not create your own? I am excited to share my Therapeutic Spirits Master Recipe and Variations that will empower you to do so. Many of the weedy wild plants that are bitter and/ or aromatic can be used for making this therapeutic elixir. At this time of year the roots are particularly potent and great for making bitters. Think: roots of dandelion, yellow dock, burdock, and sweet cicely. Happy bitter-making!
The best time to dig burdock root is when it is in basal rosette stage, as illustrated above.
After resting during the hottest, driest months of the year, field garlic (aka Allium vineale) returns with full vigor. Closely related to chives and scallions, this perennial of the Amaryllidaceae family can be used similarly, offering a strong, pungent, spicy, aromatic onion flavor. Originally from Europe, it now grows prolifically in many parts of the world, especially here in the Northeastern US. Often referred to as onion grass: it looks like grass; flourishes in lawns; and tastes oniony. Also look for field garlic in fields, gardens, and open woods.
Why not include field garlic in your food for a little free, wild flavor! Mince it up and add it to salad, soup, frittata, scones, wild green pesto, baked fish and so much more. BTW, it's probably growing right outside your doorstep. For clues on how to identify it properly, please refer to the image here from my book Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook.
This photo of field garlic shows how much it looks like a clump of grass. Not so helpful in distinguishing it from other plant species. The strongest clue is it's aroma = onion! Again, please refer to the clues on our plant page above for help with accurate identification.
Wondering which wild edible to eat right now? = Dandelion. She seems to always be available, offering superior nourishment throughout the growing season. In this mid-fall moment, I like to gather her leaves and add them to salads, adding just enough; too much and the salad becomes too bitter. I also make sure to mince the leaves up, dispersing them well into the milder-tasting greens. This perennial of the Asteraceae, originally from Eurasia, is one of our most common weeds that boasts profound nutrient density: high in beta carotene, vitamin C, calcium and iron. The bitterness, while often not enjoyable to many palates, is quite healthful as a digestive aid and liver tonic. Remember when we support our digestion and our liver — many, many, good things happen.
To help with identification, harvest and use please, look below at the Dandelion Plant Map from my book Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender.
Wondering what to do with all those aromatic culinary herbs — wild or cultivated? Here's an ancient salting technique — a simple way to capture and preserve wild plants as they pass through the landscape. By mixing strongly flavored plants with each other, and also with milder ones, we can create intriguing taste combinations. Add a tablespoon or two of this savory condiment — think of it as a bouillon substitute — to flavor sauces, stews, soups, beans, and more. This recipe is an excerpt from the Relishes, Spreads, and Condiments chapter from my book Foraging & Feasting.
Hooray, CHICKWEED (Stellaria media), a weedy super food — free, abundant, and available — is back in full swing. This lovely little friend is so nutritious: high in Vit. C, beta carotene, iron, calcium, etc. She is mild and tasty. Perfect for salad, in wild green pesto, lightly steamed, or added to soup during the last few minutes of cooking. She likes moist rich soil and will grown in full sun to part shade. Look for her in gardens, lawns, meadows, woodland edges, and waste places. The image of chickweed below is a "plant map" from our book from my book Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender. Hopefully it will help you to identify chickweed accurately throughout the growing season. Good luck!
Fruit coulis pack serious flavor and nutrients. This is my favorite way to process berries and small fruits as they whirl through the landscape. The Fruit Coulis Master Recipe below is from my book Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender. May it bring tasty nourishment into your life.
In these early fall days, I like to gather the vibrant shimmering leaves of sheep sorrel. The rain and cooler weather makes them large and plump; perfect for adding to salad. This sour, slightly sweet, and refreshing plant is the diminutive relative of garden sorrel or French sorrel. All of them belong to the Rumex genus of the Polygonaceae family. Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), a weedy perennial found in many parts of the world, boasts a good amount of vitamin C with refrigerant (cooling) and astringent qualities. Look for it in fields, gardens, lawns, disturbed ground, forest edges..... it's common and prolific. Use in: wild green pesto, dip, wild green goddess dressing, soup (think shav or shtshav), beverage; topping for fish or meat loaf. For more information and to help identify the plant, see the plant map below from Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender.
The making of a seriously decadent and tasty treat, featuring hazelnuts, or other wild nut of choice, and organic chocolate. Aniseeds lend a delicate flavor to the deep rich, fudge-like cookie — wild fennel seeds or green sweet cicely seeds can be used instead. This flour-less recipe can be made with delicious, luscious coconut oil rather than butter, if desired.
Thank you to The Village Tea Room for the recipe inspiration.
- 2 oz (4 tablespoons) grass-fed butter or virgin coconut oil
- 3/4 cup Sucanat or granular maple sugar
- 2 free range fertile eggs
- 1 teaspoon homemade vanilla extract
- 8 oz bittersweet organic chocolate* chunks, dollops, or chips (to be melted)
- 2 tablespoons organic cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
- 7 oz bittersweet organic chocolate* chunks, dollops, or chips, chopped (not melted)
- 2 cups chopped* hazelnut (preferably soaked and dried) or other nut of choice — I have used coconut, walnuts, cashew, green pumpkin seeds, almonds, singly or combined. FYI, coconut is does not need soaking and drying.
- 2 tablespoons aniseed (or sweet cicely seed), freshly ground
*Chocolate note: I suggest using 65-70% chocolate so it's more chocolate and less sweet. On a more extreme taste note, for those of us, like myself, who are eating very low sweet / starch, I have been known to use an organic 100% chocolate chip that produces a more intense, somewhat bitter cookie (this extreme not recommended for the average palate).
*The nuts need to be chopped / crushed into moderate size particles, so not finely ground, but not too coarsely chopped either. If making with coconut, use the shredded unsweetened dried version, not the larger flakes. If still not clear, let me know.
- Gently melt the 8 oz bittersweet chocolate chunks and butter in a hot water bath. Stir well and cool the mixture to room temperature.
- Meanwhile beat eggs, Sucanat and vanilla in large bowl with a mixer until well incorporated and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
- Add the chocolate-butter mixture to egg mixture and beat until well combined.
- In medium sized-bowl, mix the remaining dry ingredients: cocoa powder, sea salt, 7 oz chopped chocolate chunks, chopped nuts, and aniseed. Add to the egg/chocolate mixture and mix well.
- Scoop cookie dough with a tablespoon onto an un-greased cookie sheet.
- Bake at 350 for 9 minutes.
- Remove cookies from baking sheet with a spatula and cool on wire racks.
- Once fully cooled, store in tightly lidded containers in a cool place.
Makes 26 cookies
The aromatic sweet seeds of Myrrhis odorata can be used in place of aniseed or fennel seed for flavoring beverages and dishes. Note the seeds are most flavorful when fully formed but still green; see image below. Now in early fall, the seeds of sweet cicely are dark brown and lack flavor. At this point the seeds are good for planting — sweet cicely seeds need to be planted soon after the plant produces them as older seeds won't germinate.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) of the Boraginaceae family offers many gifts, ranging from food and medicine for us humans (if we dare, please see cautionary note below); as fodder for animals; and as a soil enricher referred to in permaculture as a dynamic accumulator. Right now this perennial plant flourishes, lush, vibrant and green in the landscape, making it a perfect time to gather its nutrient dense leaves for food and medicine. Dry the leaves for a mineral rich, soothing tea or use to make a topical healing oil. The smaller, younger leaves can be eaten as a cooked vegetable aka potherb: tasty in soup, quiche, frittata, etc. Or feed the leaves to your compost pile; brew them into a green manure tea for feeding plants; or if you have goats, feed some to them— they will love it.
Click for more on pyrrolizidine alkaloids.
The time of year has arrived for harvesting nettle seeds (Urtica dioica). The seeds of this perennial are considered a super food with adaptogenic properties. This means they help the body handle stress... all kinds of stress, by supporting adrenal function. Dosage: 1/2–1 teaspoon of fresh or dried seeds sprinkled into salads, soups, stews, etc. The seeds taste mild with a crunchy texture and can be easily added to dishes. Amazingly, some herbalist are finding the seeds help heal damaged kidneys — wow! Here is to a wild, invasive, highly useful medicinal food. FYI, may be very stimulating/energizing to some folks, so best to eat earlier in the day. Enjoy! Image from our book Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook. Check this link for more info on nettle seed.
The following six pages devoted to stock-making — including vegetable stock (wild or cultivated) — are excerpts from my book Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook. Many folks ask for this information. I want to share it and make it publicly available. Enjoy!
Today's pawpaw: a visual essay with ice cream option.