Summer awakens with grape leaves, off the vine
I first discovered the superior taste of fresh grape leaves, compared to those that come in jars, when I lived in a small house on one of Jerusalem’s many hills, surrounded by grapevines.
It is that time a year, when farmer markets begin to burst in colors, with nectarines, plums and some premature melons. But if you venture beyond the beaten path you can find some of the most exotic produce this season has to offer.
At my local Iranian grocery store I found in the past couple of weeks some wonderful treasures, like fresh green almonds and mini sour green plums, both taste great and can make for an interesting snack.
But my most exciting find were the fresh grape leaves. You can find them this time of year in many Middle-Eastern markets, or you can make it a day trip and pick them yourself at your nearest vineyard.
I first discovered the superior taste of fresh grape leaves, compared to those that come in jars, when I lived in a small house on a one of Jerusalem’s many hills, surrounded by grapevines. This endless supply of grape leaves allowed me to experiment with more daring options, such as the grape leaves quiche (right on time for Mother’s Day!) I wouldn’t make the quiche with the jarred ones.
The most common use of the grape leaves are the dolmas, the Turkish stuffed leaves.
There’s something to be said about dolmas or any other stuffed dish. Stuffed onions, cabbage, tomatoes, eggplant and grape leaves, as well as kibbeh, kreplach or burek are labor intense, no doubt about that. But they are also the best way to express your love to the people you cook for. And it never goes unappreciated, as so many people I know will chose one of those dishes as their favorite. I hope to give you more recipes for stuffed vegetables in the future.
Just how strong is the tie between stuffed grape leaves and love? Listen to the story of my friend Shmulik and his mother.
Shmulik’s brother lives on the West Coast, and when his mother came from Israel to visit, she promised to cook him all his favorite dishes for him.
The brother had a friend with a grapevine-covered patio who gladly agreed to let the mother pick her own leaves and use them for her famous dolmas. She was left to pick the leaves and cook at the friend’s house all morning.
When the friend came back from work that day he could not believe his eyes. The patio was bare, not a single leaf was left on the grapevine and his fridge and freezer were stocked with perfectly arranged dolmas, enough to feed a family for a year.
But that’s not the end of the story. Six months later, there was a knock on his door. A woman he had never met before introduced herself as a neighbor and said that earlier that year an elderly woman asked her to keep a few extra trays of dolmas in her freezer. The neighbor was moving out of her apartment and was wanted to know if he would like to have his dolmas back.
I think there’s a moral to the story. There’s no such thing as too much love. Or too many dolmas.
Vered Guttman is a caterer and a food writer based in Washington DC. Growing up in Israel she took her first lessons in Jewish cooking sitting at the tables of her two grandmothers, one from Poland, the other from Iraq. In Modern Manna, Vered will share a mix of new Israeli trends and old Jewish traditions, sprinkled with a distinct Sephardic flavor. Follow Vered on Twitter @veredguttman