{foraging} June is for Dolmades

We have limited light in our small backyard because of trees to our south and west.  We trellis grapes around six and a half feet above our deck and up onto the wall of our house to maximize our edible gardening space.

Grape vines trellised on the side of the house

Grape leaves are among the first produce of the season from our garden, reaching dolmades-size in early June, right after the peach tree stops blooming and the lilacs are finished.  I am careful to remove the leaves primarily from vines we will trim back so that they don’t whack us in the head when we go up and down the stairs from the deck to the back yard.  I don’t want to remove too many leaves that will feed the grape bunches on the rest of our vines.

If you don’t have grape vines in your back yard, think of planting some cold hardy varieties. If you don’t have a back yard and you live in Saratoga, there are unsprayed grape vines all around town left over from the Italian gardeners of yesteryear.  When I don’t want to use my own leaves, I forage along the fence along the horse track that fronts East Avenue between George and Madison and pick grapes leaves from those vines.  Early in the year, you can pick any large grape leaves.  Later in the summer, pick the large shade leaves because they are thinner and more tender than the leaves growing in the sun.  Grape leaves look something like the maple leaves in the over story along the track, so make sure you are not picking maple leaves from vine-covered saplings instead of grape leaves from vines.  The grape leaves are thinner and less deeply lobed.

Grape vines growing by the fence along the Oklahoma Track

Grape above, maple leaf below

Parboiling – To make stuffed grape leaves, or dolmades, select around 30 large leaves.  Place them three at a time in boiling water for about a minute, until the leaves change color from bright green to dull green.  Carefully unfold each leaf and pat it dry with a towel. You can make a flat stack of them while you finish processing the rest of the leaves.  They rip easily, so you need to handle them delicately.  Take each leaf off the stack and lay it on a cutting board.  Use a paring knife to cut off the stem and any thick veins at the bottom of the leaf.  Set aside for rolling.

grapes leaves unfolded, dried and stacked

Cut the stem off the leaf

Filling – You can vary this, adding chopped fennel or another firm vegetable, or look up a lamb filling on the internet if you prefer a meat filling.

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add 1 finely chopped onion and cook for a few minutes until translucent.  Add 1 cup of pine nuts, 1 cup uncooked white rice, 1 tsp salt, 1 ½ cups stock or water, ½ cup chopped  mint leaves, ½ cup chopped dill.

Cover, turn heat to medium low and cook for 10 minutes.  Remove to a large bowl and cool.  Add pepper to taste and the juice of one lemon.

Filling for dolmades

Rolling – Lay each leaf shiny side down, vein-y side up, on a cutting board.  Lay a tablespoon of filling in a line across the bottom half of the leaf, around one-third inch up from the edge, parallel to the stem end.

Place the filling toward the bottom of the leaf

Fold the stem end up over the filing, then fold in the sides, gathering all loose ends toward the middle.  Roll up toward the tip of the leaf. Don’t roll the rice-grape leaf packets too tightly, because the filling contains undercooked rice that will expand as you finish cooking the stuffed grape leaves.

fold up the bottom edge, then fold in the sides

Cooking –  Place each rolled grape leaf in a large, heavy skillet, seam side down.  When all of the leaves are filled and rolled, add enough stock or water to cover the bottom halves of the rolled leaves.  Place a Pyrex pie plate on top of the skillet to weigh the dolmades down lightly.  Simmer over low heat for half an hour.

Dolmades in the skillet

Drain, cool and remove to a serving platter.  Drizzle with lemon juice and/or olive oil.

Finished plate full of dolmades

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Categories: cooking, Foraging, Gardening, recipe

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14 Comments on “{foraging} June is for Dolmades”

  1. June 8, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

    Great post!! We just bought a house that will be perfect for growing grapes and all I really want them for is the dolmades! I will likely also make some wine lol, but I’m excited to make my Greek mother proud.

    • Dianna
      June 8, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

      It took me several years of having the vines to realize that I could make dolmades from them. You are way ahead of me! I was sitting on the deck staring at the vines one afternoon wondering what to make for a potluck that night when I finally made the connection.

  2. June 8, 2011 at 11:02 pm #

    Wow. I have such culture envy right now. Although to be fair my culture is advising me to eat cheesecake today and tomorrow. But to be honest, I don’t want cheesecake in the spring.

    • Dianna
      June 9, 2011 at 7:50 am #

      Dolmades are a good cheesecake substitute, I find.

    • jay
      May 4, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

      stuff ’em with cheesecake!

  3. Deb G.
    June 9, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    I have a wild grape vine in the back corner of my yard. Can’t wait to try these! No more deli dolmades for me : )

    • Dianna
      June 9, 2011 at 10:57 am #

      the difference is amazing. The canned ones seem slimy after you have fresh ones.

  4. June 8, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Have you ever tried to preserve the grape leaves for later use? I have a non-producing grape vine in my yard, and I can’t believe I’ve never thought about this!

    • Dianna
      June 8, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      I haven’t, but I have seen instructions on the web on how to do it. I think if you go to Punk Domestics, they have a grape leaf preservation recipe. Let us know if you are successful!

  5. June 16, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    Well I was inspired and doing quite well…picked the grape leaves, blanched them, made the filling, rolled them up, but the steaming part, a depressing dolmad disaster!! They completely fell apart when I removed them to cool and now all I have is a messy filling mess with some shredded grapes leaves on top. Yummy anyhow, but oh how I would have just skipped the last step!!

    • Dianna
      June 16, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

      That’s sad. Mine never did that; maybe you boiled them? Or removed them too quickly? Mine have never done that, so my suggestion is whatever you did, do less of it or do it more gently. Try again, the grape leaves are still in full flower, so to speak.

  6. Carol G.
    January 16, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    Are all grape leaves edible. Have one in my yard and have seen tiny grapes on it, but know nothing about it.

    • January 16, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

      as far as I know all grape leaves are edible. I forage them sometimes and have never yet met a grape leave that I haven’t been able to eat. So try parboiling some young leaves and seeing if they seem tender to you. If they are tender, you can eat them.


  1. {diy project} Wine Grape Jelly | FROM SCRATCH CLUB - September 5, 2013

    […] grapes about the size of large blackberries.  The vines are a great source of grape leaves for my dolmades fixation, but the wine has been horrible.  Granted, we don’t know a lot about making wine, but the wine […]

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