I asked Chef Yadi when we actually foraged the grape leaves and he recalls it to be sometime in the summer. We found the leaves along the river in St. Anthony Main Park during a weekend when it was still hot outside in Minneapolis and though I wanted to start making stuffed grape leaves right away, I knew immediately I should spend the nice day outdoors rather than inside; for I'd regret it come winter. That evening, after the sun set, I cut all the stems off the leaves and blanched them. After they were cool to touch, I laid them, one on top of the other, on a flat plate. Then I tucked them into a zip lock bag and shoved them in the freezer, albeit a bit recklessly, until this past Sunday when I gently removed them from the freezer while praying that I didn't damage them from all the fumbling during the last season of eating. After the leaves defrosted, they were miraculously still in tact. Phew.
I got to bring out a few old kitchen friends for this project. I used, but not pictured here, my trusted Pyrex #404 yellow Pyrex bowl for mixing the stuffing and I boiled the stuffed grape leaves in my Caribbean Le Creuset Dutch oven! A new addition to my kitchen last week was an Epicurean cutting board. Did you know that they are responsibly made in Duluth, Minnesota, USA? I rolled my grape leaves on top of this cutting board. The smooth surface made it pretty easy for me to chop my vegetables and use it for rolling.
To protect them from unraveling during the cooking process, we used pieces of potatoes and broken grape leaves (we don't like to waste things around here) to fill in all the nooks. I can't explain the feeling inside of me when I stared into my pot and saw the layers of grape leaves that Chef Yadi perfectly "tetris'd" together so that they would not budge. You see, this pot had never held grape leaves before. And my kitchen has never witnessed such a rolling event. There were so many things that could have gone wrong, but there they all were...snugly waiting to be enjoyed by us all, well, after another hour of simmering!
Voila! They did not fall apart! If I never make time to do this again, I can say...once upon a time, I had a pot in my kitchen full of stuffed grape leaves and they were...delicious! I can't believe it took me so long to try making these when I pay so much for them at Middle Eastern restaurants...and dare I say...mine are way better than any grape leaves I've ever eaten! I felt like the luckiest person in the world. Ok, enough self congratulatory comments. But I'll leave you with the trick to this whole thing: all you have to do is forage grape leaves on a beautiful summer day in Minnesota.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
40-50 grape leaves, preferably foraged
1 1/2 cups of rice
6 roma tomatoes (make sure they are still a bit hard)
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup parsley, finely chopped
1TBSP 7 spice
2 tsp salt
1 TBSP pepper
1 1/2 cup of meat, diced (optional)
1 cup olive oil
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup water
1 medium potato, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices to line the bottom of the pan
Mix all the ingredients under stuffing in a Pyrex 404/444 or medium bowl.
Roll grape leaves. I did this by pointing the stem side towards me and adding about 1 TBSP of stuffing onto the "fatter" part of the leaf. Make an elongated shape (lengthwise/left to right) with the stuffing (think a thin AA battery). I folded the bottom part up, then folded in the slides and rolled it out. You may want to watch a video on this, as I may not be clearly explaining "how I roll." The thinner the stuffing is, the more layers of grape leaf you can roll around the stuffing and thus the more lemon juice it will soak up and the tastier it will be.
Stack all grape leaves snugly against each other, on top of the layer of potatoes. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Or you will really regret it, because the heat could break the leaves and you'll end up with a pile of mush as your bottom layer. Keep stacking additional layers. I had 3 layers for mine. Pour in lemon juice and water. When liquid boils, turn down to a simmer and let it be that way for about an hour. After the pot cools, gently remove grape leaves and set into a storage container of your choice,