One of my favorite wild foods to eat are grapes and their leaves (vitis spp.) The grapes themselves are delicious, especially as a sauce for wild meats. I could do a whole write up on the grapes themselves (and will soon!) but for now the focus of this post is on the leaves. Wild Grape is a flowering dioecious (separate male and female fowers) vine in the Vitaceae family, found throughout the Northern hemisphere. Grape leaves have been eaten by many people throughout the world and are still consumed to this day. One of their most famous incarnations is as dolmas: preserved grape leaves stuffed with various vegetables and/or meats and served with sauces, often yogurt.
On their own, grape leaves have a kind of sourness to them that pairs well with bright citrus flavors as well as aromatic and spicy flavors. They are abundant and versatile and as such I love to find new ways to use them. Of course, old standards are sometimes just the thing you need and as we transition to a more cool autum I find myself desiring one of my favorite incarnations of grape leaves. That is to say stuffed, with a spiced meat mixture and cooked in a mushroomy-tomato sauce. Below is the recipe.
Stuffed wild grape leaves in tomato sauce
1 large onion
1 cup mushrooms
2 cups tomato puree
1 lb ground beef
1 tsp salt
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp chopped preserved lemon (optional, but yummy!)
½ tsp black pepper
1 Tb lard, butter or olive oil
10-20 grape leaves depending on size
Pre-heat oven to 375. Halve the onion and chop it into slices, then dice the other half. In a skillet over medium-low heat sauté the onions in fat for about ten minutes, sprinkled with a little salt. Chop mushrooms and add, cook another five or so minutes. Then add 2 cups of tomato puree. Meanwhile, mix the ground beef in a bowl with the diced onion, salt, spices and an egg and the optional chopped lemons. Spoon some of the beef mixture into the center of each grape leaf and fold the sides and then the bottom and top towards the middle, forming a little package. Sometimes they stay together better than other times so if need be brush them with a little egg white mixed with water to make them stick. When all the leaves are stuffed place them into the pan and spoon a little sauce over them. Throw the skillet in the oven and let cook for 30-45 minutes (depending on the size of the leaves).