Saturday, May 23, 2015


Having inspected the grape vines on the terraced hillside, Fran, my gardener, announced it was time to prune them, “en verde,“ when the first bunches of grapes have appeared. He showed me the infant grapes and said the non fruit-bearing stems should be cut back, so all the vine’s energy goes into making fat grapes. Then, he said, it’s time to spray the vines against mildew.

Bunches of tiny grapes appear on the vines.
I asked Fran to bring me all the pruned leaves, before spraying. “What for?” he asked. To make stuffed grape leaves, I told him. Here in southern Spain, this is unheard of. But I’ve been using vine leaves from the arbor ever since I first found a recipe for them in A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden (I have a 1972 Penguin edition).

I usually make the version from that book with minced lamb and rice in the stuffing. But this time I found a recipe in Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking (John Wiley, 2009) without meat, calling for rose petals mixed into the rice stuffing. I grabbed some of the fragrant petals before Fran got to them with the spray.

Grape leaves do appear in Spanish cooking as a wrap for food to be cooked over a wood fire. Vineyard workers, hunters, wayfarers on the Camino de Santiago, might snare wild birds or fish, wrap them with ham fat and vine leaves and grill them for a tasty meal. The grape leaves are not meant to be eaten; they flavor the food and protect it from the embers. 

Grape leaves have a lemony, citric flavor. I’ve used them, shredded, as a substitute for lemongrass in Southeast Asian recipes. I also use them as a pan-liner for oven-roasted chicken or fish.

Vine leaves enclose a stuffing of rice, raisins and pine nuts.

Stuffed quail, wrapped in grape leaves, ready for the grill.

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Stuffed vine leaves are cooked with garlic, lemon, tomato.

If you don’t have a grape arbor to provide (unsprayed) leaves, use the ones packed in brine from a Greek or Middle Eastern grocery.

3 dozen small, freshly-picked grape leaves
½ cup medium-grain rice
1 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon seedless raisins
1 tablespoon chopped mint or dill leaves
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Dried rose petals, crushed, or fresh (unsprayed), chopped (optional)
½ lemon, sliced
2 cloves garlic, slivered
1 tomato, halved and sliced
Water to cover the grape leaves
Greek yogurt, to serve
Chopped mint
Crushed garlic

Wash the leaves. Blanch them in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and cool.

Place the rice in a heatproof bowl. Pour the boiling water over it and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Drain the rice and place in a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, onion, pine nuts, raisins, chopped mint, parsley, ½ teaspoon salt, freshly ground pepper, cinnamon, allspice and rose petals, if using.  Mix well.

Working with one leaf at a time, spread it out, shiny side down, on work surface. Nip out the stem and discard. Place a scant teaspoon of the rice mixture at the stem end of the leaf. 

Fold up the bottom, fold over the side lobes, then roll the leaf up like a cigar.

Line a small pan or cazuela with slices of lemon. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon of oil. Place the grape leaves as they are rolled, seam-side down, in the pan. Pack them in as tightly as possible. Tuck slivers of garlic between the rolls. Add any remaining lemon slices and the sliced tomato. Add water to just cover the rolls, about 1 cup.

Place a heat-proof saucer on top of the grape leaves to prevent their bobbing up in the water. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to minimum and cook until grape leaves are tender and rice is cooked, about 25 minutes.. Remove the saucer. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the pan.

Invert the pan onto a plate, pouring off any remaining liquid. Serve the grape leaves room temperature or chilled, accompanied by a sauce of Greek yogurt mixed with chopped mint, crushed garlic and salt.

Vine leaves with yogurt-mint sauce.

Quail Grilled in Grape Leaves
Codornices en Hojas de Parra

Grilled quail wrapped in vine leaves.
Quail are farm-raised, not wild. Serve one quail per person as a starter or tapa, but allow two or three for each if they are to be a main course.

Use large vine leaves to wrap the quail. The leaves don’t need to be blanched, although blanching makes it easier to wrap the birds. Use kitchen twine to secure the leaves around the quail.

Vine leaves to wrap, raisins in the stuffing and, to follow the grape-y theme, a glass of wine with the quail. A fruity Tempranillo red or Verdejo white would complement the quail.

This is campfire food. Use your fingers to eat the quail!

4 quail, each about 5 ounces
Salt and pepper
Thyme leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons seeded raisins
1 tablespoon chopped bacon
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
8 large grape leaves

Split the quail open through the breast bone and spread them open. Place in a non-reactive container. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, thyme and lemon juice. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Allow the quail to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes or, covered and refrigerated, up to 24 hours.

In a small bowl combine the breadcrumbs, raisins, bacon, pine nuts and parsley. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and salt and pepper.

Open up the quail on a work surface. Place a spoonful of the breadcrumb stuffing on each. Close the quail. Use 2 grape leaves to wrap each quail, tying them with twine to make packets.

If grilling the quail, start charcoal burning. When coals are hot, place quail on grill at lowest position. Grill 10-15 minutes; turn the quail and grill another 10 minutes. 

To oven-roast the quail: preheat oven to 425ºF. Place the wrapped quail on a rack. Roast 15 minutes, turn them and roast 10 minutes more.

Unwrap the packets.

Stuffed quail are grilled to perfection.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting versions! But the stuffed vine leaves as a dish from Greece or Middle east is usually known as Dolma/ Dolmades :)