Edible Ode To The Vine

February 18th, 2016 § 0 comments

I’m back in the Helshoogte mountains, surrounded by an undulating carpet of vine leaves. Just before Christmas, I was moved to express my gratitude for once again living in this verdant valley that produces such outstanding gossip wines. In a way that required a little more effort than simply raising a glass to the lights of Paarl twinkling across the valley at sunset.

Stuff them, I figured. With rice or pork, Greek or Middle-Eastern style. Undeterred by the fact that spring was a good few months past and the leaves were somewhat mature (thick and inflexible) for this exercise, I set off into the vineyard with a plastic shopping bag, clippers and a large hat. I was a straw hamper and wavy blonde hair short of a bucolic cliché. Or a shampoo ad.

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Pick shiraz leaves, the winemaker yelled as he drove past. Because they’re the biggest. I tried to pick the softer, big leaves but by mid December they had all grown strong spines. Nevermind, we hardly ever follow the recipe in any case. I decided on Greek dolmades with a herby, rice filling, as I was in a dill-is-my-catnip phase.

After boiling the leaves in salt water with a splash of lemon, I placed half in a glass jar and stored it in the fridge*. Next year I shall brine several jars in spring, before the leaves grow built-in toothpicks.

The rice filling is fast and simple to make. I used Basmati rice because it’s my go-to white rice. Rice, olive oil, onion, lemon juice, dill and parsley. Clean, lovely flavours. I lined a deep pan with some of the tattier leaves, and started rolling. Now. This is where being Greek would come in handy.

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It takes a lot of leaf to roll one tablespoon of rice into a chaste bundle. But after a few botched attempts, I managed to churn out some decent dolmades impersonators. Plus, they tasted better than anything I’ve had in local Greek restaurants, and much much better than anything you can find at a supermarket.

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The rolled leaves are drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, covered in water and cooked over medium heat for about 40 minutes. The trick is to cover them with a plate so they don’t go floating about. An hour of simmering softened the leaves nicely but they were still strong enough to hold their shape as the rice expanded during cooking.

In our culture, vine leaves are not readily seen as food. So it felt good to make something so delicious from a resource that is generally overlooked. With nose-to-tail being all the rage, I’m doing root-to-shoot with the vine.

Because, really, what would life be without this generous plant?

*After two months in the fridge, I used the remainder of the leaves and to be honest, I prefer the freshly brined ones. Unsurprisingly, fresher is better. 

The My Greek Dish recipe lends itself well to improvisation, in terms of quantity and flavour.

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