Key Ingredient


Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Ingredient of the week

Key ingredient: grape leaves

Here, luau leaves are used to encase succulent pieces of pork, chicken or fish. In Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines, grape leaves are the wrap of choice.

The basics: Grape leaves are the large green leaves of the grapevine. The Greeks are said to have been the first to eat them, in times of famine. Today they are eaten stuffed with rice, ground lamb, herbs, squashes and bulgur wheat.

Fresh leaves impart a unique flavor and aroma, but preserved leaves are more readily available. Most preserved leaves in the United States come from California, where they are harvested by hand and preserved in salt brine. Un-brined leaves can sometimes be found frozen in stacks.

Selecting: Young grape leaves from California are suggested over the imported Greek variety, which tend to be very salty and tough.

Storing: Grape leaves in brine will keep for some time in the refrigerator. Fresh leaves should be frozen if not used right away. This also helps to tenderize them.

Use: If using preserved leaves, rinse and pat dry to remove the brine. If you can find fresh leaves, they need to be simmered in water with a dash of salt and lemon juice for five to 10 minutes.

Grape leaves can then be stuffed. Recipes such as dolmades involve just a few ingredients such as onion, rice, ground meat and fresh herbs. Many recipes suggest stuffing the leaves a day ahead for better flavor.

Fish fillets may be baked in grape leaves with a olive oil, capers, lemon and salt.

Where to buy: Fresh leaves are difficult to obtain here. You will more than likely have to purchase them preserved and, unfortunately, even these are not readily available.

Grape leaves are carried at specialty food stores such as R. Field or Strawberry Connection, as well as health-food stores. The leaves are sold in 8- to 24-ounce bottles and range in price from $6.99 to $8.99.

Food Stuffs: Morsels

Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga is
a free-lance food writer. Contact her
online through

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