Welcome to my little vineyard. There are several reasons that I have chosen to do this to my front yard, one of those reasons is that I love beautiful things.
The practical reasons are that I use the leaves, the vines, the grapes and the shade in the summer. It took a few days and a lot of work with a little help from my welder friend to get this up and running but I’m so happy I spent the time and the energy on this project. My alfresco dining room is perfect for summertime entertaining.
When the leaves start budding on the arbor I get a special feeling in my gut. I know that summer is coming and that those leaves are going to fill out the arbor and it will be glorious sitting under the vines with my glass of wine. It is also a time to keep an eye on the progression of the leaves.
I pick the leaves when they are a fair size but still young. It is important to note that the leaves should NOT have the white fuzz on the back Pick only leaves that are smooth and green on both sides. I pick all summer long as the new leaves keep growing and growing. Once you have a fair amount of leaves freeze them in a fairly air tight container. I use freezer bags and just squeeze the air out of them before they are sealed, putting about 100 leaves per bag. Then when I use them I know how many I’m making.
Step 1- Prepare your leaves
These leaves came out of the freezer and are thawing in HOT water. This not only thaws the leaf but also then starts the tenderizing process. Important to note: If you are using fresh leaves from the vine to make the stuffed grape leaves you must blanche the leaves until they are soft and pliable. This means you can roll them without breaking the leaf membrane.
Step 2- Prepare your filling
While my leaves are thawing I prepare the filling. I use Ground Lamb and Ground Beef equally. I add brown rice, salt and pepper, garlic, and a pinch of allspice. There is no set amount for anything in this dish. It is all to taste. If you like your food salty, add more salt etc. Mix these ingredients well.
Step 3- Prepare your leaves for stuffing.
After your leaves are prepared start laying them out. When you lay the leaves out to prepare for the rolling of them use a towel to soak up the excess water. It’s best to create a type of production line. This is much more efficient than stuffing and rolling them one by one, you can finish them faster and believe me, you will want to do that. Rolling grape leaves takes a long time and eating them takes seconds!
Step 4- Stuff your leaves
Next, we’ll start stuffing the leaves. Put only the amount of meat in the leaf that you can roll up without having the meat pop out the sides of the leaf. You want them tight. Place the meat on the leaf then fold over the two sides and roll toward the tip of the leaf.
Finishing them up
When you begin to lay the rolled leaves into the pot, make sure you have something covering the base of the pot. I prefer to use sausage because it adds extra flavor to the dish. Then tightly layer the rolled leaves on top of the sausage. Continue this until all of the rolled leaves are tightly packed in the pot.
When all of the rolled leaves are tightly packed into the cooking vessel, Place the extra leaves that you have not rolled over the top, then, using ½ lemon juice and ½ water, fill the pot to the top of the leaves that have been place over the rolled leaves. In this case I am using a large crock pot. Then add the weight of a plate or anything else you may have that is food safe.
You may bake or boil these leaves. When I have several hundred to make I bake them only because I can fit more into a covered commercial baking pan than I can in a pot. The cover acts as the weight of the rolled leaves in this case. For baking, follow the steps that same way. You will bake them at 350 degrees until the water has be absorbed.