My brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life.


Title More Clever Than "Grape Leaves of Wrath"

Posted on July 12, 2009 by crankycheryl

When I was 12, I had a horrible and embarrassing crush on Danny Decker.  Look, these Passaic boys were all cute and crazy and I just did, ok?  At least until he started calling me “weed-eater” because my father made pasta with dandelion greens.  I could have keeled over and died.

Fast forward 27 years and I am not ashamed to call myself a weed-eater. Of course, risks remain.  These days when I go out to forage, though I may not have any teen-aged delinquents mocking me, I do find myself facing dangers like this vicious creature:

lichees lollipops groundhog 009

Still, I’ve been out bravely stalking grape leaves.  Did you know that you can pick and use the ones that grow wild?  And that they grow nearly everywhere?  And that you can use them to wrap or stuff all sorts of wonderful things for practically nothing if you pick your own?

cake papaya salad bread 008A brief word of caution about picking wild food for eating: Don’t pick foods close to busy roadways as they could be filled with toxins and heavy metals, and do make sure that your area isn’t sprayed with chemicals.  Also, don’t pick things unless you’re sure you’re getting the right thing – bring someone to show you if you aren’t confident.

Grape leaves are pretty unmistakable.  They grow on vines that are happy to climb nearly anywhere, and have a classic familiar shape, and distinctive curling tendrils from their woody vines.  Choose those that are a nice bright green without any brown, of medium size, and are free of holes or tears.

You can eat them fresh, or preserve them in brine for later.  Though I’ve only tried them fresh, I’m gearing up to can a big batch to last all winter long.  Here are a couple of recipes to try them out with, if you dare.

Vietnamese-Style Grape Leaves, Vegetarian or Meat
Serves 8 as an appetizer or light lunch.  This is based on the stuffed grape leaves we served for dim sum at Five Spice after having a version at a little Vietnamese restaurant in New York’s Chinatown.

  • 40 grape leaves, fresh or from a jar
  • 12 oz. seitan, ground or mashed to the consistency of ground meat OR 3/4 lb. of ground turkey
  • 1 1/2 T. fish sauce or soy sauce
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • mild flavored oil for brushing and broiling
  • 3/4 c. Thai or Vietnamese-style sesame or peanut sauce for serving

If using fresh grape leaves, place in sauce pan of boiling water and let sit for 5 minutes or so.  Mix together seitan, garlic, soy sauce and salt until very thoroughly combined.  Lightly oil a broiler-safe pan and set aside.

Remove leaves from water to drain.  Take first leaf and place it on a plate or cutting board with the top facing away from you.  Place a spoonful of filling about 2 inches above the bottom of the leaf.  Fold over the left side lengthwise.  (By the way, your filling won’t look like this as I mixed in 1/2 pureed white beans into the seitan, which wasn’t quite as good as just seitan is on its own.)

cake papaya salad bread 011

Fold over the right side.

cake papaya salad bread 012

Fold up the bottom.

cake papaya salad bread 013

Roll all the way up, and place with the smoother side up on your prepared pan.  Continue with remaining leaves until all are done.  Brush with oil, and then broil until filling is cooked through and tops are lightly blackened.  Serve warm or at room temperature with the sesame sauce.

cake papaya salad bread 009

For another less traditional preparation, try:
Grape Leaves Stuffed with Tomatoey Rice, Pine Nuts and Bacon
Serves 8 as an appetizer or light lunch

  • 40 grape leaves, fresh or from a jar
  • 2 cups cooked brown or white rice
  • 1 T. tomato paste
  • 3 T. pine nuts
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
  • 3 slices of turkey or veggie bacon, cooked, cooled, and crumbled
  • 3 T. lemon juice
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 c. olive oil

Follow directions above for preparing and rolling leaves.  For the filling, mix together rice, tomato paste, garlic, pine nuts and bacon until very well combined – make sure there are no globs of tomato paste left.

Place in a greased, rimmed baking sheet, and heat oven to 375.  When all leaves are rolled, whisk together lemon juice, salt and olive oil, and pour over the top.  Cover with a second baking sheet or foil, and bake for 30 minutes or until warm.  Let sit for 20 minutes or so and then serve.

Remove leaves from water to drain.  Take first leaf and place it on a plate or cutting board with the top facing away from you.

Serves 8 as an appetizer or light lunch
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  • Interesting! I love grape leaves & I’m from NJ.

  • Danielle

    How do I not remember Danny Decker or your humiliation of him calling you a weed-eater? And yes, those Passaic boys were cute and crazy which is how I wound up married to one for a bit!

    Well, anyway, your dad made the best food ever for us but I’m sure Danny Decker was too busy just eating slices from Romeo’s and standing around the dog pound trying to look cool to know anything about that.

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    Cheryl Herrick's brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life. All original content (written, graphical, recipes or other), unless otherwise noted, is © and/or TM Cheryl Herrick. All rights reserved by the author. Want to reprint a recipe? Just get in touch and ask.

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