Cooking With Invasives, (and over-abundances): Wild Grape Leaf Dolmas
by libby, August 11 2021
Like we promised, we brought the heat and came prepared to the CSA this week with an amazing new recipe! You know those funky green leafs you see creeping up everywhere- parking lots fences, forest trees, even houses- well what if I told you they were delicious. These overly abundant vines are Wild Grapes, and while the berries are a well known trail snack, we are here to teach you how to eat the edible leaves as well! Everyones favorite Mediterranean dish Dolmas, or stuffed grape leafs, can be made with the very leaves you find in your back yard! Have we possibly come up with our best recipe yet this week? You have to try and let us know!
30 grape leafs
1 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups of Japanese white rice
1 medium onion
2 tbsp pine nuts
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp mint
1 tbsp dill
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cumin
Harvest and wash wild grape leafs, boil until tender and color fades to olive green.
Dice onions into small cubes and cook rice according to packaging.
Heat oil add onions and pine nuts, sauté until onions turn clear.
Add onion/pine nuts & seasoning to cooked rice
Taking a large grape leaf or layering 2-3 smaller grape leaves, lay out flat and add approx 1 tsp of filling. Roll into cigar shape.
Cover bottom of large skillet with grape leaves to prevent dolmas from burning, layer dolmas on grape leaves.
Pour olive oil and water over dolmas until first layer is reached and place inverted plate on top.
Steam for 30-45 minutes. Enjoy!
If you need help practicing your rolling abilities, this recipe is for you ;)! This is also the perfect activity to do with family and friends! The love and effort that goes into foraging these leafs and rolling these dolmas makes an incredibly special meal perfect for sharing. It is also super customizable and you can experiment with adding different veggies and proteins! As you dig into your dolmas. lets also dig into some of the history and reasons to forage for wild grape!
What Is Wild Grape?
Though not biologically related, I would consider wild grape a sister of sorts to the wild raspberry. Both are easily identifiable and grow everywhere. And both are known for their delicious berries but have amazing edible leafs that are often overlooked. While the wild grape fruit is not quite ripe, it is the perfect time to eat its leaves. Once you learn to identify it, you will probably see the creeping green vine everywhere. Wild grape, Vitis spp., is a native creeping vine found all over Vermont and the eastern United States. The small berries provide in important food source for wildlife and birds, as well as the abundant Vermont foraging community. But although it is a non strangling vine that can peacefully coexist with the trees, it can often cause problems to forest and tree health. These vines can become heavy in the winter and weigh down canopies often disfiguring and killing trees. Heavy vine and grape leaf growth can also block sunlight from reaching the tree, slowing down its photosynthesis process. While wild grape poses no real invasive threat to the area, it is a rapid grower and incredibly abundant. By choosing to forage and harvest this plant, as opposed to other fragile natives like ostrich ferns and ramps, you allow the environment to become more biodiverse and are not stealing the forest of significant ecological components.
Left: Grape vine, Middle: Grape leaf, Right: Creeping growth
How to Identify:
Wild grape grows off of a dark brown woody vine that is covered in flaking bark. If growing with trees the vine can get quite tall- up to 15 meters. The heart shaped leafs are quite distinct, growing alternately along the vine, with 3 distinct margins and toothed edges. Leafs can be from 2 to 6 inches. The stems, often tinted red are often hairy and have several spiraling tendrils. While the plants often have clusters of grapes, many plants in the Vitaceae family are dioecious, meaning having separate male and female plants, so don't be concerned if the vine you have is not producing fruit. Be wary of toxic look alike to this plant, such as Virginia creeper, Common moonseed, and Porcelainberry.
Look-alikes: Left: Virginia Creeper, Middle: Porcelainberry, Right: Common Moonseed
Why to eat, how to eat:
Wild grapes have been harvested for centuries. Abenaki people have traditionally used the berries in jellies or as snacks. The berries are edible in fall, but taste better after the first frost. The berries are often small and tart, so are great in juices or wine. The leaves can be cooked or eaten raw! Some love to use in spring salads. It is best to harvest grape leaves while they are younger and shinier, although they are edible their entire life span. Larger leaves are more bitter and tough but can be fermented or pickled nicely. If using larger leaves it is recommended to boil in water first to make them softer and easier to fold. To store leafs for winter, they can be blanched and frozen. The leafs are low in calories, high in fiber, and full of antioxidants- more so than the berries! The only note I have when harvesting besides abiding to the sustainable foraging rules is to be conscious of where you are foraging. Make sure there is not heavy pesticide use or toxins in the soil that can be taken up into the plant. I recommend forest foraging as opposed to roadsides for these ones!
We still have our amazing goat friends visiting (they will be here until August 25th!) so I spent the day cooking while Nora watched the goats, and Nora ran the majority of the CSA while I watched the goats. However Nora reported back to me that people brave enough to try loved the dolmas! One woman who was greek said she loved them so much she would spend the whole night thinking about them. We ran out far before the CSA was over and I was able to come and catch the end. The amount of people who loved dolmas but have never thought of using wild grape leaves was significant, hopefully we convinced some people to forage. A member of the CSA, and now good friend of ours, Ron Krupp brought us a copy of his book Lifting the Yoke, which I am ecstatic to read. It emphasizes the important on a local diet and small farms to the global unsustainable agricultural issue, he thought it would be relevant to our work with foraging for invasive and I could not agree more. Until next week foragers!
And don't think I forgot a Goat Update!