This guideline will show you how to select and prepare either fresh or regular preserved grape leaves with a variety of fillings and sauces. Cooking methods include oven, steaming, or microwave.
Now, I knew those Greek grandmothers did not buy their leaves in the store, but I couldn't find any directions for using fresh leaves. So, here I include real directions on how to use fresh leaves.
In response to further questions on harvesting fresh leaves:
Blanch loose, a dozen at a time, by placing in strong salted boiling brine, 1 C. salt to 4 C. water. Bring water back to a boil and then remove leaves immediately with a skimmer or pancake turner; and then plunge the leaves immediately into cold/ ice water. Drain, dry with paper towels or shake dry. Don't omit this, it is done to set the color and also prevents enzyme action while freezing.
You can do this blanching in the microwave- it takes about 10 minutes at full power to bring the brine to a boil, then 2 minutes at full power for each dozen leaves. If you are reducing salt, you can do this in plain boiling water.
Use immediately, or stack in rolls of six, roll from the side and tie; wrap in airtight plastic and freezer bags. Use as soon as thawed- they don't keep too well after freezing.
SAFETY ALERTIf you are canning grape leaves, you add 1 cup of fresh lemon juice OR 2 1/2 teaspoons of powdered citric acid to each quart of brine to provide an acid environment that fights botulism.
Prepare bundles: stack 6 to 20 blanched leaves of the same size. Put the shiny side UP. Line up the stem ends. Roll from the side. Tie bundles with real cotton string, not poly or synthetic.
You can blanch loose and then roll [see the frozen leaves blanching direction above], but if you are going to preserve them, I think it is easier to make smallish bundles and then blanch the bundles, no more than 4 at a time, for up to 3 minutes. Turn occasionally while boiling to blanch evenly.
Pack rolls tightly in sterilized canning jars, jars all the same size, gently bending rolls if necessary to get the ends below the shoulder of the jar.
Make brine: 1/4 cup kosher salt or pickling salt per quart of water, boil at least five minutes, and keep it hot. Fill the jars to cover all bundles with at least 1/2 inch of brine above the bundles. You need a little more than 1 cup brine per jar.
Pour hot brine to fill the jars. Run a stainless steel table knife or spoon (not iron or steel) around the edge of each jar to get out air bubbles.
Final processing: Review canning process in any standard recipe book- you need jars, giant pot, etc. You have the sterilized jars filled with rolled leaves covered with brine. Put on the sterilized two piece lids, kep your fingers off the rim and inside of the jar and the lid. Place on a rack in a pot containing boiling water to cover to 1/2 the depth of the jars. Fill with boiling water to 2" above the jars, cover the pot, bring to a boil and boil hard 15 minutes for quarts, 10 minutes for pints. Cool the jars and store in a cool dark place.
In the olden days, they didn't do the final processing for any kind of brine pickles. Much quicker, but you'd lose some jars to molds...
Lenten/ vegetarian fillings, meat-free, have rice, onion, pine nuts, currants- traditionally served room temp or cold, with yogurt sauce.
Armenian style, Yallanchee, a cold appetizer of grape leaves wrapped around seasoned rice, but without meat,unlike the grape leaves of Greek cuisine that usually include chopped meat. This makes about 70 rolls:
Rice with onion and ground lamb or beef- traditionally served warm or room temp with egg-lemon sauce. Cypriot/Greek style, about 60 rolls:
Usual process: saute onion and green herbs very briefly, stir in soaked rice, raw meat and other ingredients. Place each leaf shiny side DOWN, stuff and roll. Use 1 tsp. to 1 T. stuffing depending on size of leaf- it expands slightly while cooking.
Trim stem off- it pokes a hole in the roll while cooking. If the center vein is very thick, some folks shave it down.
Place a small spoonful of prepared stuffing at the stem end of the leaf, roll about one half turn. Fold in the two sides. Continue rolling to the tip of the leaf. The package should be firm, but not tight, as the stuffing will expand while cooking.
Bake: Cover tightly. Oven is preheated to 350 o. Pour on your 2-4 C broth/ water. 30-60 minutes, depending on size and whether the broth was hot when you started.
Steam: Put a small heavy plate over the top of the rolls to keep them in place. 60 rolls, 2-4 C broth or water, bring to simmer, lower heat, steam 40-60 minutes covered for usual small size, though it can take longer if the rolls are large or leaves tough. You can use the broth you drain off to make your sauce.
Microwave: Make 2 dozen at a time. Prepare the stuffing using the "saute the rice" method. Put the rolls in a SINGLE layer just touching each other in a 9x11 glass pan. Add 1 1/2 cups broth or water, cover tightly with microwave-safe plastic wrap. Microwave 10-12 minutes at 700 watts- if your oven is high wattage (1000 watts), reduce the power level to 70%.
All methods, cool in the broth, drain and serve. They keep about a week in the refrigerator. If you drain and chill them, you may want to pour a little olive oil and lemon juice over all.
Seasoning variations for the broth/ water: some cooks pour 1/4 -1/2 cup olive oil over the full pan after the broth is added, and some folks add 1/4 C lemon juice to the liquid, or slices of lemon between the layers.
Cucumber and yogurt:
Mix together and let stand a few hours.
Egg and lemon, Greek style:
Beat yolks, beat in lemon juice, carefully beat in enough hot broth to thicken slightly.
Egg and lemon, Cypriot style:
Make just like a standard white sauce, mixing the eggs into the last half of the broth before you add it.