Chef-Educator Nancy Krcek Allen shares her knowledge of harvesting Northern Michigan grape leaves, as well as this recipe for stuffing them from her soon-to-be released culinary textbook, Global Tastes/Global Techniques, Twenty Influential World Cuisines published by Pearson-Prentice-Hall:
With fields of wild grapes growing throughout our region Northern Michiganders can experience the tart, tenderness of fresh grape leaves as Mediterranean cooks do. Harvest grape leaves fresh from June through August. Look for tender, large leaves nearest the tip of the vine. Many cooks suggest picking only the top three leaves, but they tend to be small. Pick early for tender leaves—older tough ones work, but need longer blanching. Jarred or plastic-vacuum-packed brined leaves are a good alternative to fresh.
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
4 to 5 ounces onion, 1 cup finely diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
1 pound ground beef
½ pound lean ground lambß
1 cup short-grain rice like Arborio
½ ounce dill, 4 tablespoons trimmed and chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
½ ounce Italian parsley, 1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped
1 large egg (optional
50 grape leaves, (or 1 pound jar)
16 ounces chicken stock
Avgolemono Sauce (Greek Egg-Lemon Sauce)
8 ounces hot meat, fish or vegetable stock (or simmering/stewing broth drained from cooked stuffed
3 large whole eggs
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Filling: Heat olive oil in small skillet and sauté onion over medium heat until soft. Stir in optional tomato paste and cook 1 minute. Cool. Mix beef, lamb, rice, dill, salt and parsley. If using egg, knead it in. Scrape cooled onion and tomato paste into meat and rice and season filling with a little freshly ground pepper.
Preparing leaves: Blanch brined or tender fresh leaves 1 minute in boiling water. Tough fresh leaves 3 minutes or until flexible Blot dry. (Freeze extra leaves in zipper bags for up to six months.)
Making the dolmades: Depending on the size leaf, place from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons for large leaves on the base, near the stem. Press filling into cigar shape. Fold leaf sides over filling neatly then roll from bottom up. Don't roll too tightly; uncooked rice swells. Arrange dolmades snugly in round casserole, pot or deep skillet, seam side down, in two layers. Pour hot chicken stock over the dolmades to barely cover.
Cut a circle of parchment to fit casserole and place over dolmades and weight with an inverted plate that is slightly smaller than casserole. Bring liquid to a boil, lower heat and simmer meat dolmades 45 minutes. Rest dolmades off heat 20 to 30 minutes and serve with sauce.
Bring stock or broth to a boil and remove from heat 1 minute before using.
Whisk eggs in stainless bowl (that will set over simmering pot of water to create a double boiler) until pale and frothy. Whisk in lemon juice.
Slowly whisk in hot stock or broth to temper (bring up temperature of) eggs. Place bowl over (not in) simmering water or pour back into saucepan that held broth. Simmer sauce over low heat. Whisk sauce until visibly creamy and thickened, 6 to 10 minutes, and remove from heat.
Taste sauce and season with salt, if necessary. Use sauce immediately or keep warm 30 minutes in thermos or warm spot. Chill overnight and bring to room temperature or warm gently in double boiler over simmering heat.