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Bein’ all wholesome and shit

We were staying with some family the other day, and marvelling at the glorious grapevine that framed the back porch.  An ancient and revered plant, whose presence is a testament to our passionate commitment to wine and whose grapes really suck arse, it was shaken up a bit recently when the back porch was remodelled: the thick stem of the vine was locked in place with a series of ropes and some sort of clever pulley arrangement, I presume, and the builders had to simply work around it.  When the new porch was put into place, the grapevine was carefully re-established, with its branches woven around the new porch’s sturdy new trellis.  When spring came, we all watched carefully, and, although late, the tiny, lime-green leaves began to creep back.  Huzzah!  As though somebody had turned on the grape-leaf tap, they flooded out, shooting out tiny curly tendrils and little clusters of unobtrusive flowers (which would soon become attractive but unpalatable grapes).

As I sipped wine under the grapevine and thought about how awesome I am, I remembered — awwwyeah — dolmades!  While the vine’s grapes mayn’t be much to celebrate, all those tender, bright green leaves were suddenly very exciting.  I spent a bit of time on the net, googling things like “grape leaves poisonous” and “grape vine leaves dolmades home”.  Both of which turned up the infinitely satisfying idea that you don’t need any specific variety of grapevine to harvest the leaves — although I would like to emphasise, to anybody reading this (good joke, that), that it is entirely possible that there are poisonous grapevines out there.  If you’re planning to harvest your backyard grapevine, or anybody else’s, for that matter, then you’re on your own.  (I even waited a few weeks before I posted this, because I wanted to ensure there were no mysterious side-effects, apart from a rampant craving for more dolmades.)

So! We begin.  I picked a huge armful, although the abundance of stuffing I optimistically prepared made it necessary for me to head out and pick another armful (note: if you use arborio rice in the filling, instead of regular short-grain rice, you end up with a huge quantity of stuffing, although you have to add more liquid as you go).  I also picked some fresh mint to go into the stuffing.

After picking, I went through them all and trimmed the stems close to the leaf; this gave me a chance to check for holes, bird droppings and bugs.  I found two with teensy tiny teeny weeny bugs on them, so they went back outside (I also tried to photograph them, because one was the most adorable baby caterpillar I have ever seen, but they were much too small for the macro setting on my camera).

The good leaves were then rinsed under some cold water while I brought a pot of water to a boil. I plunged the leaves into the water for five minutes — they went bright, bright green, and then a kind of dull camouflage green — and then rinsed them under cold water again.  This process softens the leaves considerably, as well as being an excellent cleaning method.

After I had prepared the filling, I stuffed the leaves as normal, and steamed them for a couple of hours as per usual.  The leaves were incredibly tender, more so than the ones I buy at the store, which are soaking in brine.  However, the brine tends to soak into the leaves a little, so no matter how much you rinse them, you end up with a little bit of salt in the mix — there wasn’t nearly as much salt in my fresh-leaf dolmades, and they needed more.  But!  They were still delicious, and the inclusion of home-grown and hand-harvested vine leaves only increases my awesomeness.

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