Grape leaves are traditionally stuffed with ground meats and rice along with other spices, and served with pita bread, olives and hummus. Fresh leaves are typically unavailable at markets and grocery stores, you do have the option of choosing canned or jarred grape leaves. Fresh leaves (even after being frozen) have a much nicer taste to them. Gathering them yourself as well as storing them is easy and very cost friendly.
Items You Will Need:
1 Gallon Freezer Bags
Scissors or Paring Knife
Marker for labeling
While growing up I was very fortunate in that our family had our own grape vine that used to belong to my grandfather. If you are lucky enough to have your own vine then it will make life a bit easier. Talk with friends and other family members to locate grape vines in your area. You can also place classified ads in the paper looking for vines.
The best season for vines is the summer that is when vines are at their peak. I do not suggest spraying your vines with any bug deterrents. When choosing your leaves you will want to look for leaves that are close the size or a little bit larger than your spread hand, make sure not to pick older leaves, younger ones are tenderer. You will want to look for leaves that have very little to none bug activity. Using your pruning shears cut the leaves as close the base of the leaf as possible, do not worry if there is a little bit of stem it can be removed later. Collect as many as you feel comfortable, the great thing about these vines is that you can collect from them frequently, by leaving smaller leaves it gives them time to grow. I use a recycled grocery bags to collect them.
Cleaning, Prepping & Storage:
Making sure you have your colander nearby, you will need to wash your leaves. I use a steady stream of water, preferably cold. Once washed or while washing you can remove and extra stem pieces using a pair of small scissors or a paring knife, you want them to be able to lay flat without any bumps near where the stem would be. When the stems have been removed you then stack them, you want them in piles of 75 to 90. Place each pile into a 1 gallon freezer bag. Mark each freezer bag with contents and date. When you are ready to freeze you will want to place the bags in a plastic container to prevent any breakage or bending of leaves. The leaves actually keep for up to 1 year.
Using Your Grape Leaves:
When you are ready to use your grape leaves here are the steps for leaf usage. Placing a large skillet on the stove, fill about halfway with water. Boil the water, once at boiling turn off the heat. Taking the frozen leaves you will be blanching them in the water, place them in the skillet covered for 3 – 5 minutes. Drain, they will then be ready for use for rolling your stuffed grape leaves.