Till now, my appreciation of Vitis vinifera has been limited to a lifelong (and let’s admit it, rather passionate) love affair with the grape. I’ve admired the leaves from afar – on the plant – but cooking with them has never appealed. I know everybody loves dolmades, for example, but their vineleaf wrapping has always been way too slimy for my liking. Frankly I’ve found eating dolmades too often to feel like popping a big fat slug in the mouth. So the idea of using those vine leaves packed in oil – ugh.
But joy of joys, these reservations are in the past, because this week I have discovered the joy of cooking with fresh vine leaves, and there ain’t no turning back. I love them. And now I’m plotting to somehow grow a vine here, for our own supply.
This new affair began when Mr & Ms Melba offered me some leaves from their gorgeously lush and laden vine, and mentioned a turkish vine leaf ‘pie’ Ms M had made. I had to check that out. And then the stars aligned, with Karen Martini’s incredible looking vine leaf recipes in last week’s Sun Herald. Both these dishes are the business. I urge you to pluck a big handful of leaves next time you are in the vicinity of a vine, and try them. One other great thing about the leaves is, as I discovered by leaving a sealed plastic bag full of them in the fridge and then forgetting them for a whole two weeks, that they keep incredibly well. When I opened the bag it was as if they were picked minutes before. Amazing.
This post I’ll share the Karen Martini recipe, which I now understand is a variation on a traditional Greek dish (JMo, if you’re out there, can you confirm?), but was a revelation to me. Next time, the pie.
Now the recipe below used packaged vine leaves, but was perfect with fresh. The only preparation I did was soak the leaves in boiling water for 10 minutes, then drain and press dry in a tea towel, and cut out the hard stalk. We used nectarines in place of peach and it was delicious. Having never heard of saba, I used vin cotto as suggested. Di-vine.
Karen Martini’s vine-leaf wrapped haloumi with peach
1 large bulb garlic
1 packet haloumi cheese, sliced into 8 pieces
8 vine leaves (rinsed, if packet, or fresh prepared as above)
2 ripe peaches (or nectarines), cut into wedges
1/2 lemon, juiced
3 tbsp saba, a grape must reduction (or vin cotto, or balsamic vinegar)
1. Cut the top off the garlic bulb, drizzle with oil, wrap in foil and roast in a moderate oven for 40 minutes or till soft. Allow to cool.
2. Smear each haloumi slice with the roasted garlic, then wrap tightly in a vine leaf.
3. Heat 80ml olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and cook haloumi for 1 minute each side, till the cheese starts to melt, but not burning the leaf.
4. Arrange on a plate, scatter with the nectarine or peach and drizzle with the lemon juice and vin cotto / saba .