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The Vine Intervention, pt 1

February 19, 2010

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

olive oil

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 .

3 comments

  1. you must come over for some leaves! We have a really old vine that groans with grapes – so much so that dan has made his own batch of verjuice and now its verjuice on everything! Word on the street is that in the 70s this vine was responsible for a backyard vino operation……….something to aspire to! Sister of spamburger


  2. Not sure how traditional Karen’s recipe is. I’m more familiar with halmoui cooked saganaki-style (that is fried) but I have read that cypriots enjoy haloumi with watermelon so perhaps it is a variation.


  3. My Greek neighbours say that the young leaves of spring are the best ones for their home-made dolmades, although they will use older ones, too, but they insist they aren’t as good. Spring leaves are much more tender and sweet compared to the older leaves of summer, they say. They both make terrific dolmades, but your idea with the haloumi sounds fine to me.



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