If you know me then you might know that I grew up not far from a large Greek community called Tarpon Springs. This influenced some of my food favorites growing up. Kalmata olives were more common than green or black olives, feta cheese is best when brined, Papa’s Greek salad is my favorite, and dolmades are a fantastic snack.
If you haven’t noticed, some of my favorite foods to make are small bites. Dolmades or stuffed grape leaves are worthy of their own party. Sometimes though, the leaves can be a little tricky for me to track down. It seems that I am the customer the stores around here are waiting for. Someone to purchase the last of the inventory so they can stock something else. Often I buy the last two jars of grape leaves in brine and am left to search out another source.
From this day forward I vow to always keep grape leaves in my pantry. The best way that I can see to do this is to pick them and brine them myself. I figure for the $8 I would spend on two prepared jars, I can brine 12 of them for $12.
There are a few ways that you can store your grape leaves. For the easiest option, leaves can be frozen raw, in air tight bags. They will need to be frozen for a few months in order to break down and soften. Give them three months and defrost in the refrigerator. If your freezer is small, you can’t wait 3 months, or you just want to go with old fashioned brining, choose wide mouth canning jars.
Begin by harvesting young bright green leaves that are free of bug holes. Pick mid-sized leaves, avoiding the older, darker, leathery ones. Leaves are best harvested in late spring or early summer but as long as you look for the new growth you can collect all summer long. A good rule of thumb is to count down three leaves from the new growth at the end of the vine, and pick the next 2 to 3 leaves, then move on to the next stem. Estimate approximately 100 leaves per lb.
To be truthful, I have not harvested and stored more than a few jars at once because I am lazy when it comes to picking. Depending on leaf size, I might estimate 100 per pint jar.
Clean the leaves and trim stems. Blanch the leaves, then stack and roll them into bundles that fit securely when stood upright in a wide mouth canning jar. Make a brine and bring to a boil. Use a gallon of water and a pound of kosher salt (or similar ratio), substitute some white vinegar for water if you are so inclined. Add hot brine to warm(hot) leaves and hot jars* Remove any air bubbles by running a knife around the inside of the packed jar. Process jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.
*This is basic canning procedure. Boil empty jars to sterilize, warm lids and seals. Always add hot to hot.