Tuesday, 17 May 2016
Vine leaves and Vasso
Our own little vineyard. There are many small bunches this year. Only time will tell if we have enough grapes to make a litre or two. This grape vine was planted by the previous owner for shade. The grapes are full of pips and not particularly sweet.
Vaso, our elderly neighbor, the last of the dinasaurs, one of those hardy old greek women, bowed down under bundles of branches for their goats, their apron pockets full of fresh eggs and always a plastic bag and a knife in hand to dig out any greens she finds in the fields, is out de-leafing her vineyard. Taking off those extra leaves once the tiny bunches of new grapes have formed allows sunlight into the grapevine and lets air move around giving the bunches a shaded environment to grow and ripen. Says me who has once again read all about it on the internet.
Vaso looks after her vineyard mostly by herself. Her children all live in Athens. She will arrange the watering , pull out the weeds under the vines, de-leaf, trim and train on her own and maybe spray and fertilise as well, or hire an Albanian if her children don't turn up to help. They arrive for the grape harvest in September and do the pressing. She is the one who makes sure the juice is bubbling and closes the wine barrel and she will do a lot of the drinking as well. Take her away from her grapes, her olives, chickens, goats, turkeys, lemon and pistachio trees and she will shrivel and die for sure. The land and the animals are what has known since childhood. Her lettuces are bigger and greener, her tomatoes more luscious than ours or our neighbours due to the manure she hauls on her back from the goat pen. Vaso is also the one who slaughters and plucks. She is not a simple peasant though. Vaso follows politics and can argue with the best of them. She has three children and she made sure they studied and advanced in life. One is a naval officer, one a teacher and one a chief of police. Her grandaughter is studying at Oxford University on a full scholarship. The woman is small and wiry, she smokes and drinks, she is almost 80 and she could still kick the hell out of a tough old boot. Quite a woman.
How did I get on the subject of Vaso again. I have written so much about her already.
Vasso at one of our neighborhood fiestas. She is an aristocrat when dressed up. Quite different from the sight of her in the fields with her dusty old floppy hat, cut off trousers which once belonged to her husband (long dead), an open faded blue Navy workshirt, with patched vest and scruffy trainers.
This is the time of the year the Greek housewife collects vine leaves to preserve for the winter and to stuff. The leaves are still young and tender and they have not been sprayed yet with pesticides.
There are two types of leaves. The ones on the left you'll see have three 'fingers' and are no good for stuffing. The ones on the right are like the palm of a hand and can be easily stuffed and rolled. You'll find both these types on one vine so just be careful in your choice. The smaller the leaf the better it will be for eating but much more fiddly to stuff.
The easiest way to keep them during the winter is to blanch the leaves and freeze. They need a good wash first and then blanch in boiling water for half a minute or till they change to a darker colour. Put them in a colander to drain. I lay them flat in a plastic bag 35 at a time and place them carefully in the freezer. Why 35. I have found that this is the number of stuffed leaves which will fit nicely at the bottom of my saucepan and also they are eaten in one go when hot and juicy.
Here is the recipe for stuffing them. Once again, like the stuffed tomatoes and peppers they can be made with or without minced meat. The same mixture can be used to stuff cabbage or lettuce leaves or any sort of tender green leaf. This recipe is enough for around 60-70 leaves.
These are called 'dolmathakia' in Greek and are eaten all around the middle east, the Balkans and Russia. The Greek dolmathakia came from Turkey and the name is from the word 'dolmak', meaning 'to be stuffed'.
- 1/4 kilo of minced meat, lightly braised and left to cool (optional)
- 2 wine glasses of short grain rice (I just weighed out a greek wine glass of rice and it was 100 grams, so use 200 grams here) - 2 chopped onions
- 1 or 2 crushed cloves of garlic
- a small bunch of dill, mint, and parsley. You need lots of herbs if you're not putting in any meat.
- another of those wine glasses, this time with olive oil. Once again about 100 ml
- I also put in a handful of raisins and pinenuts. Those are optional.
- salt and pepper
To finish, lemon juice and a little more oil - or - one egg and lemon juice to make a sauce.
Lightly fry the onion and garlic in the oil and add the rice. Fry together a few minutes with the minced meat if you want some and leave to cool. Add the herbs, raisins and pinenuts, salt and pepper.
I'll show you some photos of how to roll them next week when I make some dolmathes. Simple really. You put a little stuffing in the middle, fold over the sides and roll up. Sort of like a green spring roll. Arrange a layer of them in the bottom of a pot, cover with a small plate to stop them jumping about. Just cover with water. Boil gently for half an hour. At the end just add a little olive oil and lemon juice and eat!!