One of the bi-products of the wine-making biz that keeps us busy on weekends in our vineyard in El Penedés, the wine region of Catalunya, is the proliferation of fresh grape leaves on our vines. (Duh!) In May or June, grape growers undertake the labor-intensive process of “leafing” and “suckering” the vines, which means that you remove all of the stems that have no fruit, and you also snap off big leaves that are casting shadows on the baby grape clusters. The leafing also gives the fruit more air and minimizes the possibility of icky mold growth. (“Sin miedo!” our local helper tells us: Snap off the excess growth WITHOUT FEAR!)
Last year, during our first season with the white grapes that are now slowly fermenting into “cava” (Spanish champagne), we were pretty thoroughly focused on getting all of the steps right. This year, I had the wherewithal, with the help of daughter Stassa, to collect a few of the largest grape leaves and tuck them away in a plastic bag for later use, after we recovered from the very hot and sweaty leafing process!
My motive? DOLMADES! I had read up last year on the quickest and easiest way to stuff your own grape leaves, guided by Martha Stewart and a dozen other on-line cooking websites, many of them Greek-oriented. And then I promptly forgot it. So while the leaves were still mostly green and supple, I consulted the Internet once again, and I went for what seemed like a fool-proof and remarkably rapid method of preparing the grape leaves for stuffing: blanch them for a few seconds in boiling water.
It worked pretty well, and the results were tasty if a bit chewy. The stuffing process itself was less laborious than I’d anticipated, and it helps if you can make it into a fun assembly-line process in the kitchen.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are thirty images to give you a 30,000 word flavor of Athens, one of Europe’s undisputed cultural capitals and a city which exudes culture from every pore.
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