One of the most popular and re-occurring ingredients in Greek cuisine has to be the grape leaf. They can be found grown all over Greece and many Greeks will go and pick their own and preserve them for future use throughout the year.
I was just a year ago that I went and picked and jarred some grape leaves. Yesterday I went back to my “spot” and picked some more grape leaves but it looks like I’ll have to go back again soon. It seems this year’s leaves are smaller. I’ll wait for Mother Nature to work her magic.
The use of grape leaves knows no bounds. Dolamades come with a meat and rice filling or strictly vegetarian with rice herbs and sometimes currants and fruits are added to shake things up. The possibilities for filling are endless – only limited by your imagination.
Last week I was contemplating whether to have swordfish souvlaki or a fish fillet poached in olive oil. I couldn’t decide…both options sounded delish. I referred to some on-line friends on Twitter and I took a poll…swordfish souvlaki or olive oil poached fish?
The poached fish won, and I’m delighted it did. One of my Twitter friends suggested I wrap the fish (she suggested halibut) in grape leaves and I was awed and pleasantly surprised by her suggestion.
The young lady’s name is Aristea and after a brief email exchange it turned out that she actually had wrapped the halibut in grape leaves & then baked it. Her approach was different from what I had envisioned but she provided the initial germ of inspiration. Thank YOU, Aristea!
In building this dish, I was inspired by the usual ingredients in Dolmades: grape leaves, rice and a sauce. Had it been winter, i would have whipped up an Avgolemono Sauce to accompany this dish. In Greece a couple of years ago, I was in the town square near where our summer home was and I witnessed a fisherman having a casserole of the “catch of the day” (sardines) bathing in an Avgolemono Sauce.
With the warm weather here, I had my site set on something lighter. I chose a fresh sauce that would complement the briny grape leaves, the delicate fish poached in quivering olive oil and a simple rice cake made with some leftover rice.
Last year I poached fish in olive oil for the first time (salmon) and this time a nice & thick grouper fillet was the closest (and freshest) fish I could find that would be comparable to halibut.
You can find jarred grape leaves at your nearest Greek or Middle-Eastern grocer and some supermarkets will now carry it in their ethnic or international aisles.
Choose a white, delicate tasting fish for this dish, say grouper, halibut or other white fish. Use a good olive oil, either extra-virgin (preferably) or regular would work fine here too. This recipe is a splurge using enough olive to cover the fish but rest assured the olive oil is not left with a fishy smell, the oil never gets to a high smoke point and it’s perfectly fine to use up for future cooking use.
The rice cakes are easy. I used leftover Arborio rice which I find to work best with it’s starchier content. If you have another rice on hand you want to use, go for it.
The final component of this dish is the sauce. I simply whizzed up some fresh Spring peas (frozen is fine) with some chives, mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, fresh dill, capers and finished off with some salt and pepper.
The only other thing you need to wrap this dish up (literally) are some blanched chives. If you don’t have chives, long scallions would work here or you could always bind your package with some butcher’s twine. Me? I like the chives.
Grouper Poached in Olive Oil With Grape Leaves
2 grouper fillets
salt and pepper
preserved grape vine leaves
long, blanched chives
enough olive oil to cover the fish bundles
1 cup of cold rice (preferably Arborio)
1 egg, beaten
some grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
All-purpose flour for dredging
oil for frying
Green Pea & Caper Sauce
1 cup of green peas (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. of fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. of finely chopped capers
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
salt and pepper to taste
- Take your preserved grape leaves out of the jar and briefly rinse them to remove excess salt. Remove any stems from the leaves and place them vein-side up on your work surface. Place two long stems of blanched chives on your work surface in cross (+) formation. Set one grape leaf where the chives intersect,Â begin to lay enough grape leaves just overlapping each other in an outward circular pattern. The amount of grape leaves required to bundle your fillet depends on how large your leaves are and the size of the fish fillet.
- Lightly season your fillet with salt and pepper and place in the center of your grape leaves. Now carefully bring the the other edges of the grape leaves (with the chive stems) up towards the top of the fish fillet and wrap your bundle. Carefully tie your bundle up with the chive stems.
- Place a pot large enough to hold both bundles on your stove-top and add some olive oil (eyeball it). Gently heat up your olive oil (medium heat) to an approx. temperature of 250-300F. Your olive oil should be just “quivering”. Gently drop your bundles into the olive and poach for 20 minutes. (Keep an eye on your fish, ensure the oil only quivers).
- In the meantime, mix the rice, cheese, beaten egg, salt and pepper for your rice cakes and form into patties. Dredge lightly in flour and reserve. Add about 1/2 inch of cooking oil into a large skillet bring to about a temperature of 350-360F. Carefully place your rice cakes in the hot oil and fry for about 3 minutes per side or until golden brown. Place on a paper-towel covered plate and keep warm.
- Carefully remove your fish bundles and place on a paper-towel covered platter. Reserve.
- In the meantime, make your sauce. Be it fresh or frozen (thawed) peas, place in a small pot of salted boiling water for a couple of minutes. Drain and blanch in cold water (peas should be slightly warm). Add your peas into a food processor with a splash of water and puree. Now add the mustard, lemon juice and with the processor running, add a slow stream of olive oil (you may use the olive oil used to poach the fish). Add the capers, chives and dill and pulse a few times to blend in. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Spoon some sauce onto the bottom of each plate. Place your poached grouper bundle (tied-side down) on top of the sauce. Place a rice cake on the side of the plate and garnish with chives and chopped fresh dill. Serve warm.
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