One of my goals of writing and sharing this blog about Greek food is to bridge the gap between what most of you are served at Greek restaurants in the West (Canada and the US) and what’s actually served in Greece and in Greek homes.
In the summer, Greeks eat less, eat lighter and as always, what’s fresh and in season. The Mediterranean teems with fish and seafood and right now, sardines are “the catch of the day”. They are “up there” with salmon on the Omega-3 count, no mercury (low on the food chain), easy to clean and prepare and a joy to eat.
In keeping with what’s fresh and seasonal, I also recently collected and jarred eight jars of grape vine leaves. I’m now stocked for the coming year, to make Dolmades on a whim with the tastiest and most tender grape leaves I’ve tasted in years. The grape leaves from the store simply do not compare.
This next dish pairs land and sea. Sardines get wrapped in grape leaves, given a quick grill (sardines don’t take that long) and finished with a bright and delicious Ladolemono with parsley and oregano.
A Ladolemono is an oil-lemon dressing and appears on many instances at the Greek table. It’s basically a dressing of 3 (or 4) parts olive oil and 1 part acid. The most common herb used is oregano but a Ladolemono can employ any herb and its use is applied to both meat and fish.
When picking sardines (or any other fish), look for whole fish, you know…with the head on. A whole fish will allow you to inspect how fresh (or old your fish is). Before anything, get your nose right down into the fish. If it smells anything other than the sea, then don’t buy the fish. Fresh fish and seafood should not smell “fishy”.
The next thing to look for are clear, glossy eyes and ones not sunken-in or bloodshot. You should also carefully lift up the gills (check just a few sardines in the batch) and you should see only a bright red gill. Another good sign.
Finally, the fish should be firm to the touch and you should NOT be able to feel the scales as you run your finger over the fish.
You’ve now determined you have fresh fish. You want to remove the heads? Go ahead but I usually like the head-on, helps me when grilling and my fish stays moist.
You can ask your fish monger to clean & gut your fish or take them home and scale the fish, gut it and rinse well under cold water. Pat your fish dry and place in the fridge (covered in plastic wrap) until you’re ready to grill your fish.
Sardines wrapped in grape leaves…hmmm. You might be asking, why do this? It’s done simply for flavour. The briny leaves actually become a second skin to the sardine and the new flavour that arises is simply a delight and the result is always a crisp but moist fish.
The grape leaves that I picked and jarred were thin and tender and on this occasion, I doubled up the grape leaves that were used to wrap the sardines. One leaf per fish should suffice.
While your gas or charcoal grill is pre-heating, you can whip up your Ladolemono Sauce. You’ll need some grated carrot, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, fresh oregano and fresh parsley. Salt and pepper are at added at the end to adjust taste.
Sardines Wrapped & Grilled With Grape Leaves
(serves 4 to 6)
1 kg. of fresh sardines, gutted and scaled
jarred grape vine leaves, rinsed and patted-dry
sea salt and ground pepper
Oregano and Parsley Ladolemono
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tsp. of Dijon mustard
1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup of chopped fresh oregano (half if dried)
2 Tbsp. of grated carrot
1 dried chilli
2/3Â cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- In a jar or a food processor, add all of your Ladolemono ingredients and shake (or process) until amalgamated. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly (salt, pepper, oil, acid). Set aside.
- Pre-heat your gas or charcoal grill. Brush your grill surface well to remove any grilling residue and before grilling your fish, wipe the grill surface with a towel treated with some vegetable oil.
- Take your sardines out of the fridge and rinse and pat-dry (again). Lightly season the fish (inside & out) with some sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Take one (or two) grape leaves and wrap each sardine in a blanket of grape leaves (should be wrapped snugly).
- When your grill reaches a high heat (when you can only count up to three when placing your hands over the grill), then place your sardines on the grill. Fish and seafood do not take too long to grill. Grill your sardines for 3 minutes a side and remove.
- Place your sardines on a platter and drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil. Spoon over some Ladolemono Sauce. Place the rest in a serving bowl with a spoon for those that want more.
- Serve the sardines with lemon wedges, a potato salad and some greens like Vlita or a seasonal salad from your garden.
- Serve with a Domaine Gerovassliou White, with a combination of the Assyrtiko and Malagouzia Greek grape varietals.
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