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Grape Vine Leaves and a Summer Chicken Salad
© Sue Courtney - text and photos
17 February 2002

This summer we've had so much rain, the grape vines have been spouting merrily away giving the viticulturists plenty to do in trimming the excess growth, tucking the wayward tendrils around the trellising wires, then leaf plucking to expose the bunches of grapes to the sun. So I thought 'grape vine leaf' cooking might be a fun seasonal thing to do. I looked up recipes and most common was 'dolmades', grape leaves stuffed with lamb or rice or a mixture of both. I thought I would like to do something different.

And friend Graham provided the opportunity to do some experimentation when he called and asked if I would like one of his surplus fish he had caught early that morning. 'Yes' was the eager reply. Now all I needed was 'to collect the grape leaves'.

I don't have a vine in my garden, so I phoned a nearby vineyard and asked if I assist in 'leaf plucking'. It was no problem, so we decided to make a day of it, a trip to vine country for lunch then into the vineyard to collect some leaves after a spot of wine tasting. I chose leaves of several sizes, wanting some young tender leaves as well as some larger tougher leaves, for I was going to wrap the fish in the leaves and cook on the barbecue.

BBQ'ed Snapper in a Grape Vine Leaf Parcel

You will need: -
1 freshly caught whole snapper
about 16 grape vine leaves of various sizes
one blade of flax - soak in cold water for a couple of hours before use
Fresh herbs - I used parsley, fennel, thyme and tarragon from my garden
1/2 lemon, sliced
1/2 cup grape seed oil
salt and pepper

Fish on leaves Fish wrapped in leaves
Freshly caught snapper on freshly harvested grape leaves (left)
Fish cooking in the grape vine leaf parcel tied with flax (right)

Wash the grape leaves very carefully, especially if they have come from a commercial vineyard that uses sprays.
Put the grape leaves into a large stock pot and pour boiling water over. Leave to blanch for about 5 minutes. The leaves will turn a khaki green and you will smell the wonderful, pungent 'green' aromas of the leaves as they soften in the water.
Remove leaves and lay out to dry. I used the dish rack, the rim of the stockpot, and anything else I could find.
When dry, marinate the leaves in a mixture of grape seed oil in which thyme leaves (stripped from their stem) are infused.

Gut and scale the fish if this has not already been done. Wash and dry. Stuff the cavity with sprigs of herbs and slices of lemon. Rub the outside of the fish with the grapeseed oil and season with salt and pepper.

Now start wrapping the fish. You will need three hands. With the underside of the leaf adjacent to the fish, start with the youngest smallest vine leaves first, placing them on the fish, so they overlap. Keep placing vine leaves on top of the previous vine leaves, so end up with the fish fully encased in a parcel of leaves. With the blade of flax you collected, spilt the blade so you have several strips of flax no more than a centimetre wide. Use the flax to tie the parcel securely. You can make a pattern with the flax, as I have in the photograph above.

I cooked the fish on the plate of a gas barbecue, on a low heat, for 20 to 25 minutes each side.

To serve, unwrap the flax ties, the carefully fold back the leaves to expose the fish. I took a fillet from each side of the fish, and removed any excess bones before placing on the plate.

Decorate with the youngest, most tender vine leaves, that were closest to the fish when cooking. You can eat these, but I found them a little tough. The fish, however was so delicious - freshly caught snapper steamed inside the grape vine leaf parcel.

Serves two.

Note: I used fresh vine leaves. I have no experience with canned (or tinned) grape leaves - in fact I have never seen any, so do not know how this recipe would work with that variety.

* * * *

BBQ'ed chicken tenderloins with strawberries and a mango and basil sauce
I've made this 'mango and coconut basil sauce' several times since experimenting with a mushy mango I found in the fridge last year. I serve the sauce on fish, pork, chicken, whatever's going. This time I thought fresh seasonal strawberries would compliment the mango flavours for a summer lunch.

Chicken salad

For 2-3 people, use 10-12 chicken tenderloins. This is the 'fillet' part off the breast. You will also need salad greens, fresh 'sweet basil' and a cup full of fresh strawberries in addition to the 'marinade' and 'Mango and coconut basil sauce' ingredients below.

10-12 chicken tenderloins
juice of 1 freshly squeezed orange
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
1 clove crushed garlic
salt and pepper

Combine marinade ingredients and marinate chicken for at least 30 minutes. 2 hours would be good.

Mango and Coconut Basil Sauce
1/2 mango
2-3 tablespoons coconut milk powder
Water to mix
A handful of fresh basil, or you could use fresh coriander (cilantro) if you wished

Place peeled mango into a blender.
Add washed and dried herbs
Add water to coconut milk powder to make up to about 1/4 cup of coconut milk, then add to blender.
Blend until herbs are chopped into the mixture.

BBQ (or grill) the chicken tenderloins till cooked but still tender.
Arrange the cooked pieces on to a pile of lettuce greens into which fresh strawberries have been sliced.
Decorate with the mango and basil sauce, additional whole strawberries and a few sprigs of basil (or coriander if that was the herb you used).
Serve remaining sauce on the side.

Bon Appetit

© Sue Courtney
February 2002.

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