Gazing at a friend’s out-of-control kale crop, I had one thought: stuff it. The size of the kale leaves reminded me of the grape vines growing wild up the back of my Brooklyn brownstone, and that I’d made a vow to harvest some of those leaves this year. Kale seemed like a good practice run. The same garden plot included an abundance of mint, so for the filling I turned to a favorite recipe for Armenian Stuffed Cabbage from New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant, a hearty vegetarian combination of brown rice, walnuts, mint and a touch of tomato paste.
Turns out, kale works beautifully, maintaining a vibrant green color after blanching, and even after the stuffed leaves are cooked, here in a thin tomato sauce. Stuffed kale doesn’t seem like a particularly light summer dish, but the tomato sauce is a no-cook version that’s ladled over the rolls in a pot and it’s all cooked on the stovetop. Prepping the kale rolls does take some time, but even a dozen rolls can be stretched for more than one meal.
With that resounding success under my belt, it was time to tackle the grape leaves. A little research offered a tip to blanch fresh grape leaves for 3-5 minutes, and it’s best to heed the advice. While the kale only took a few seconds to blanch, turning that bright green in simmering water, the grape leaves did require more time to become tender to the bite. They turn a dark, mossy green and yield a kind of fruity flavor. The leftover vegetarian brown rice stuffing was put to use for this first round. A more traditional meat-and-rice Greek filling with lemon sauce is in the offing for the remainder of the grape leaves that have been blanched and stored in the fridge.