Stuffed Wild Grape Leaves

When I was in high school, I worked in a Greek restaurant. I didn't particularly care for the boss there, but I loved the food! That may have been the beginning of my love for ethnic foods. So, when I spotted some wild grape vine on the property a few weeks ago, my first thought was stuffed grape leaves.

I've never made stuffed grape leaves, so I started looking for recipes. About the only constants in the recipes were grape leaves and rice. The other ingredients and the way to prepare them varied greatly. In the end I made up my own recipe.

The Stuffing
2 C leftover rice
1 lb hamburger
1 minced onion
6 cloves of garlic minced
1/2 C chopped pecans
1 handful plantain chopped (this is a wild green, you could substitute swiss chard or spinach)
2 TB lemon juice

Brown hamburger with onion and garlic. Drain if needed. Add salt, pepper, and nuts. Cook a few more minutes. Mix with remaining ingredients. Allow to cool.

The Leaves
I used wild grape leaves. I never did get a count, but I think there were about six dozen. Harvest leaves that are still a light green, but at least as big as woman's hand. Rinse them. Bring a pot of water with 1 tsp salt to boil. Add leaves and boil a few minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

I have not tried this with store bought leaves, but most of the recipes I read recommended soaking them before using to help get the salt of the brine off the leaves.

Place the leaf stem side up. Put about 1 TB of stuffing on near the stem end. Fold the sides in and roll tightly, and place in a shallow baking dish. I made three different pans, different ways. All were baked at 300 F for 50 minutes.

Pan one: Topped with about one cup leftover spaghetti sauce before baking. In my opinion, this was the best of the three for eating hot.

Pan two: Brushed with olive oil before baking. This made the leaves crispier. I didn't care for them hot, but they are good this way when eaten cold.

Pan three: Added small amount of water to the pan before baking. These were okay hot or cold, but not my favorite either way.

The kids and I ate them for lunch. Nolan (3) really enjoyed them. The others were neutral. I thought I might freeze some of the extras, but Nolan and I have been snacking on them cold this afternoon. There may be not be any left to freeze.

I know some people do not like getting or giving gift cards as gifts, but I love it. It is nice to have a present or two to open and enjoy, but the practical person in me so appreciates gifts cards. I love to use them for things we need. They are also great for small indulgences that I might not buy otherwise.

We often receive gift cards for holidays and birthdays. It is tempting to go out and splurge with a big shopping trip. We have done that in the past, using the gift cards to hit after Christmas sales. We got a lot of mileage out of gift cards that way. But saving them has its advantages too.

This year the kids all got separate gift cards at Christmas time. I decided to hold onto them. They didn't need anything. With all the excess already surrounding Christmas, I couldn't see any reason to add to the piles.

In February, I did allow them to browse the clearance aisle and pick out something small and we picked up a few things they needed. Then we all went through the self check out, so each child could use their card for their transaction. Just picture me doing this with four kids. Yes, it was as crazy as you imagine.

After that trip, I stuck the cards away with some that were given to Tim and I for future use. Yesterday, the kids needed some shoes and a couple of other things. I also wanted to get window fans for all the bedrooms. It seemed like a perfect time to use up those gift cards.

After gathering the needed items, we headed to the checkout. I thought we'd be finishing up the cards, so I didn't keep the transactions separate like I had in the previous trip. The cashier rang up all the items. Told me the total, and I handed her a stack of cards saying, "Let's finish these cards up, and then tell me how much more I owe."

Imagine my surprise when she handed one back saying, "There is six dollars left on this one." Then she handed me two other back that she didn't even need to use. Obviously, I had lost track of how much was left on those gift cards.We had a free shopping trip! It felt like Christmas again.
Saving your gift cards for things you need later is a great way to boost a tight budget. It was fun to have a free shopping trip in May from our Christmas gift cards! The gift that keeps giving!

One caution though: Some gift cards do lose their value after a specified time period. You don't want to hold onto the card for too long.

Frugal Fridays

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Stuffed Wild Grape Leaves + work