Next time you roast or grill, just go outside and grab some leaves!
I love all types of grilling during the warmer months. One type I haven’t tried is using leaf wraps around what I’m grilling. Leaves are very useful for delicate items like vegetables and some seafoods. The leaf wraps keep the food inside them moist and the leaves infuse the food with sweet, nutty flavors. Using leaf wraps is almost like steaming the food on the grill because the food is protected from coming in direct contact with the flames which can dry it out. As Amy Scattergood wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Leaves are nature’s brilliant cookware”.
Banana leaves are not edible as they are thick and fibrous, but a double layer is perfect for using on the grill. Banana leaves are used often in tropical kitchens and can be found in Latino or Asian markets. If you can’t find fresh ones look for them in the frozen foods section. They can be quickly dipped in boiling water or passed over the flames on a gas burner to make them more pliable and easier to work with. Wash them in cool water and cut to the size you need. Andrew Zimmerman, host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, uses banana leaves to make a Mexican recipe using pork shoulder.
If you are near a grape arbor this summer pick some grape leaves. They are most often used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines to stuff with rice mixtures of herbs and meat. Grape leaves can also be simmered and used to wrap seafood going on the grill. Use fresh leaves, younger is better, and blemish-free. They can be stored flat in the fridge on paper towels until you are ready to use them.
You can also find salt-cured grape leaves from California sold in jars. A 16 oz. jar from Orlando brand is $11.63.
Fig tree leaves add a sweet fragrance to wild salmon or grilled or baked cheeses like feta or goat. They also get rave reviews when wrapped around lamb meatballs.
Other leaves to cook or grill with:
- Large chard leaves can wrap a meatloaf.
- Lemon leaves can wrap small pieces of meat or seafood.
- The Chinese use bamboo leaves for many grilled dishes.
- Corn husks are used although like banana leaves, are not edible.
- Cabbage leaves are often used.
- Large leaf basil is used and imparts a delicious basil flavor.
- Many leaves can be cut down and rolled around the food that’s being cooked.
- Pushing a skewer through the wrapped food will hold the leaves in place.
- Any inedible leaves should be removed before serving.
- Make sure to wash any leaves that might have been sprayed with pesticides.