Exploring Turkish Cuisine, Food, Mains, Recipes
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Chasing the Season: Sardines Wrapped in Grape Leaves

These days a lot of photos of Ahi Tuna are circulating on social media, teasing me who can’t even get any fish. Commercial fishing is banned from May to September in Turkey to protect fish population. You can still get farmed fish, though. However, I won’t resort to Norwegian farmed salmon, so I’m hanging in there waiting for the healthiest little fish to appear.

And they have! But my stubborn FIL keeps saying firmly, “Not tasty yet. Wait till July!” 

Ahhh~~~ I know if I’ll be rewarded with big fat sardines if I wait a bit longer. I’m usually great at delayed gratification but not with fish. So one day I decided to risk upsetting him, – he’s very serious about fish – and bought some without telling him.

sardines

They were not as big as FIL would have liked but still pretty fat.

The farmers market is full of goodness. Look at the 5 different kinds of cherries! And here you go, the fresh green chickpeas.

farmers market

This is one of those vegetables that you buy subconsciously because it reminds you of a certain season and it’s a rare treat that you can enjoy for a very short period.

Green chickpeas are great to snack on; you don’t really need to cook them because they are delicate but if you must, you can blanch and toss them into salads or make green hummus.

green chickpeas

Another seasonal routine is pickling vine leaves while they are young and tender. You can buy them or go foraging, and I find the latter more fun, so I headed for the secret spot where local ladies pick them.

Normally, people here just wrap each fish or if you do a bbq, the leaves are spread on the grill to prevent the fish from falling off or sticking to the grill. In this case, the leaves will be burnt and you won’t eat them.

But at home, the fish is wrapped in the leaves and, to differ from the other recipes, I stuck a slice of fresh garlic and dried fennel tips. Since it was to go under the grill, I threw in some leftover onion scapes as well as some kale chopped up.

While the fish was grilling, I made the dressing, which is a simple combination of fresh garlic, chilli, parsley, lots of lemon and olive oil, but good olive oil.

I’ve learned that the most viewed post on my blog is The Best Turkish Olive Oil, which I wrote in 2014. I thought I should update the post because now Kursat olive oil, which I found 2 years ago is the only one I use, along with Ovilo.

Turkish olive oil

These two are the only fruity, grassy, peppery extra virgin olive oil that are worth buying as far as I’m concerned.

grilled sardines grape leaves

Lucky I was eating it alone because garlic was everywhere, in the fish, in the sauce and on the side! I can’t have enough of the green garlic!

Here, let’s talk a bit of the logic behind wrapping with grape leaves. It’s not only about the aesthetics. When you wrap sardines in grape leaves, first, you protect the delicate fish from sticking to the grill.

Second, the leaves will prevent losing the omega-3 goodness, and third, if you’re those who are fussy about eating skin, the skin will come off easily sticking to the leaves, in which case you risk losing the benefit no.2. So the choice is up to you.

Having said that, I can convince you to eat the leaves by saying that the grape vines are actually very healthy, packed with nutrients good for blood, bones, skin, eyes, and brain!

The kale grilled with the leftover oil in the pan I’d cooked the fish in was a bit crispy and tasted a bit like seaweed. You probably know what I mean. That’s why many fine restaurants serve fish with fried kale, which is yummy.

I still have lots of grape leaves in the fridge so I’ll be wrapping whatever I find! Cheers to the glorious hot summer!

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