A New Leaf [RECIPES]

Our home is getting almost insufferably sustainable.  To the artichoke farm front yard, the flock of hens and two goats in the backyard, the Prius in the driveway, I added a new 2011 all-electric Nissan Leaf.  Pretty soon people are going to knock on our door looking for Ed Begley, Jr.‘s autograph.

I wrote a column about the Leaf which you can read here

In it, I criticized our state, city and corporate leaders for not being ready with the consumer infrastructure that is necessary to charging and servicing an all-electric car.  But I do like the car.  (Eco, shmeco— I was able to get three months of Howard Stern for free on the new SiriusXM radio.)

Funny, too, that I’m driving a car named the Leaf. 

When I first moved to Israel, I roomed with a South African woman who didn’t believe in eating any food that wasn’t processed and packaged.  I’d return from the Machane Yehuda farmers market with stalks of leeks and cilantro and parsley and mint, and chop and chop to make tabouli or mint tea or whatever.  One day she walked in to see me happily chopping away.

“Rob, you’ve taken over this whole kitchen with your leaf food,” she complained. “Is that all you ever eat, leaves?”

It occurred to me that a lot of what sustains us and other animals is exactly that—leaves.  Either we eat them directly, or they are the critical way that things we do eat—from grapes to goats, get their nutrition.  That’s why in the Bible God speaks to us through leaves:  In Psalms, when they fall, God is angry, when they blossom God is kind.  In the vision of Ezekial, God promises a world of endless leafiness: “Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail.”

I kind of like that my life, all these years later, still includes a lot of leaves…..and a leaf.

In my old housemate’s honor,  here’s my favorite three summer leaf recipes.


Chicken in Grape Leaves

The grape leaves give this dish a slightly citric, vineyard-y flavor. 

1 chicken, cut into eight pieces

olive oil

salt and pepper

1 pint fresh or 1 cup dried figs, chopped

12 fresh grape leaves

1 cup dry, fruity white wine

6 cloves fresh garlic, sliced

1 bunch spring onions, chopped

1 Meyer Lemon, sliced thin

1-2 teaspoons fine aged balsamic vinegar

Heat olive oil in skillet.  Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Sautee until golden brown. Remove.  Add onion and garlic and saute until soft.  Line a casserole with one layer of grape leaves.  Sprinkle on half the wine. Lay in chicken. Add figs, white wine, onions, garlic and lemon slices. Top with remaining grape leaves to cover.  Cover casserole and place in oven until chicken is cooked through. 

To serve, bring the casserole to the table.  Remove the first layer of grape leaves.  People like the whole leaf effect.  Drizzle with a good balsamic vinegar , and serve.

Lemon Verbena Sorbet

This is adapted from The Herbfarm Cookbook, by Jerry Traunfeld.

Nothing but vibrant and refreshing it’s lemon heaven.

Makes 1 quart, 8 servings

1 1/2 cups (gently packed) fresh lemon verbena leaves

1 cup superfine sugar

1/4 cup freshly squeezed Meyer or Eureka lemon juice

3 cups cold water

Grind the lemon verbena leaves and sugar together in a food processor until the mixture turns into a bright green paste, about 30 seconds; stop to scrape down the sides as necessary. Add the lemon juice and process for 15 seconds longer, then add the water. Strain the resulting liquid through a fine sieve to remove any bits of leaf. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Lemon Verbena Tea

I serve this at the end of just about every meal beginning in early summer, when our verbena plants… leaf out.

12 fresh large lemon verbena leaves

1 T. sugar

4 cups boiling water

Steep leaves in boiling water.  Add sugar to taste.