Green Prophet’s editor Karin plucks mulberry leaves from her backyard and serves them to her family.
Long ago, mulberry trees were planted all over the Middle East to feed silkworms. The cottage silk industries have died out, but many ancient mulberry trees remain. Strolling with Karin in her garden recently in Jaffa, I remarked that the big mulberry tree there was so loaded with leaves, it was a pity not to eat them.
Karin asked for the recipe, and made stuffed mulberry leaves the same night. She reports that the dish was a hit with her family.
Old people, those who keep the tradition alive, may be seen picking the new leaves early in the morning. Dried, the leaves make a pleasant-tasting medicinal tea. Another way is to stuff them with ground meat while they’re still young and tender.
In Israel, the it’s the Iraqi community that still knows to eat mulberry leaves. As they know to eat sour green plums.
At this time of year, the mulberry’s fuzzy, light-green berries are just turning rosy red. Wait a few weeks for them to ripen and you’ll be able to eat them right off the tree, or cook them down into jam or chutney.
In traditional Chinese medicine, leaves from the white mulberry are regarded with respect as a medicine. It’s said that the dried, powdered leaves, infused as tea or taken in capsules, lower high blood sugar and high blood pressure.
Being full of antioxidants, they also decrease irritation at the cellular level, thus lowering cancer risk. If a mulberry tree lives near you, it might be a wise thing to pick several handfuls of the young leaves and dry them for tea.
Or, as Karin did, stuff them with ground chicken and roll them up like grape leaves. Traditionally, the leaves are stuffed with ground lamb, but any firm meat will do. Yum.
Stuffed Mulberry Leaves
Serves 4 for dinner, or makes 35 appetizers
Pick 40 tender, medium-sized leaves. Rinse the dust off them and check for insects. Dry gently.
1 kg. ground chicken, lamb or other firm meat
1 egg, beaten
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped fine
1 teaspoon fresh oregano or za’atar, chopped fine
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1- 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
juice of 1 large lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
More sliced lemon for serving
Preheat the oven to 350° F, 190° C.
Mix all ingredients except lemon juice and olive oil. Knead the seasoned meat with your hands to mix everything very well.
Line a baking tray with parchment. Place a leaf shiny side down. Take a tablespoon of meat and roll it into a patty in your palms. Place it on the wide end of the leaf. Add a little more meat if it looks skimpy; pull some out if it looks like too much for the leaf to cover.
Roll it up.The patty will become slightly elongated in rolling. Secure the pointed top with a toothpick if needed.
Mix the lemon juice and olive oil in a little bowl. Drizzle it generously all over the tops of the stuffed leaves.
Bake for 15 minutes if you want them juicy. There will be a certain amount of natural drippings in the pan – pour it into a bowl when you’ve removed the stuffed leaves, and pour it over them.
If you want a crisp wrapping and somewhat drier filling (good for handing around at a party or for a snack), bake 20 minutes.
Serve with sliced lemon for squeezing over the hot or cold leaves.Couscous is nice with these savory little packages. Beer or a chilled white wine are too.
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