Roll, Wrap, and Pass These 12 Dishes With Leaves

Experience traditional specialties that showcase a variety of flavorful and aromatic leaves.

Zeytinyagil Yaprak Sarmasi
Photo: Photo by Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Carrie Purcell / Prop Styling by Jillian Knox

Cooking in leaves is a timeless tradition with endless earthy possibilities, from passing protein in lettuce wraps to baking salmon in fig leaves, steaming pork in kale leaves, and roasting cod in banana leaves. We've gathered global traditions that go beyond salads and side dishes: a Dominican grandmother's recipe for rolling three types of ground meat in cabbage like swaddled children; Turkish grape leaves brined and stuffed with rice and herbs; and a Mexican recipe roasting black cod in banana leaves with a citrusy spice paste.

Chef Jamie Simpson calls wrapping food with leaves the old-school lunch box. “That predates most of us; it predates pots and pans even. It’s generally a way to keep sand, dirt, coals, and charcoal off of your food directly and serves as a convenient carrying case,” said the executive chef of the Culinary Vegetable Institute, adding that cooking can soften leaves that are abrasive, spicy, or stringent when raw.

Here are flavorful, aromatic ways to work with banana leaves, bay leaves, chicories, corn husks, fig leaves, grape leaves, and more edible leaves all year round.

01 of 12

Picadillo-Stuffed Leaves

Picadillo Stuffed Leaves Recipe
Greg DuPree

Steam this wild mash-up of picadillo and dolma in Swiss chard leaves or lacinato kale leaves with briny olives, sweet raisins, and warm cinnamon.

02 of 12

Niños Envueltos Dominicanos (Dominican Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)

Ninos Envueltos | Dominican Stuffed Cabbage
Ellen Mary Cronin

The name of the dish, which translates to "swaddled children," comes from the shape of the cabbage rolls themselves, but also nods to their deeply comforting nature.

03 of 12

Tikin Xic (Citrusy Black Cod Roasted in Banana Leaves)

Citrusy Black Cod Roasted in Banana Leaves
Victor Protasio

Something beautiful happens when protein is smeared with citrusy achiote paste, wrapped in banana leaves, and roasted. The famous Mexican pork dish cochinita pibil is prepared this way, and in the coastal states of Quintana Roo and Yucatán, fish gets the same treatment for a flavorful entrée with a tea-like aroma. 

04 of 12

Salmon Fillet Baked in Fig Leaves with Garlicky Potatoes

Salmon Fillet Baked in Fig Leaves with Garlicky Potatoes
© James Baigrie

Fanny Singer had a fig tree in her backyard as a child, and her mother — Alice Waters of Chez Panisse — used the leaves to wrap salmon, lending the fish a smoky, fruity flavor. The baked leaves taste like the best vegetable chips ever.

05 of 12

Zeytinyağli Yaprak Sarmasi (Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Zeytinyagil Yaprak Sarmasi
Photo by Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Carrie Purcell / Prop Styling by Jillian Knox

The brightness of the brined grape leaves is balanced by the rice filling, which is seasoned with fresh parsley and dill and slightly sweet cooked onions. Musa Dagdeviren shares these tangy, tender vegetarian rice-and-herb-stuffed grape leaves from the Turkish region of Mugla in The Turkish Cookbook.

06 of 12

Lemony Bulgur-Stuffed Swiss Chard Leaves

Lemony Bulgur-Stuffed Chard Leaves
© Claire Thomas

For her refreshing dish, chef Semsa Denizsel uses blanched chard leaves to wrap herb-laced bulgur. She serves the stuffed leaves without baking them; they’re a lovely change from standard braised grape leaves.

07 of 12

Corn Husk–Grilled Goat Cheese with Corn Relish and Honey

Corn Husk-Grilled Goat Cheese with Corn Relish and Honey
Victor Protasio

These grilled packets of cheese are tangy, sweet, and smoky — an ideal appetizer on a summer night.

08 of 12

Barbacoa de Res (Beef Barbacoa)

Barbacoa de Res

Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Christina Daley

“The technique of wrapping meat in some sort of leaf and burying it in an earthen pit to cook for hours isn’t unique to Mexico, but it’s a technique that we have perfected over the course of centuries," says chef Jonathan Zaragoza. Traditionally, the meats are wrapped in agave leaves, but Zaragoza opts for banana leaves to impart an earthy flavor and prevent the beef from drying out.

09 of 12

Napa Cabbage Pockets with Tofu

Napa Cabbage Pockets with Tofu

Charissa Fay / Food Styling by Nora Singley / Prop Styling by Maeve Sheridan

Chef Zoey Xinyi Gong’s refreshing and savory stuffed cabbage pockets are filled with shiitake mushrooms, Chinese chives, and crisp mung beans. The pockets resemble hong bao, the red envelopes families exchange for love and good fortune as a Chinese New Year tradition.

10 of 12

Kai Hor Bai Tong (Chicken in Banana Leaves)

Kai Hor Bai Tong (chicken in banana leaves)

Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Christina Daley

In this variation of Thai kai hor bai toey, which traditionally calls for pandan leaves, banana leaves are used to insulate the chicken pieces as they cook.

11 of 12

Pork Larb Lettuce Wrap

Pork Larb Lettuce Wrap Recipe
© Seth Smoot

At Plum Alley in Salt Lake City, chef Ryan Lowder's menu includes versions of some of his favorite Thai dishes. He especially loves this northern Thai pork salad wrapped in lettuce leaves.

12 of 12

Sticky-Rice Tamales with Chorizo

Sticky Rice Tamales with Chorizo
Abby Hocking

Austin's Kemuri Tatsu-Ya fills corn husks with sticky rice instead of masa. Shiitake mushrooms crisp in the drippings from sautéed Mexican chorizo, and the chile-spiked fat colors the rice in the tamales.

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