Grape Leaves (About)

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Stuffed Grape Leaves

By Cat, Jun 2008 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Stuffed grape leaves, or dolmades in Greece, can be made with a vegetarian rice or bulgur stuffing, or with a ground meat stuffing. Check out the excellent photos at Greek Food (1), on how to stuff, fold and roll grape leaves.  The site also has a list of recipes for stuffing.

You’ll probably laugh a lot as you do the first one, getting confused about what to fold first and so on, but after a few, you’ll be an expert.  Even the kids can do this!

Finding grape leaves, and a substitute

The hard part (for me) is finding a source of fresh grape leaves here in NW Montana! Instead, I buy a jar of grape leaves in a vinegar brine at my local grocer; these have been heat-treated (canned), so they don’t need to be blanched. This is not ideal, but its all I can find here.

A delicious alternative to grape leaves is to use squash blossoms.  To fill, hold each blossom in your hand and spoon in a bit of filling.  Fold each petal over the filling.  The only drawback to this idea is that if you use all your blossoms in this way, you won’t get any squash!

Grape Leaf Basics

Before getting into the recipes, here are a few basics common to all.  Refer to Cooking with Fresh Grape Leaves (2) for more info on how to choose the right leaves, blanch them, and store them for future use (freeze, brine, and dry-store without brine).  I provide summary here.

Selecting Grape Leaves

  • When:  Pick leaves in late spring (May-June).
  • Size: They should be at least as large as the palm of your hand.
  • Condition:  Light green in color, and supple, with no holes.  Look below the new growth at the top, but above the grapes.  Do not use if the vines have been treated with pesticides.

Preparing Grape Leaves (Wash and Blanch)

If using fresh leaves:

  • Rinse under cold running water;
  • Remove stems;
  • Blanch them before stuffing.  Some stored versions have been blanched already.
  • To blanch:  Place leaves in large pot and cover with boiling water; let rest for 3 – 5 minutes;
  • Alternately,  heat water to boiling in a large pot, then turn off the heat; add leaves, and let sit for 3 – 5 minute;
  • Remove leaves and drain in colander.

Storing Grape Leaves

Because they can only be picked once a year, you will want to pick a lot, and then store them for use throughout the year.  They can be stored by freezing, rolled in brine, or rolled for dry storage.  Refer to Cooking with Fresh Grape Leaves (2) for details.

Another option is to pickle (lacto-ferment) them, then store in a root cellar or refrigerator.  These instructions are from Nourishing Traditions. by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, PhD (5):

Ingredients & Equipment for storing leaves:


  1. Wash leaves well. Remove stems.
  2. Place water, salt, and whey in a large bowl. Soak grape leaves in the liquid about 1 hour.  Remove leaves from bowl; reserve liquid.
  3. Stack grape leaves and roll up (side to side). Stuff into mason jar; add enough soaking liquid to cover leaves, leaving at least 1 inch space below top of the jar.
  4. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days, then transfer to cold storage.

Folding Grape Leaves

Refer to the excellent photos and instructions at How to Fold Grape Leaves (3), on how to stuff, fold and roll grape leaves.  The site also has a list of recipes for stuffing.

  1. Place leaf shiny side down on clean, hard work surface (like a wood cutting board).
  2. Place stuffing at bottom center, just above where the stem was removed.  For a small leaf, use 1 tsp filling; for a larger leaf, use 1 Tbsp filling.
  3. Most grape leaves have extensions at the bottom that are folded diagonally upward, over the filling; first the right side, then the left.  Otherwise, skip to step 4.
  4. Fold the right side across in a vertical fold, then repeat with the left side.  These folds should be parallel to each other.
  5. Roll stuffed portion upward, toward the tip of the leave.  Roll should be firm, not tight, as the filling will expand during cooking. Set on a plate, or in cooking pan, with the bulk of the roll on top of the tip, to hold it in place.
  6. Repeat until all the filling or leaves have been used.

Cooking Filled Grape Leaves

Regular Pot:

  1. The filled leaves are cooked in a a water bath, using a large pot.  The leaves at the bottom can burn while the filling cooks, so use broken and too-small leaves to line the bottom of the pan.  Or you can put a plate, or wooden souvlaki skewers in the bottom, and then put broken and too-small leaves on top of the plate or skewers.
  2. Place rolled leaves on top, packing them closely together, but not squashed, seam-side down to keep them from unrolling.
  3. Layer them until all are in the pot (2 – 3 layers is best; no more than 4).  Cover with several unused leaves.
  4. Place a plate upside down on top of the rolled leaves, with something to weight it down (a second plate works well).  The plate should fit inside the pan and come close to the sides.
  5. Add water to the pot, so that it comes just comes to the edge of the upside-down plate.
  6. Place over medium-high heat and bring water to a gentle boil.  Typically a bit of lemon juice is added to the gently boiling water.
  7. Reduce heat to low and simmer as instructed in the recipe.  If the rice has cooked, they are done.  If not, continue cooking for another 10 minutes and check again.

Pressure Cooker:

If you prefer to use a pressure cooker, you don’t need the plates, but you should use skewers in the bottom.  Pack filled leaves as  above, add water to cover, close cooker and cook 15 – 20 minutes at the first pressure mark.

Keeping Grape Leaves

After rinsing & blanching

Grape leaves can be stored for future use, by freezing, brining, or dry storage (without brine).  Refer to Cooking with Fresh Grape Leaves (2) for details.

After stuffing and cooking

The cooked dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) will keep well in the refrigerator for about 5 days.  Return to room temperature before serving.

  • Store fresh, in a jar: fit vertically into a jar.  Drizzle olive oil on top, and screw on lid;
  • Freeze in sealed freezer bag or other container; to use, reheat by steaming over a pot of water (don’t just thaw and eat).


  1. Greek Food pictorial on working with grape leaves (
  2. Greek Food: Cooking with Fresh Grape Leaves (
  3. How to Fold Grape Leaves (
  4. Greek Cooking with Grape Leaves
  5. Nourishing Traditions. by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, PhD. Refer to Beloved Cookbooks for more about this book.

About Cat

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