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Canned and Frozen Grape Leaves

My Grandmother used grape leaves in her dill pickles. She said it kept the pickles from getting soft. What I know now is that grape leaves contain a substance that inhibits an enzyme in the pickle from forming and making the pickles soft.

If you are sure to cut off the blossom end of the cucumbers, which is where the enzyme is formed, you won’t need to add grape leaves. I leave on the stem end, its kind of nostalgic for me.

Grape leaves are also good for making a Middle Eastern dish called Dolmas.  A dolma is simply a rice mixture wrapped up in the grape leaf and then cooked. Kind of like cabbage rolls. Greek-style dolmas don’t usually contain meat.  Not being Greek myself, or of any other ethnic background that would have even thought of making dolmas, I put whatever I want to put in them. And I want meat in them.

I like to make dolmas. Its a recipe that the whole family can get involved in.  I like the texture and taste of the grape leaf.  Preserved grape leaves can be found in stores, but I figured why not make them myself? I have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of grape leaves.

Grape leaves can be frozen or canned. I prefer to can them, but I will give instructions for both methods.

Choosing The Leaves
Choose grape leaves that are about the size of your hand and that are bright green and smooth if possible. Depending on the time of year you’re gathering the leaves, you may only be able to find dark green, fuzzy ones. They are OK, but the smooth leaves are the best for this.

Its important that you choose leaves that have not been sprayed with pesticides.

Rinse your leaves well and pat dry.
Bring 1 part salt to 4 parts water to a boil.
Blanch leaves in small batches. Place the leaves in boiling water and gently push them under the water using a wooden spoon. Blanch for 2-3 minutes.
Gently remove leaves from the boiling water and place them in ice water until they are completely cooled.
Use a slotted spoon and remove the cooled leaves from the ice water.
Lay them on a clean towel and at dry with another clean towel.

Now the leaves are ready to freeze.
Stack similar-sized leaves in groups of 5-15 leaves.
Place stacks of leaves in freezer bags. Label and freeze.
These keep well for up to 6 months.
To use, thaw in a colander over a plate or bowl. Use as soon as they are defrosted. Let them defrost all the way before you try to pull them apart.  Something else you could try is to put a small square of waxed paper between each leaf before freezing.  This can keep the leaves from sticking together while they are frozen but again, you need to be careful when pulling them off the waxed paper and let them defrost completely before doing so.

How To Brine Grape Leaves

You will use your blanched grape leaves for this.
Stack up 5-10 similarly sized leaves.
Roll the stack up and gently tie them into bundles using kitchen string.

I use pint jars for this, but if your grape leaves are very large, you may rather use quarts. Just find a size that fits.

Go ahead and heat your clean jars in boiling water. Heat rings and lids in simmering water, don’t boil, then remove from heat and keep lids and rings in the hot water.

Fill a large pot half-way with water and bring to a boil. Also put a kettle or pot on with extra water and bring that to a boil as well.

Make The Brine:
For every 4 cups of water you use, add 1/4 cup kosher salt and 3 teaspoon citric acid powder.
Boil this mixture for 5-6 minutes.

Gently push bundles into jars with a wooden spoon. You can put the bundles in snugly but don’t force too many bundles in each jar.
Leave 1 1/2 to 2 inches of head space in each jar.

Pour the hot brine into each jar, covering the leaves by 1 inch but leaving that 1 1/2 – 2 inch head space.
Remove any air bubbles by running a clean plastic knife inside the rim of each jar.

Carefully put the jar lids and rings on each jar. Don’t force the rings or tighten them too tightly
Place the jars in the pot of boiling water.
If the water doesn’t cover the jars by about 1 inch, add some of the biooing water from your other pot or kettle.
Cover the pot with a lid and boil on high for 15 minutes.

Take jars out and allow to cool on a towel. Listen for the “Ping” of the lid sealing. If they don’t seal, store them in the refrigerator. Sealed jars can be kept for 1 year on the shelf.


I bake dolmas instead of boiling them like some do. Its easier, you don’t have to watch the pot and add water as it evaporates.

4 cups brown rice,  washed, drained, rinsed and cooked
1 to 2 pounds finely minced meat – I use beef, you could use lamb or other meat
1/2 onion, very finely diced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Some recipes call for more cinnamon. You can add another 1/2 teaspoon to this recipe. We just prefer it with a little cinnamon.

I cook the rice before making the dolmas. Yes its a short-cut. Yes I am like that. You can boil them if you want, just use uncooked rice, place the dolmas in a stock pot, cover with salted water and cook about 1 hour.

Mix all the ingredients.

Spread a blanched grape leaf out on your cutting board with the stem end facing you and the rough side up.

Spread 1 teaspoon of meat and rice mixture on the center of the leaf.

Fold the bottom of the leaf up over the filling, fold the sides of the leaf in toward the middle, and then roll the leaf up into a small cigar shape.

Place all the dolmas in one layer on a large baking sheet or cookie sheet. Drizzle the dolmas with olive oil and lemon juice. Cover tightly with foil.

Bake in a 350* oven for 45 minutes or until the meat is done.

Once they are cooked you must be gently with the rolls until they cool. They will firm up considerably as they cool.  Move the rolls to a plate to cool.

These are delicious as they are but even better dipped in thick, cold, plain Greek yogurt. Ok, a little fresh dill weed never hurt.


  1. Donna Miller

    It’s been so wet here (again) that the grapevines that were coming in just gloriously have begun to rot the fruit 🙁 So your post is helpful – maybe we’ll get something off the vine this year anyway = THE LEAVES!
    Love you!
    Donna Miller recently posted..Book Bonanza Giveaway #3 – “Jake & Miller’s Big Adventure”

    • Sylvia

      That’s the way to think!

  2. Yasmine

    hi, may I use your grape leaf photograph stock to design my poster ? 🙂

    • Sylvia

      If you mean the single leaf, yes.

  3. Pucker

    It’s the BLOSSOM end of the cuke you should cut, not the stem end. But cut both if you want, or cant decide which is which.

    • Sylvia

      You’re right, I changed it, thank you!

  4. Tara

    Thank you! My husband is Egyptian and every Spring I look for a way to jar our grape leaves, since we purchased our home 3 years ago. Your instructions are the most informative, complete, and easy to follow. The jarred grape leaves will be a nice gift to family members. They usually purchase the leaves in specialty stores. Thanks again.

    • Sylvia

      Thanks for letting me know you found the grape leaf instructions! I hope you have success with them. 🙂

  5. Melanie B.

    I use grape leaves in my dill pickles too!! It is my husband’s family recipe and I like it better then my mom’s!! I didn’t know about the cucumber ends… I’ll keep that in mind this summer!:) I’ve never tried making stuffed grape leaves.. but I’ve always been intrigued by the idea! I just may have to try it now!! 🙂 THANKS for sharing!

  6. Mindy

    Hmmm…I have some leftover lamb roast I need to use up. Now to go find some grape leaves! Thanks for the great recipe!

    • Sylvia

      You’re so welcome Mindy, I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

  7. Sylvia

    Did you know you could use wild grape leaves too? You might be able to find some around you.

    Wardees site is where I first heard them called dolmas. I don’t know what I called them before that. Being a country girl from the south I probably just called them rolled grape leaves! lol

  8. Martha Bisharat

    Dear Sylvia,

    Your post makes me want to roll some grape leaves!

    We love them and in the Mid-Eastern culture they are called “watuk da-walleh”. We make them with small cut pieces of lamb meat and rice. The stuffing is rolled into the leaf still raw, and then cooked in a pot until tender.

    This was Wardee’s favorite dish when growing up. She also has a blog post about them on her GNOWFGLINS blog, some time ago. Today I make them ahead and freeze them for specific events because they are such a gourmet delight. They do take time and preparation, but are worth every bite!

    Sadly, I have to buy the leaves in jars! I just might research though and try to grow a vine or two. We tried planting a couple of vines years ago but the variety didn’t handle the winter here, or I just was too busy to care take it!

    Have a great day, and thanks for the post today!