How To Prepare Grape Leaves For Dolmades (Ampelofylla Yia Ntolmades)

It’s grape leaf time! Late spring wherever you are is the time to harvest grape leaves for cooking, most especially for making dolmades.
abelofylla yia ntolmades klymatariagrape leaves for dolmades pile of vines
I usually forget to do this until the grape vines are going all over the place and need some trimming. As you can see, I brought an armload into the kitchen, but I won’t be using all these leaves. We use only the more tender leaves on the last couple of feet of each vine.

abelofylla yia ntolmades klymataria grape vine

Use scissors to snip each usable leaf off the vine, cutting the stem flush with the leaf. What do I mean by “usable”? We want the leaves to be young and tender, yet big enough to roll around a blob of filling. The palm of your hand is the ideal size. Take a look at the leaves below.

abelofylla yia ntolmades grape leaves for dolmades arranged by size

The column of leaves furthest to the left are pretty small. They’ll make lovely fancy dolmadakia, but they’ll slow you down because you’ll have to do more and fussier rolling of leaves around filling. The two middle columns of leaves are perfect. The two big leaves in the rightmost column are too tough for stuffing, but I won’t throw them away because I can use them to line the pan when I make the dolmades.

abelofylla yia ntolmades rinse the grape leaves for dolmades

Rinse the leaves in a sink full of water and drain them, then repeat.

abelofylla yia ntolmades grape leaves for dolmades draining

Make a stack of approximately 25 leaves.

abelofylla yia ntolmades grape leaves for dolmades stacked

Roll the stack up…

abelofylla yia ntolmades grape leaves for dolmades rolled up

…and then tie it with string or sewing thread.

abelofylla yia ntolmades grape leaves for dolmades tied

Here’s what I got for that huge armload of vines.

abelofylla yia ntolmades grape leaves for dolmades bundled up in rolls

Dip each bundle in boiling salted water and remove it right away.

abelofylla yia ntolmades grape leaves for dolmades dipped in boiling water

Let them cool.

abelofylla yia ntolmades grape leaves for dolmades blanched bundles

Put the bundles in plastic and freeze. You can actually use them right away, if you have the energy. I never do!

This is the method I learned from Mama, but there are other methods for preserving grape leaves. Nancy Gaifyllia at About.com gives a variety of techniques for grape leaves. Check out her article starting with fresh grape leaves.

74 Comments »

  1. Comment by Sam Sotiropoulos

    Lulu, I am sure many will appreciate this offering! Good work. I especially liked your detailed methodology. A true delight to read, good posting.

  2. Comment by Laurie Constantino

    I’m envious of people with access to grape vines. We always bring some dry-packed ones in nice, sturdy coke bottles home with us from Greece, but other than that I have to make do with jars from the supermarket. The flavor of your frozen ones is so much better. Good for you that you take the time to do it!

  3. Comment by lulu

    Hey, Sam, thanks! My hope is that someone who’s never done this before could follow these instructions.

  4. Comment by lulu

    Laurie, I know what you mean, I kept having to scroll down to your snow pictures to avoid being envious of your lush spring greenery. Every climate has its pros and cons. That said, I totally understand that if you want to do Mediterranean cooking, then a Mediterranean climate is the best, especially for us foragers. Hence my admiration for the whole premise of your blog!

    Interesting you should mention the dry-packed leaves. That was the method that most intrigued me over on Nancy’s site. I’d love to try it but I don’t understand why the leaves don’t get moldy.

  5. Comment by Cheryl

    I’m your someone who’s never done it before! I have tons of leaves and I want to preserve them. I have other people that I could ask but I’d rather learn on my own and surprise everyone after it’s done.I’ll let you know how it turns out. Thanks for the great, timely post!

  6. Comment by Bellini

    We should be able to harvest our grape leaves soon here in the valley. There are only a handful of places..in fact maybe one..that sell them in their produce department from the wineries.

  7. Comment by Laurie Constantino

    I don’t know why they don’t get moldy, but they don’t. I’ve used them up to a year later and they are fine - but like Nancy says, once you open the bottle you have to use them all up right away. It’s a mystery, but it works. Trust the yiayias.

  8. Comment by ivy

    Great job Lulu. That’s how I preserve them as well. I only roll them in cling film, after they are washed and dried and put them in the freezer without boiling. I boil them after thawing them. I have shown this in my blog some months back.

  9. Comment by lulu

    Cheryl, I’m thrilled to hear that you’re going to give it a try using this! They’ll be great, there’s really no way to mess them up.

  10. Comment by lulu

    Do you have any access to grape vines, Val? Too bad I can’t send you Mama, she’s realy good at “foraging” other people’s plants if she doesn’t think they’re going to put them to good use! Going for walks with her can get a little embarrassing sometimes. ;-)

  11. Comment by lulu

    Ivy, I noticed that was one of the methods Nancy mentioned. I did actually look at Kopiaste to see if you had an article to link to about this, but I didn’t find one. I was pretty tired at the time though, that’s probably why I missed it.

  12. Comment by Ricki

    Wow, Lulu, that is so impressive! One of these days I’m going to have to try authentic, rolled dolmades!

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog–it is much appreciated. (And hope you enjoy the “lazy” version that I posted!) :)

  13. Comment by lulu

    I’m definitely going to try them, Ricki! Welcome!

  14. Comment by FoodJunkie

    I usually have others prepare them for me. Now that you showed me how, I cannot pretend I don’t know any more.. DAMN!

  15. Comment by lulu

    LOL, FoodJunkie!

  16. Comment by James

    I never reaised they were so easy. It’s one of those things I keep pushing to the back of the to-try list. But my friend has vine leaves in her garden, so it’s worth a try. And I really love dolmades.

    Thanks for the comment too. Just finished a two week blitz of work. 460 people in 2 weeks, so no time left for blogging. Will be posting photos from a weeks cooking in Cornwall soon though…..

  17. Comment by lulu

    Hi James, I figured it was something like that. Glad to hear everything’s good with you and I’ll look forward very much to the pictures from Cornwall.

  18. Comment by Bellini Valli

    It should be about time that we are able to get fresh Spring leaves locally. You asked about wrapping the chicken breast in grape leaves on my site. I have only ever used the brined leaves which have a lot of moisture in them. In that case I would imagine you might need to blanch fresh leaves to get as much moisture into the chicken as possible. I am only guessing..the best thing is experimentation:D

  19. Comment by kat

    That was a great post. I like the fact you use all the leaves and don’t waste the big or little ones. To be honest, when I was in the USA, I always bought the ones in jars or just went to Greek festivals, and now I don’t make dolmadakia because my future MIL makes them for me (I’m the only one who eats them). I also never realized it was relatively easy…or maybe you just make it look easy. I’ll remember to come back here when we move out of the country and return to making my own.

  20. Comment by lulu

    @18 Val, good point. I’ll definitely experiment!

    @19 Kat, prepping the leaves is easy, a lot easier than rolling up two hundred bazillion dolmadakia! The leaves tend to sit in my freezer for a long time before I get up the energy for that.

  21. Comment by maria verivaki

    those little bundles look beautiful!

  22. Comment by lulu

    Hi Maria! I just like to admire them and not go to the work of making filling and rolling them! :-)

  23. Comment by Kevin

    Preparing your own vine leaves sounds like fun.

    Kevin’s last blog post..Jamaican Jerk Chicken

  24. Comment by Lulu

    Hi Kevin, welcome! It is fun!

  25. Comment by petey

    I am so making these this summer. I can’t wait.

  26. Comment by Lulu

    Let me know how it goes, Petey.

  27. Pingback by Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves) « A Mad Tea Party

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  28. Comment by Anonymous

    HI! Thanks for the info. I have a couple of questions? 1) Some methods suggest blanching a dozen in boiled water and then emerging in cold water and then drying and freezing. Others suggest putting all in a big pan and then in cold water. There is also another method where you only boil and then dry and freeze. Now here is my question. What differences do these methods make; which one is best to use?

    2) How can I plant my own grape vines?

    Thanks again

  29. Comment by Lulu

    Hi Anonymous, I too am learning that people use lots of different methods for preparing grape leaves. I’ve only tried Mama’s method (the one I described) so I don’t really know how the different methods affect the leaves. To plant a grape vine I would just buy one at a nursery. Dig a hole, and pop’er in. I don’t think they’re super fussy, unless you’re trying to grow fine wine grapes.

  30. Comment by dolores

    Hello my names is dolores and i’am so delighted to read all of your comments regarding grape leaves I have been liveing in a house for 10 yrs and went behind the garage and found these big and sweet green grape i’am sure the vines never been treated, at least for 10 yrs so i have been looking for answers for prepareing grape leaves for stuffing’s this was the only one site and i have been looking for months thankyou

  31. Pingback by Vine leaves Grow Your Own - Growing, How To Grow Tomatoes Growing Fruit & Veg - Recipe Advice, Organic food Gardening, Chickens, Seeds for Sale

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  32. Comment by Lulu

    Hi Dolores, my pleasure! May you make delicious stuffed grape leaves! :-)

  33. Comment by Reggie

    ive only tasted domades once. and its was kind of sour.. and it was from a jar from the supermarket.. they seemed oily and bitter.. and i really loved that fact!! will they be like this too, when you make them like you do?

  34. Comment by Lulu

    Hi Reggie! It depends on what you fill them with and how you cook them. But the sour/bitter flavor of the grape leaves will definitely be there. :-)

  35. Comment by sarraceniac

    Wonderful advice here. I was wondering what to do with my vines. Never had the patience for wine. And the entire family likes dolmades.

  36. Comment by Lulu

    @33 sarraceniac: Super! I hope your dolmades please your family!

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  38. Comment by Sandra

    Just an idea for those grape leaf lovers who don’t have the time and energy for rolling dolmades. At springtime in Lesvos, my husband and I make a dish we call yiaprakopita (stuffed grape leaf pie). We precook the rice until it just soft and mix it with chopped lettuce, minced green onions, and fresh spearmint. We place a layer of freshly picked graped vine leaves in an oiled deep pie dish, add the filling, and cover it with another layer of leaves. Then we tuck in the edges and top it off with a big drizzle of olive oil and enough warm water to cover. We place an inverted plate over the top as a weight, bake it for about half an hour, and serve it with a dollop of avgolemono. It is quick, easy and delicious.

  39. Comment by dolores

    its late spring, should i go to a plant shop and get some grape vines how long would it take them to start produceing i’am a beginer just want the leaves , later i may want to make home made wine ,smile,dolores

  40. Comment by Kathy Mahoney

    I am picking grape leaves for Dolmades for the Greek Festival at church and I couldn’t get any one to tell me exactly what I needed to do, it all seemed very vague - especially leaf size — so thank you very much for your photos and explanations.

  41. Comment by Anonymous

    Could you please explain what dry-packed leaves in coke bottles are. How are they preserved?

  42. Comment by Sarah

    This is a fantastic tutorial! Thank you!

    We just bought our first home and inherited a small, established vineyard. My husband is outside as we speak pruning the vines with strict instructions to bring them all indoors for me! I love Greek food and can’t wait to use your technique!

    Best,
    Sarah

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  44. Comment by Anastasia

    Hi….I want to try the dry packed method. My question is once the leaves are in the mason jars, do you boil the jars as you would when making tomato sauce to seal?

    I do freeze my leaves…but I do not blanch…simply wash, pat dry and place flat in tupper ware. Seperate the batches with foil paper. In fact I just used my last batch from last summer…12 months and they were fabulous…but I find this method takes up too much freezer storage. I was going to try the roll, tie, wrap in saran wrap, freeze method…I will get more in the tupper ware. Thank you so much for all this information. best. ag

  45. Comment by sailorphyl

    Fantastic!! I made these this week with my own grape leaves and also store bought leaves… I let both simmer for about 10 extra minutes… What a surprise!! Mine are really delicious! Thanks for the recipe!!!

  46. Comment by Mike

    I’m curious. If you pick leaves off of the grape vines in late spring, don’t the grapes need the leaves to weather the heat and sun in the summer until grape harvest? I’m not a grape grower, but I’m looking into the possible opportunity.

  47. Comment by Lulu

    @46 Mike: My vines push out such a jungle of leaves that they really need trimming anyway, so it doesn’t hurt them.

  48. Comment by Lucy

    What if I wait too late… and harvest the grape leaves in the fall, can they be used at all?
    I’ve got grapes coming in for harvest right now, and would love to make some dolmades.

  49. Comment by Sharon Thomas

    I need the answer to Lucy’s question above as well! Mine look quite beautiful right now, and I’m guessing it would mean cutting with a knife r/th cutting into them w/ your fork in late spring. ?? posted Oct. 4th

  50. Comment by Lulu

    @Lucy and @Sharon - Zoe says the leaves are too big and tough now, but if you can find some small, tender leaves, then go for it. I’m with you, I’d like to be able to use leaves I harvest now because I’m so busy in late spring. If I have a chance to try out late summer/autumn leaves, I’ll definitely post about it here!

  51. Comment by Richard

    It’s Novemeber in Ireland, and I in my ignorance have just taken in reddy and greenish pale leaves from our vine inour tunnel, not green from Spring, anyway I’m going to try them, I have them softening in vinegrette, wonder will they just be awfull, did you try your autmumn leaves?

  52. Comment by Lulu

    @Richard - No, I haven’t had a chance to try autumn leaves. Let us know how yours turn out!

  53. Comment by Aunt Jo

    No need to buy grape vines if you can find a friend or neighbor with vines. Collect their pruned vines, cut into 12 - 18 inch sections, remove all but one leaf on the small end and stick each section into the garden with just an inch or so of the vine and the leaf sticking out. Keep them weeded and watered and wait. Some will make roots and grow and then you can move them where you want them, early the next spring. You can also find a low growing piece of vine which needs to be pruned - but wait, dig a small trench, lay the vine in with just three inches of the small end sticking out. Cover the vine and trench with soil and lay a rock or brick on it to hold it still. By the next season, you can cut it loose, move the brick and dig the newly rooted vine up and move it.
    If you use only the leaves, offer the grapes to friends and neighbors for eating out of hand, pie, jam, jelly, dried fruit or wine. Any grapes left on the vines will be appreciated by the birds.

  54. Comment by elainemcalpine

    Hello Lulu
    thankyou so much for your great instructions ,my grape vine was going wild and when i read your page i got really excited ,”my family love dolmades ‘I let you know how they turn out
    Cheers Elaine xxx

  55. Comment by Cheryl

    Living in a wine producing area on the Mornington Peninsula my biggest concern is the amount of pesticides on vines…unfortunately I don’t have a vine of my own.

  56. Comment by smail el oifi

    never heard of this but its really awsome;im going to make a meal:lol we have big trees of vines!!!

  57. Comment by Dee

    In my garden the grapes do not get enough sunshine to ripen, so I grow the vines for the leaves and just love looking at the vine and the possibility that one day the grapes will ripen. I have given away so many cuttings which gives my friends pleasure as well. The vine has moved with me through 3 different homes over 35 years. I do the cuttings as described above by 53 Aunt Jo.

  58. Comment by Teresa

    My neighbor has crazy grape vines that grow over the fence and block the sun to our veggie garden. Last year we cursed as we cut them down. This year, we were “Hey! We love dolmas! Let’s figure this out!” and we found your wonderful post. We just finished blanching 15 little bundles. Thanks so much! And you are right….too tired to make the dolmas!

  59. Comment by Laura

    Hi Lulu,

    I am from the UK where the climate is somewhat cooler than Greece to say the least..! You say to harvest in late spring, why is this and at what stage is the fruit? It’s August now and I’m hoping that somehow because of our cooler/wetter climate I will still have time to harvest. I have spotted some vines over the fence of my neighbourse garden which I am planning on snipping! Thank you in advance. Laura.

  60. Comment by myra westover

    Dear Lulu, Cam you use Mustang grape leaves for dolmades?

  61. Comment by Butterpoweredbike

    Hi, I cohost a foraging recipe challenge called Wild Things, and the featured ingredient for the month of August is grape. Your post is so wonderfully detailed and instructive; I’d love to include it in the round up of recipes. If you’d like to participate, could you please email your link to wildthings.roundup@gmail.com ? Thanks!

  62. Comment by stephania

    Any particular grape type has the best leaves? My grape vine seems to have very jagged and v shaped leaves. Not as nicely full as yours ar.

  63. Comment by Annie

    Hi there from the UK - many thanks for the tip on freezing vine leaves. I’ve just finished washing and preparing 90 leaves that I picked from my garden - blimey it took ages! Can I just ask: after you’ve frozen the leaves and want to use them - do you just defrost and then rinse in cold water or do you need to re-blanch them?

    With thanks and best wishes
    Annie

  64. Comment by Annie

    Hi there from the UK - I posted a message yesterday but can’t see it in your comment list so I’ll post again. Thanks for your tip on freezing vine leaves - I did 90 yesterday! Just wanted to ask you: when you take them out of the freezer to use should they be plunged in cold water to refresh them or will that make them soggy? Having spent hours preparing them I don’t want to get it wrong at the end!

    With best wishes
    Annie

  65. Comment by Lor

    It’s fall now. Can I still harvest grape leaves?
    Each year I get 50+lbs of red/purple grapes(with seeds), and last year I made many cases of grape jam.
    Any other grape suggestions?

  66. Comment by Devin

    Thank you for the fabulous visual instruction!!

  67. Comment by red

    Do you have to use leaves from edible grape vines or can they be from ornamental vines? Thanks for the information :)

  68. Comment by Linnea Walden

    Place on a free ad,in your local paper or craigslist, offering to trim grape vines in exchange for the leaves you need.

  69. Comment by Fiona

    Wonderful instructions that were very easy to follow, thank you! I cooked my dolmas in a bamboo wok-steamer, lined with vine leaves and with a layer of vine leaves on top. This worked well

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  71. Comment by BH

    I came home today to find three women picking the leaves off my grape vines in my back yard!

    I sent them packing, as this was really not the right thing to do, without first asking me. If they come back, I might cut a deal with them. If they make me a tray of whatever they are cooking, and promise to only come by prior arrangement, I will let them harvest some of the leaves.

    I need now to find out how many leaves one can harvest without impacting the vine. I love the grapes that grow on the vines, and they generally ripen late in the summer or early autumn. We eat them fresh, and turn some into jam or jelly. They have seeds and slightly tougher skins than typical store varieties, but they are very tasty. We have three vines, and the one they were picking from receives the least sun, and a healthy supply of leaves.

    How many leaves can be trimmed before it compromises the health of the plant or its ability to produce good grapes?

  72. Comment by Rebecca Iannone

    Well LuLu your wish is coming true, After visiting a Greek Festival in our area and tasting the grape leaves I am hooked.
    Our vines are full of beautiful leaves and grapes for future wine.
    Will let you know how all turns out. Your directions where the best that I found on Line.

    Thanks,
    Rebecca

  73. Comment by Ambur Rose

    How much salt do you put in the water??

  74. Comment by Adey

    Hi all, I’ve loads of vines and being an absolute lover of Dolmades today looked up how to prepare the leaves and this was the first and last thing I shall read! Excellent!

    I do have a couple of questions for everyone in the know though please.

    a) Do you simply just defrost the leaves when you are ready to use them or do you have to rehydrate?

    b) Does anyone have any vegetarian recipes for other recipes for vine leaves other than dolmades? I’d love to know of them especially vegan recipes.

    Thank you so much!

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