Ingredients: How to Preserve Grape Vine Leaves

If you are a fan of the Greek dish dolmada (dolma) – stuffed grape leaves – or of baked vine leaves with cheese, you will be glad to know that you can easily preserve the young and tender vine leaves for cooking with throughout spring and summer. They won’t be salty, like the store-bought tins or jars of leaves, so they will not require soaking before using them. They can either be stored in a jar with acidulated water, or frozen. You can also store them in brine, for a saltier version.

Grape leaves can be added to just about anything – soups, lentil stews and dals, and rice dishes. Their most popular use, however, is in dolmada.

Use large, tender, light green leaves – pick them in Spring or early Summer. Avoid the varieties of vines that have furry leaves, but otherwise, any grapevine leave will work. Look for leaves that are free of holes and tears, and not damaged by insects. You want them to be fairly large, about the size of your hand. Also, make sure that you’re picking from vines that have not been sprayed with anything! The rule of thumb is – count down three leaves from the new growth at the end of the vine, and pick the next 2 to 3 leaves, then move on to the next stem.

Preserving Grape Vine Leaves

How to Preserve Grape Leaves in Acidulated Water

2 tspns salt
1 litre water
30 grape leaves + 6 additional grape leaves
1 cup water with 0.25 cup lemon juice (or use 1.25 cups water with 0.5 tspn citric acid)

Remove the stems from the grape leaves and wash them well.

Bring the water and salt to the boil in a large saucepan. When the water is boiling, add the grape leaves to blanch, and remove after 30 seconds. Drain them well.

Take six leaves, place them on top of each other, and roll the stack loosely, beginning from the side of the leaf, not the stem end or the tip. Pack the rolls into a mason jar – fold the ends over if required.

Bring the 1 cup water and lemon juice to the boil, and pour the hot liquid over the leaves. Place about 3-5 folded grape leaves on top to keep the rolls packed under the liquid. This will eliminate their exposure to air at the top of the jar. To do this, take one of your extra grape leaves and fold into a square shape and place in the jar on top of the rolls. Repeat adding more leaves, until rolled leaves are fully submerged underneath the brine.

Put the lid on the jar while the brine is still hot, to create a seal.  Store in the fridge.

rolling grape leaves
One of the best ways to pack the leaves into a jar is to roll them. This means that you will stack 6 – 8 leaves, going in the same direction, then roll them. They can be secured by tying with a grape vine tendril. They roll best with the veins of the leaf showing on the outside. When selecting the best grape vine “ties”, choose flexible new shoots from the very ends of the vines. This is typically the part of the plant searching for something to climb on.

recipe notes and alternatives
If you would like to make fermented grape leaves, add some whey or fermentation liquid to the brine. Leave the jars on your kitchen bench for a week, and open the lids each day to allow built up gas to escape. Then, keep them in the fridge and store the for up to a year.

Use the grape leaves as a burrito-style wrap for a variety of fillings.

You can add cloves of garlic, sliced in half, 2 tspns dill seed, 1 tspn black pepper corns, and/or 1 bay leaf to the jar for extra flavour.

Make your preserved leaves on the same day that you pick them. But if you want to use them for salads etc, they can be kept in the fridge like any leafy green vegetable.

Preserving Grape Vine Leaves

How to Preserve Grape Leaves in Brine

Remove the stems from the grape leaves and wash them well.

Make a brine by mixing 250g salt in 2 litres water (adjust quantities up or down, depending on how many leaves you want to pickle).

Fill glass jars about 2/3 full with the brine. Roll up the leaves as described above and place in the jar. Pack tightly. Place folded leaves on top of the rolls to keep them under the brine.

Seal the jars. To use the leaves, remove as many as you need one day ahead of time, and rinse under cold running water to remove brine. Blanch them before use.

Preserving Grape Vine Leaves

How to Freeze Grape Leaves

boiling water
100 – 200 grape leaves

Remove the stems from the grape leaves and wash them well. Make a stack of 20 – 25 leaves, outsides facing down, stem sides together. Roll them from the side into a cigar shape. Tie each roll with a little grapevine tendril, sewing thread or string.

Bring a pan of water to the boil. Dip each roll into the water and remove it after just a couple of seconds. Let them cool.

Put the bundles in plastic ziplock bags and freeze.

recipe notes and alternatives
Another way to freeze grape leaves is this. Don’t rinse or wash the leaves. Wipe off fresh leaves to remove moisture and debris, lay one on top of the other and package 50-70 (or however many you think you will need for one recipe) in a plastic bag. Press to remove as much air as you can, close, and freeze flat. Label bags with date and number of leaves. This method is easy but leaves need at least a couple of months in the freezer to tenderize, and care needs to be taken not to break them while frozen.

Rolls of Grape Vine Leaves for Freezing