Pickling Grape Leaves

Pickling Grape Leaves

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If you love Middle Eastern Dolma or Greek Dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves), then listen up! Store-bought preserved grape leaves are nasty! For starters, they are way too tough because they are larger than they should be. Because they are not picked when tender, they don’t cook properly. This means, instead of melting in your mouth, they are tough and hard to chew. That is why I highly recommend that you try pickling grape leaves yourself. Believe me, it makes a huge difference!

How to Pick the Perfect Grape Leaves

Not all grape leaves are appropriate for pickling. Some are too old, too tough, or the wrong shape. Others are too small or have insect damage. Let’s go over some pointers on picking the perfect grape leaves for making Dolma.

The Age of the grape Leaves

When picking grape leaves, you want thin, tender leaves, that are lighter in color. When you feel the leaf, it should be thin and not leathery. It should be delicate enough to tear easily. If a leaf feels dry or leathery, or is yellowing around the edges and has “rust spots,” it is most likely past its picking prime.

perfect grape leaf for pickling
Notice how light the leaf in the center is, compared to the other leaves. It is tender, young, and almost see through. The perfect leaf to pick!
This leaf, on the other hand, is not only too big to use, but also too old, dry, and tough. Better “leaf” that one on the vine! ?

The Leaf Shape is Also Important 

Another thing you want to pay attention to is the leaf shape. Some grape varieties have a deep split in the leaves. This particular shape does not allow you ample space to add the filling. As a result, they will be more difficult to stuff. Such leaves are not appropriate for this Pickling Grape Leaves recipe. Of course, if it’s the only vine you have access to you can still use it. It’s just not the ideal shape for making dolma.

preserved grape leaves

Other varieties have less of a split, which is ideal. Luckily, the grapevine I have in my yard has perfectly shaped leaves (see below).

grape leaf on a cutting board

Leaf Size Matters too!

The leaf size also matters. If the grape leaf is too big, the dolma rolls will be too big as a result. Let me just say, mom would never have approved! Not to mention, the leaves will be too tough. The larger leaves, however, are perfect for layering on the bottom of the pot to keep the dolma from getting scorched. The ideal leaf should be approximately six inches.

3 grape leaves on a cutting board
The leaf on the top is too small to use, while the leaf on the bottom is way too big. Also, notice how much darker the larger leaf is than the other two. This is another indicator that the leaf is not tender enough to use, as the leaves get darker with age. The leaf in the middle, however, is perfect in size and color.

Please Remove the Stem!

This one is a personal pet peeve of mine. When you pick the leaves, please don’t be like my sister, Beni. She picks them with a couple of inches of stem still attached. When you do this, you’re making more work for yourself. You will have to cut the stem again (but closer to the leaf) before using. Why do this twice? (sorry sis, I still love you!)

preserved grape leaves
Simply cut the stem off as close to the leaf as possible, so that you don’t have to deal with the stem again later. Genius, right?
preserved grape leaves

Look Out For Insects

Another thing to keep an eye out for is little critters that like to hang out on the back of the leaves. Some are very tiny, so if your eyesight is not what it used to be (me), make sure you have your glasses on ?. You will need them to see the tiny eggs and other small insects that are commonly found partying behind the leaves.

caterpillar on a grape leaf
insect eggs on the back of a grape leaf
Notice the tiny insect eggs in the center of the leaf, toss this one in the trash!
small insect on a grape leaf

How to Pickle Grape Leaves

Now that we’ve covered the basics regarding how to pick the perfect leaves for pickling, let’s talk about how to pickle the grape leaves.

What you need:

  • 60 grape leaves freshly picked
  • 1 T. sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. citric acid
  • 1 (24 oz) Ball Wide Mouth Jar
preserved grape leaves
pickled grape leaves


  1. Wash the leaves thoroughly, paying special attention to the back of the leaves, where insects lay their eggs.
  2. Divide the leaves into piles of ten, making sure all the leaves are facing the same direction. This will make things easier when it comes time to stuff them.
  3. Bring eight cups of water to a boil, then simmer on low. Using tongs, gently place one pile of leaves in the water for 15 seconds, then carefully flip the entire pile and immerse for an additional 15 seconds. 
  4. After blanching for 30 seconds, drape the leaves over the side of a bowl. Continue with the remaining piles. 
  5. Once the water has drained out of the leaves, roll each pile into a cigar-shaped roll.
  6. Tie each pile with string. This will help keep them from unrolling when you place them in the jar.
  7. Boil three cups of water and stir in the salt and citric acid until completely dissolved. Stand the rolled leaves in a sterilized jar and pour the salted water over them, leaving 1/4″ headspace.
  8. Tighten the lid and store in a cool place until the next time you’re in the mood for dolma! 

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pickled grape leaves

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