Pickling Grape Leaves is easier than you might think. If you learn to preserve your own grape leaves, you'll never have to worry about where to buy grape leaves again! And if you love Middle Eastern Dolma or Greek Dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves) don't use Store-bought preserved grape leaves, make your own!
Why This Recipe Works
Making your own preserved grape leaves has many advantages! For starters, store-bought grape leaves are way too tough. They are larger than they should be because they are not picked when tender. Because of this, they don't cook properly. This means, instead of melting in your mouth, they are tough and hard to chew.
You'll also save money by making your own preserved grape leaves and take advantage of what's growing in your own back yard... or a neighbors. 😉
How to Pickle Grape Leaves
Wash the leaves thoroughly, paying special attention to the back of the leaves, where insects lay their eggs.
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.
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.
After blanching for 30 seconds, drape the leaves over the side of a bowl. Continue with the remaining piles.
Once the water has drained out of the leaves, roll each pile into a cigar-shaped roll.
Tie each pile with string. This will help keep them from unrolling when you place them in the jar.
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 ¼" headspace.
Tighten the lid and store in a cool place until the next time you're in the mood for dolma!
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.
Age of the 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.
The Leaf Shape
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.
Other varieties have less of a split, which is ideal. Luckily, the grapevine I have in my yard has perfectly shaped leaves (see below).
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.
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.
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 them. Why do this twice? (sorry sis, I still love you!)
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.
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