How to make the best grape leaves
Grape leaves, also known as stuffed grape leaves, dolmades, or Greek Dolmades, are absolutely DELICIOUS! Homemade grape leaves are a zillion times better than anything you can find in a can.
This recipe walks you through the step-by-step instructions for how to make delicious grape leaves.
What you need to know before you start
Many of the recipes you’ll find here at FueltheBodyWell.com are fast– but this is not one of them. Before you dive in, I want to give you a heads up that grape leaves are time consuming to make.
If you love grape leaves, or love someone who loves grape leaves, it will be worth it!
Pull out that new language CD or that motivational CD that you’ve always want to listen to, or invite over a friend that you’ve been wanting to catch up with and plan for a fun afternoon in the kitchen.
Before we dive into the grape leaf recipe, I want to talk about oil. Olive oil is meant to be used for room temperature recipes only. Most olive oils are generally not stable at higher heats. For that reason, we’ve started using Ghee or Coconut Oil in most of our high-heat cooking (you can check out our sweet potato fries recipe here to read a bit more information about cooking and oils). That being said, when making Dolmades, we make a conscious decision to go with olive oil. It is a taste decision and an emotional decision. Eating grape leaves falls into the 80/20 rule that we have of choosing some foods for reasons beyond just fueling. If you’d like to hear my 1-minute clip about fueling the body well, you can check it out here.
Now that you are armed with all the information, if you are are ready to dive in, here we go….
- 50-70 Fresh grape leaves (if you can get them) OR a jar of grape leaves
- The jar of grape leaves can be found at your local Greek store for much less than you can find them online
- Olive oil (lots)
- 1 and 1/2 cups of uncooked rice
- We use basmati white rice, but you can also use long grain white rice
- 1 can of diced tomatoes (or use fresh from your garden if you have them!)
- We use the Whole Foods 365 Brand; organic diced tomatoes in a 14.5 ounce can
- 1 yellow onion
- small bunch of scallions (about 5)
- fresh mint (about 1 – 1.5 tablespoons of fresh mint)
- You could also use parsley, we just happen to prefer the mint
- We use the himalayan pink salt
How long does it take to make grape leaves?
You may be a little faster or a little slower than I am, but this should give you some idea for the timing. If you find you are a lot faster than me, I’d love it if you write a comment and let us know your secret!
The end-to-end timing from pulling out the ingredients to having a clean kitchen, is about 3 1/2 – 4 hours.
- Making the stuffing: 30 minutes
- Preparing the leaves: 45 minutes
- Rolling the stuffing into the grape leaves: 45 minutes
- Cook time: 45 minutes
Step 1: Get out all the ingredients
I always start with pulling out all the ingredients. It’s better to be sure you have everything you need up front, before you take on a long cooking project.
Step 2: Make the stuffing for the “stuffed” grape leaves
I must admit, I don’t always start with the stuffing because I get excited to start working with the grape leaves. But I am always glad when I do because you need the stuffing to be cool when you start rolling, so it makes a lot more sense to start here.
- Dice the onion and scallion into small pieces.
- This always takes me longer than I think it should, but in my opinion, the dolmades turn out better when the stuffing has a nice consistency. The grape leaf is too small for big chunks of onions
- Mince the mint (mince means dicing into even tinier pieces)
- Open the can of diced tomatoes and dice any big chunks into smaller pieces
- Little tip that I find makes it easier: Measure out the rice into a bowl so it’s ready to go
- Dice the onion and scallion into small pieces.
- Add 1/2 cup of olive oil to the pan and let the oil get hot
- Add onions and scallions and cook on medium-high for 5-7 minutes
- Add 1 and 1/2 cups of uncooked rice (and mix it around nicely)
- Let it cook for another 1 minute while you mix everything together
- Add the diced tomatoes and mix
- Add 1 tablespoon of salt and mix
- Add the mint and mix
- Add oregano– I just sprinkle dried oregano and create a top layer over the entire dish, then mix everything again. If you are using fresh oregano, use less.
- Let cook on medium for about 8 minutes mixing frequently so nothing sticks to the bottom and burns
- Put the pan aside and let it cool off (note: the rice will not be cooked all the way through… it will continue to cook inside the grape leaves later.
Step 3: Preparing the grape leaves
The first step in preparing the grape leaves is to take a deep breath and remember that it is an act of love to prepare this meal for yourself and the others you are cooking for. Rushing and stressing will not make it go faster; so know it is a manual process and take it on like a personal meditation. (Trust me on this, I’ve tried it both ways, and the latter feels much more energizing and enjoyable!)
If you have a jar, you are going to notice they seem very packed in. I’ve found they are generally wrapped into 2 bundles of leaves. You will be able to pull them out, just relax and pull out one bundle at a time. Then…
- Put a big pot of water on the stove and heat it up
- Head back over to the sink and rinse off each leaf
- Once all the leaves are rinsed, drop them in the hot water for 2-3 minutes to blanche them (DO NOT OVERCOOK).
- The moment the 3 minutes is up, dump the water and grape leaves into a colander and start running cold water so the leaves stop cooking.
- This next step might be over the top, but I like to stack the leaves stem side up as I prepare to cut off the stems
- Start cutting off the stems.
- If you come across any really strangely shaped leaves, set them aside — we’ll use them to line the pot
- When you are finished, you’ll have a stack of de-stemmed grape leaves
Step 4: Stuffing the grape leaves and putting them in the pot
Before you even begin rolling, you’ll want to prepare the pot so you will be able to put the rolled grape leaves right into the pot. Start by taking the mis-shaped leaves that you had put aside, and lining the pot with them.
Now, it’s time to start stuffing the grape leaves. By now, your stuffing should be cooled off. You’ll want to have your leaves vein-side up and you’ll want to get a measuring teaspoon (I am specifying a measuring teaspoon to distinguish from a flatware teaspoon b/c if you are like me, you’ll feel the urge to over-stuff the leaves, forgetting that they will expand as they cook. You can learn from my trial and error here and use the measuring teaspoon).
You’ll want to place a teaspoon of stuffing on the leave like so, and then roll.
If the leaf is very large, then it is ok to make it a heaping teaspoon. Then you’ll want to roll it nice and tight. The best way I can explain this step is like swaddling a baby. It may take a few tries to get your rhythm, but just stay relaxed and enjoy the process.
Here’s a quick video of me rolling the grape leaves.
Once you’ve rolled a grape leaf, put it in the pot. As you roll each additional leaf, you’ll want to snuggle it up tight to the one already in the pot. When you’ve finished rolling, they’ll be jam packed into the pot. This is nice because as they cook and expand, they will get nice and tight– which means they will not fall apart when you are eating them later.
Step 5: Cooking the Grape Leave
We are in the home stretch now!
- Pour 1/2 cup of olive oil on top of the grape leaves in the pot.
- Then add 2 cups of water
- Cover the top with an upside down plate
- Cook on medium heat for 45-50 minutes.
- Check after about 30 minutes to make sure there is enough water so it does not burn on the bottom
- if you have it on medium heat and added the oil and water in the first place, you should be ok; if you do have to add water, only add 1/4 cup… you don’t want soggy dolmades after all that work!
Step 6: Enjoy!
You did it!!! Squeeze some lemon on top and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! These are good right out of the pot and they are even better the next day cold out of the fridge (if they last that long).
I wish I had taken the time to snap a better photo, but we polished off the whole pot before I thought to take a picture. Good thing I snapped this one on instagram before we dug in! Just a testament to how yummy these are.
We’d love to hear how your Grape Leaves turn out! Leave a comment and let us know.