Make Your Own Pickled Grape Leaves

By , August 1, 2009

Ingredients for making pickled, lacto-fermented grape leaves

Have you ever eaten Dolmas (or “Dolmades”)? I absolutely love them! Dolmas are a delicious Turkish finger food made by stuffing pickled grape leaves with a filling made from rice, onion, parsley, olive oil, spices, and various other things. Sometimes they’re also made with meat.

A couple years ago, I created my own recipe for Dolmas that doesn’t use rice, but rather shredded zucchini, as the main filling. I ought to make that recipe more often, since it’s one of my favorite things to eat! I’ll post my recipe for Zucchini Dolmas soon (UPDATE: here’s the recipe), but today I’m going to show you how to make your own pickled grape leaves — which you’ll need for the Dolmas. (You can also just buy pickled grape leaves in a jar, which is what I used to do, until I recently discovered how much cheaper and more fun it is to make my own!)

Grape leaves are plentiful and ubiquitous, so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding them. If you don’t have your own grape vine, just take a walk down any random alley, and you’ll probably find at least one vine spilling out over someone’s fence. (You could ask first before picking of course, but if the vine is trailing into the alley — or hanging over a public sidewalk — it’s in the public domain.) The grape leaves I collected were from a vine in my alley. Choose leaves that are young enough to be tender, but large enough to stuff with filling, and clip the stem close to the leaf.

The grape leaves we’ll be making are pickled by way of lacto-fermentation, rather than vinegar. Lacto-fermentation is a traditional way of preserving fruits & vegetables by harnessing the power of lactobacilli bacteria, which are present on the surface of all living things. The bacteria convert plant starches & sugars into lactic acid, which is the preservative. The lactobacilli themselves also improve the vegetable’s digestibility, as well as boost its vitamin and enzyme levels.

Pickled Grape Leaves

24 grape leaves

1 Tbsp sea salt

4 Tbsp whey* (if you don’t have whey, use an additional 1 Tbsp salt)

2 cups water, filtered if you have it

Wash the leaves well, and stack them neatly together.

Put water, salt, and whey in a big bowl and stir. Soak the leaves in the liquid for about an hour, weighting them down with a plate.

Soak the leaves for about an hour, weighted down with a plate.

Soak the leaves for about an hour, weighted down with a plate.

Roll up the leaves and stuff them into a pint jar. Pour in enough liquid to cover the leaves, but leave 1 inch of space between the liquid and the top of the jar. Cover tightly, and leave on the counter for about 3 days. Then, transfer to the fridge, where they’ll keep for quite a while. I had mine in the fridge for about 10 days before using them.

* Whey is the clear, yellowish liquid strained off when making yogurt or cheese. Don’t use powdered or commercial concentrated whey!

Pickled grape leaves

Recipe courtesy of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.

15 Responses to “Make Your Own Pickled Grape Leaves”

  1. Sasha says:

    Amazing – I was just eyeing my neighbor’s lovely stock of grape leaves on a poor ignored vine, and wondering… how could I preserve those, and stop paying $4 a pop at the store.. and make fab dolmades.. and here, you answered every question, bam! LOVING the blog, echoes everything I hold dear.

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  3. Catherine says:

    Thank you for a nice recipe – I shared it with our local permaculture group that is discussing lacto-fermentation. I have made dolmas with my huge nasturtium leaves and quinoa instead of rice, so I was pleased to find your basic pickling of the leaves recipe.

  4. Lindsey says:

    Dolmas using nasturtium leaves; what a fab idea!

    Glad to provide the recipe; thanks for commenting!

  5. Karen says:

    Can I use Kosher salt?

  6. Lindsey says:

    Hi Karen,
    Yes I’m sure you could; the amount of kosher is probably little different than the amount of regular sea salt, but it likely won’t make enough difference to matter.
    One thing I wouldn’t use is iodized salt. Other than that, anything else is ok!

  7. Lori says:

    I thought only certain varieties of grape leaves are edible, are they all ok?

  8. Lindsey says:

    Hi Lori,
    I’m not sure about that. But do be sure you’re getting actual grape leaves, as there’s a poisonous lookalike native to the Eastern U.S. called Moonseed (Menispermum spp.).

  9. Cindy says:

    These are terrific! I made these a couple of days ago and I think I will have to go pick more wild grape leaves so I can make another batch. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Connie Mincy says:

    After I use your recipe for grape leaves and “Then, transfer to the fridge, where they’ll keep for quite a while. I had mine in the fridge for about 10 days before using them”. Can I then use them to in my fermented pickles?

  11. Lindsey says:

    Good question. Probably, though I’d probably also add the grape leaf pickling water too. I’m not sure if that’s necessary, but I guess that’s what I’d do. Sorry for this late response. Did you go through with adding the pickled leaves to your pickles?

  12. Jessica says:

    Connie, If you’re interested in making fermented pickles, do not reuse the brine. You always want to start a ferment with fresh brine. Whey is not necessary. Alton Brown has a great episode of Good Eats where he talks about lactofermenting cucumbers.

  13. Danielle Pardiac says:


    I was wondering if any of you have heard or know of a recipe where they put stuffed vine leaves in a marinated solution with wine?

  14. Lindsey says:

    Do you mean a recipe for dolmas? I bet there are thousands of variations out there, and you could google “dolmas in wine” too. Good luck!

  15. MOISHY says:


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