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How to Preserve Fresh Grape Leaves

Fresh Grape Leaves

The other day I was talking to my aunt in Baku over skype and she asked me what I had cooked for the day.

Dolma,” I exclaimed.

“From canned grape leaves?”

“Why? From fresh,” I said happily.

“What? Fresh leaves?” Clearly, my aunt was shocked. “This time of year?”

I teased her saying how our grapevine is sprawling and how we pick its leaves often and make dolma and how delicious dolma from fresh grape leaves is (which she knows, of course, but I got bitten by a bragging bug at that very time), and how I preserve the fresh leaves that continue to grow abundantly, to use them in winter. My aunt sighed said we were lucky. But she will rejoice soon too, as she lives in a grape rich country where fresh grape leaves are especially flavorful.

Fresh Grape Leaves Preserved in Plastic Bottles

This is how fresh grape leaves are kept fresh for years – packed inside plastic bottles! I brought these leaf-packed bottles from Baku – courtesy of some of my wonderful relatives.

You see, spring is being late this year in Azerbaijan. I hear it is still chilly and the days of making dolma from fresh vine leaves are lying far ahead, as there is just not enough sunshine to wake up the vines’ from a long winter’s sleep. Here in Long Beach, on the other hand, spring has come long ago, although the days are way chillier for a typical California spring. But still, the grapes are being nice to  us and providing us with enough leaves to keep our ever-growing dolma appetites sated. The grapevine, by the way, is courtesy of my father-in-law who planted it for us for both grapes and leaves, and we can’t thank him enough for this.

Fresh Grape Leaves

Here’s another way to store fresh grape leaves – pack them inside ziploc bags and freeze!

When the dolma making day comes, which happens haphazardly when I suddenly feel I can squeeze in some time from my busy schedule to roll mounds of leaves, I mobilize the family to pick the leaves for me as I prepare the filling. They do a good job, the kids and Murat. They pick young, tender leaves that have no blemish. I blanch the leaves and stuff them with the herb-packed meat filling, then cook the stuffed bundles until they are tender and succulent. Then we all indulge in one of the most delicious culinary inventions in the world. Dolma. We all love it. Big time.

Good thing is dolma has no season—we can have it any time of year. I make it in winter, too, when fresh leaves are not available. I either use canned leaves that I buy from Middle Eastern stores, or better yet, I use fresh grape leaves preserved in special ways. Yes, fresh leaves in the middle of winter! How and where do the leaves stay fresh?  Let me tell you.

There are two ways to do so.

#  1 – Preserving Fresh Grape Leaves in Plastic Bottles.

In Azerbaijan, empty plastic soda/water bottles are not recycled (sigh), but neither they are wasted when fresh grape leaves are available. They are packed with young tender leaves that keep fresh for a very long time, think as long as 2 years!  In this method, the leaves are stacked together in batches of 3-5, then gently rolled and shaped into bundles. The bundles are dropped inside the empty plastic bottles and a thin stick is used to push the bundles inside to make room for more. Once filled up, the bottles are tightly secured with  caps and off the bottles go in the pantry. When dolma is to be made, the bottles are cut in half and the precious leaves are revealed. Dolma is then made just as it would be with fresh leaves.

Fresh Grape Leaves

Grape leaves, stacked neatly inside a ziplock bag, ready to go in the freezer.

#  2 – Preserving (by freezing) Fresh Grape Leaves in Ziploc Bags.

Here’s my method that I use in the U.S. In this  method, the leaves are stacked together in batches to fit a ziplock bag then packed flat inside the bag. The sealed bags are then sent to the freezer. Before using, the leaves are either defrosted in the refrigerator or plunged into warm water and removed immediately.

So if you have a grapevine in your backyard,  don’t waste the leaves—use them to make dolma and store some for winter.

Picking Fresh Grape Leaves

Here’s Meltem, mobilized to pick fresh grape leaves from our backyard for mama’s dolma.

Leave a Reply

  1. I loved this post! I never imagined plastic soda bottles were good for nothing else but ruining the planet…

  2. Thank you for this post. My grapevine is running over and I am glad your reminded us to preserve the leaves.

  3. You’ve probably offered dolma recipes in the past–could you provide a link? Thanks!

  4. I’ve never heard of the plastic bottle way of storing vine leaves! Very interesting, thanks!

  5. Thank you so much for reminding me to do this!!

  6. Dolma is always better when made with fresh grape leaves. And mom always store for me for winter.

  7. Your blog is such a wealth of cultural knowledge. Thanks for sharing all this valuable information.

  8. It was a fun post to read as it’s all new to me! Your daughter is so cute helping mommy. 🙂

  9. Thank you, everybody. Patty, dolma is here:

  10. Farida, thank you for your woderfull recipes and ideas. I like all your recipes. I want to ask you if you know how to make khmeli-suneli spice mix from the ingredients that can be found here in the U.S. ?

  11. ELENA – I have never made khmeli suneli, but Darra Goldstein in her book The Georgian Feast has this recipe:

    Makes about 1/4 cup
    2 teaspoons of ground coriander
    2 teaspoons of dried basil
    2 teaspoons of dillweed
    2 teaspoons of summer savory
    1 teaspoon of dried parsley
    1 teaspoon of dried mint
    1 teaspoon of dried fenugreek leaves
    1 teaspoon of ground marigold
    1 bay leaf
    In a mortar with a pestle, pound the spices together to a fine powder. Store overnight for using. Otherwise, or can store it till the cows come home.

  12. I have been buying fresh leaves at the middle-eastern market and what a difference! I refuse to use canned ones as they are often too tough and too big.

  13. my friend’s mom gathered for me from her back yard whole bunch of leaves, here in Chicago, IL 🙂 I keep them in a freezer, layered prewashed in a plastic storage box. Every time I need to make dolma just pulling it out of freezer, rinsing once again and rolling my dolma. Left out leaves go back to freezer in tight covered container. I remember using canned leaves, it was so tough to chew them :)))

  14. Merhabalar ,ben de ilk baharda Azerbaycandan Qubadan yuzum yapragin oyrenmistim toplamayi,ve onlari plastik siselere doldurmustum .Cok pratik bir yolu ben sedim bu saklamayi….

  15. My host grandmother on Berde, Naneş, showed me how to preserve leaves in plastic bottles and yarpağ dolması is one of my favorite meals. I will make it soon for my middle Tennessee relatives. I love your site…brings back fond memories of great food!

  16. i make pickles using grape leaves. thank you so much for teaching me how to freeze the leaves. this way, i can make pickles during the winter months.

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