What Are Grape Leaves? Here’s How to Cook With the Versatile Ingredient

Everything you need to know to embrace this useful ingredient.

<p>Claudia Totir/Getty Images</p>

Claudia Totir/Getty Images

Grape leaves are a versatile ingredient, long embraced by Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. But what are grape leaves, exactly? You might recognize them from their popular usage as a wrapper for flavorful fillings; stuffed grape leaves are a common mezze, or small plate eaten at the start of a meal. Whether you’re new to grape leaves or a mezze lover who knows them well, here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know, from their definition to how to cook them. 

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What Are Grape Leaves?

Grape leaves are exactly what they sound like: leaves harvested from grapevines. Grapevines, or vitis vinifera, have a plethora of uses in food and drink, from wine to table grapes, to wine vinegar to, yes, grape leaves. A staple of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, grape leaves are a versatile ingredient, commonly used to wrap around fillings like ground meat, rice, and herbs. Grape leaves have a mild, earthy flavor with a subtle tanginess, which pairs well with a wide range of ingredients. Texturally, grape leaves are tender yet sturdy, making for the perfect edible wrapping paper. Grape leaves are also highly nutritious, containing vitamins A, C, and K, as well as minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron.

What Are Grape Leaves Stuffed With?

If you’re wondering what grape leaves are stuffed with, it really depends. The options for fillings are endless. People stuff grape leaves differently depending on their preferences, which you’ll see reflected in regional renditions of stuffed grape leaves. With that said, common stuffing ingredients include cooked rice and vegetables, pine nuts, finely chopped onions, fresh herbs such as parsley and dill, and warming spices like cinnamon and allspice. Ground meat like beef, chicken, and lamb are also frequently included in grape leaf stuffings.

How to Cook With Grape Leaves

There are many ways to cook with grape leaves, but here, you’ll find tips to cook stuffed grape leaves. When not fresh, grape leaves are often found in cans or jars, preserved in brine. Make sure to begin by preparing the grape leaves appropriately, depending on whether they’re fresh or preserved. 

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If you’re working with fresh grape leaves, blanch them briefly (for about 1 minute) in boiling water to soften them and make them more flexible. If you’re using canned or jarred grape leaves, rinse them thoroughly with cold water to get rid of the excess brine.


Place a grape leaf on a flat work surface with the vein side facing up. Add a spoonful of filling near the stem end of the leaf. Fold the sides of the leaf over the filling, and roll it into a tight cylinder. The filling should be securely wrapped by the grape leaf.


Arrange the stuffed grape leaves seam side down in a wide saucepan. Pour in just enough water to cover the grape leaves by about an inch. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer until the grape leaves are tender and the fillings are cooked through and warm (about 45 minutes).

Grape Leaves Recipes

Now that you know virtually everything there is to know about grape leaves, it’s time to cook with them using the below grape leaves recipes.

Dolmathakia (Stuffed Grape Leaves With Rice and Herbs)

<p>The Spruce / Ahlam Raffii</p>

The Spruce / Ahlam Raffii

These stuffed grape leaves contain lots of lemon juice and three kinds of herbs (fresh parsley, fresh dill, and dried mint) for a bright, fresh flavor. To save yourself some time, try mincing the onions in a food processor!

get the recipe

Dolmathakia me Kima (Stuffed Grape Leaves With Meat and Rice)

<p>The Spruce</p>

The Spruce

A classic in Greece, these stuffed grape leaves feature meat, which could be beef, lamb, or both. Herbs and lemon juice are added to balance out the richness of the meat.

get the recipe

Related: 15 Lamb Recipes That Are Anything But Intimidating

Dawali (Palestinian Stuffed Grape Leaves)

<p>Serious Eats / Mai Kakish</p>

Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

These stuffed grape leaves are a celebratory Palestinian dish, enhanced with a warming trio of spices: allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In this recipe, the stuffed grape leaves get cooked in a flavorful broth with tomato paste and spices.

get the recipe

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