Fresh or preserved grape leaves are used in making dishes such as dolmas (stuffed grape leaves). You can freeze or home-can grape leaves to have them ready to use throughout the year. Freezing is, by far, the easier and safer method of preservation. Grape leaves are low in acid, so home-canned grape leaves carry a risk of botulism, while frozen grape leaves do not.
What You Need
Wild grape leaves work just as well as domesticated ones. While any variety will suffice, sultana (Thompson seedless) grape leaves are reputed to be the best choice because they will hold up well to stuffing yet are still flexible. It's best to gather the leaves in the spring or early summer while they are still tender. Be sure you are harvesting leaves from vines that have not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Leave the first three leaves on the end of the vine so the plant has them for its nourishment. Harvest the next two or three leaves per vine, above the fruit.
Pick grape leaves that are small enough to still be tender, but large enough that they'll be able to hold a spoonful of stuffing when you make dolmas. Aim for leaves that are 3-inches wide or the size of your palm. Choose leaves that have no holes or tears in them.
Blanching softens the leaves and stops the enzymes in the leaves from continuing to mature them. While many cooks simply freeze the leaves without blanching, this step may improve the consistency of your frozen grape leaves. As well, you can use the leaves soon after freezing rather than waiting for two months as is needed to tenderize them with freezing alone.
- Prepare an ice bath.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Wash the grape leaves well. Cut off any remaining stems as close to the leaf as possible. If the leaf veins just below the stem attachment seem tough, snip these out with scissors.
- Stack 20 leaves on top of one another. Roll them into a slightly loose, cigar-shaped bundle. Tie the bundles around the middle with kitchen twine. Your goal is to tie the bundles tightly enough so they don't slip out, but not too tightly. You want the bundles loose enough so the boiling water reaches all of the leaves, including the innermost ones in each bundle.
- Immerse the bundles of grape leaves in the boiling water for 1 minute. Remove them from the water with tongs and place them in an ice bath.
- Once the bundles have cooled for a couple of minutes, squeeze each bundle to remove any excess water.
Place the bundles of blanched grape leaves in freezer bags or containers and freeze. Label each bag or container with the contents, the date frozen, and the date to use by. They will keep well in the freezer for six months.
To use, thaw a bundle of grape leaves, snip off the kitchen twine, and proceed with any dolmas recipe just as if you were using commercially preserved grape leaves.