Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves

The seven-day Jewish holiday of Sukkot begins this evening when the sun goes down. While not as widely known or celebrated as some other Jewish holidays, Sukkot is a very important part of the Jewish experience. Historically many important events have occurred during Sukkot, including King Solomon’s dedication of the First Temple of Jerusalem. To learn more about the Sukkot holiday and its connection to the American holiday of Thanksgiving, click here.

Sukkot is a harvest holiday, which means that the foods served are seasonal in nature. The Sukkot menu generally features vegetables and fruits that are harvested at the turn of the season. As a food lover, this holiday is one of my favorites because we are encouraged to create dishes from fresh seasonal ingredients. The arrival of Sukkot ushers in the autumn season; Sukkot foods are inspired by the bounty of the harvest and the Seven Species in the Torah. That means lots of apples, squash, eggplants, figs, grapes, and– you guessed it– grape leaves!

Stuffing grape leaves used to intimidate to me. It seemed like such a complicated, foreign process. I sought advice from a friend of ours named Tony; he owns a Greek restaurant, which means he’s an authority on the subject. Tony makes the best meat-stuffed grape leaves I’ve ever tasted (fingers crossed he’ll share the recipe with us soon!). He told me that it’s a lot easier than it seems– all you really need is a little time and patience. I decided to take his advice and try making vegetarian grape leaves first. And you know what? He’s right! There was a learning curve, but once I understood the process, it became second nature. The first time I made them, I used a simple herbed rice as a filling. Over time I tweaked it, adding more herbs, onion, and lemon for flavor and pine nuts for texture/protein. The result? Awesome! Not to mention vegan, pareve, gluten free, uber healthy– you get the idea. ;)

To make this easier, I’ve laid out a very clearly photographed step-by-step tutorial. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a pesticide-free grape vine in the back yard (I don’t, but wouldn’t that be lovely??), you’ll need to buy 1 or 2 large jars of grape leaves. You can find these at Middle Eastern markets or specialty stores. They can also be found online. I usually end up using a little more than 1 large jar– while there are more than 50 leaves in a jar, many of the leaves in the jar end up being damaged and unsuited to stuffing. I use the damaged leaves to line the bottom of the pot where the grape leaves are cooked.

Stuffed foods, like my Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves, are symbolic for Sukkot– they signify a bountiful harvest. Garnish them with fresh mint leaves, lemon slices and olives for a lovely presentation.

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Vegetarian Grape Leaves (Dolmades)

ingredients

  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1 ½ cups long grain white rice
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup fresh minced dill
  • 1/4 cup fresh minced mint
  • 6 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 3/4 cups vegetable broth (a yellow broth is best), divided
  • 50 large grape leaves (fresh or jarred)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh mint leaves, lemon slices, and olives (for garnish - optional)

You will also need

  • a medium pot, a sauté pan with high sides, a large pot, a plate
Servings: 45-50 stuffed grape leaves
Kosher Key: Pareve
  • Pour the pine nuts into a skillet and lightly toast them over medium heat till golden brown. Reserve.
  • Pour ¼ cup of olive oil into a medium pot and heat it over medium. Add minced onion to the pot and sauté until soft. Add the rice to the pot and stir to combine. Sauté for another minute. Pour in ¾ cup vegetable broth and lower the heat; simmer the rice uncovered for about 10 minutes till the liquid is absorbed and the rice is half cooked. Do not cook the rice fully, or you’ll end up with mushy grape leaves! Just cook it to an al dente texture. Remove pot from heat.
  • Add the minced dill, mint, toasted pine nuts, 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice and lemon zest to the pot of rice. Stir till all ingredients are well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
  • Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. As the water is heating, trim the leaves by cutting the stems off, flush with the leaves. Trim any large, hard veins from the leaves. Place the leaves in the boiling water and let them soften for 3-5 minutes till they become pliable (fresh leaves may take a bit longer to soften than jarred).
  • Drain, then cover the leaves with cold water. Drain the leaves again and pat them dry.
  • Note: If using fresh leaves, try to use younger leaves (medium size)—they’ll be more tender than the very large leaves.
  • Place a grape leaf shiny (smooth) side down, vein (bumpy) side up, on a flat surface like a cutting board.
  • Place 2 tbsp of rice filling at the base end of the leaf, near where the stem was.
  • Fold the stem end up over the filling.
  • Fold the edges of the leaf inward.
  • Continue rolling the leaf till it forms a neat rolled package. Do not roll too tightly; the rice will expand a little during cooking, and if you roll it too tight the leaf will unravel as it cooks.
  • Squeeze the roll gently to seal.
  • Repeat the process with the remaining leaves till all of the filling is gone.
  • As you roll the leaves, you may find some leaves that are damaged or have large holes. Place those damaged leaves into the bottom of your saute pan to line it and create a bed for the stuffed leaves.
  • Place the stuffed leaves in the bottom of the saute pan. Don’t be afraid to pack the leaves snugly; this will help keep the leaves intact as they cook. Make a single layer on the bottom of the pan. When you run out of room, make a second layer on top.
  • Pour 1 cup of broth, ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil, and ¼ cup of fresh lemon juice over the stuffed grape leaves. Heat the pan over medium until it begins to simmer (don’t boil, or the leaves will start to fall apart).
  • Turn heat to low, so the leaves are slowly simmering, and place an inverted heat-safe plate on top of the stuffed grape leaves to weigh them down and keep them secure as they cook.
  • Cover the pot. Let the grape leaves cook for 30-40 minutes. The leaves are finished cooking when they are fork-tender.
  • Stuffed grape leaves can be served warm or cold, as-is or topped with a variety of sauces. I like serving them with fresh tzatziki or tahini sauce—recipes for both can be found on my blog. Store them in the refrigerator; they will keep for about 1 week.

Comments (58)Post a Comment

  1. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Tori, I’ve heard that sushi rice, or short grain rice does not expand when cooked. Would that be an option for these? Yours look delicious and I can’t wait to try them! I have a grapevine and am thinking about trying home grown leaves for these!

    1. Hi Sally! I’m officially jealous of your grapevine. :) Sushi/short grain rice will work, but it has a different texture than long grain rice, so it won’t be quite the same. I’d go with long grain, but if you only have short grain on hand it will be okay. Don’t worry about the expanding problem– as long as you follow my instructions carefully and don’t roll the leaves too tightly, you should be good to go!

  2. Tori these are so beautiful. Love the step by step photos. I’ve never eaten these let alone made them. Must pop them on the list of things to try. As usually you rocked my world. Lol!

  3. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Thank you for such a detailed post on how to make these stuffed grape leaves. My mom has made them before…a meat filled version…and now I’d love to try them, too. Gorgeous photos…the top and bottom ones are stunning!

  4. I started several grape plants for the fruit but never thought about using them for cooking. Here in the north country the leave should be ready so I am going to try your recipe and share it with my friends and co-workers. Thanks!

  5. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    I’ve never been a stuffed grape leaf person…but I really, REALLY like the filling – you may just change my mind on this one. I can’t tell you how many dishes I used to avoid and once I made them the first time, I became a fan! Thanks!

  6. I’ve always loved to order dolmades in restaurants but have never known how to make them at home. Your step-by-step is tremendously helpful and of course, everything is beautifully shot. Are you going to do a video tutorial someday, because you’re a natural in front of the camera? :-)

  7. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I have always admired anyone that had the skill for creating this type of dish. I cannot believe that this is the result of your first try. I would think that the leaves would be so delicate and tear, but your pictures indicate I was wrong! This post does inspire. Great step by step photos and a delicious recipe-thanks!

  8. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    These look absolutely delicious! Is there any alternative ingredient you would suggest to replace the (pine) nut?

    1. pine nuts are awesome, but the local Armenian grocery store charges $25-35 a pound! I will try to substitute with garbonzos, Thanks!

  9. Stuffed grape leaves is one of the typical foods we’ll eat in Bulgaria around Christmas. As a child, I used to hate them and would have to be convinced to at least try one. Then, after a while, something happened and once I moved to the US I started craving them. Now I LOVE them!! (how come? I have no idea.)
    I’ll have to admit though: I’ve made them myself only once with the help of a friend. I must try again though, this time all by myself, and I will use your recipe! Yours look so pretty, and I love the addition of pine nuts in them.

  10. My mom and I always made stuffed grape leaves with meat and rice….ohh yes…I remmeber sitting for hours rolling, and rolling those leaves..washing the leaves when I was little! My moms comming to visit next month, and we havent made grapeleaves together..in years! So cant wait!

  11. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    These look really good. I have been quite nervous about using vine leaves, I wanted to substitute it for the nori I used when making a warm sushi as I think the fishy taste was too overwhelming. I think I’ll try it this way with long grain rice too. Great recipe.

  12. I laughed when I read that the grape leaves keep for a week in the refrigerator – mine are always gone the same day!
    Nice recipe, first time I tried this one.

  13. To tenderize the leaves you can freeze them after rinsing and patting dry. They are perfect for rolling after you thaw them out!

  14. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Great recipe! I just made them for a party and not one remains. Such good flavors. They had to cook a little longer than suggested, but I had a small-ish, pretty crammed, pot to work with; the top layer had tough skins but all the rest were tender. I’ll definitely make these again!

  15. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    While visiting friends in California they asked for a meatless version and we minced mushrooms to replace the meat in my recipe. They were yummy!

  16. I just made stuffed grape leaves last night (my grandfather was Armenian, and I am familiar with this dish)… with mine, the rice was a little chewy, although I cooked it a long time. I left off the plate. Could that be why? Or should I have cooked the rice first?
    For your reader who doesn’t like grape leaves, but likes the filling, I seem to remember my mother making these with cabbage leaves as well (although those might have been the hot with meat version). She might try that.

    1. Hi Christine– in the recipe, I wrote that you should parboil the rice for 10 minutes till half-cooked. Did you miss that step? If yes that is likely why the rice didn’t taste done in the grape leaves. If you did parboil the rice and it was still undercooked, try parboiling for 20 minutes with 1 1/4 cups broth till the liquid is absorbed, then you won’t have any trouble with chewy rice. Good suggestion on the cabbage leaves.

  17. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Hi Just wondering if I could use grape leaves from my garden? As well, Do these freeze well? Thanks for the great recipe and pictures!!

    1. Hi Doreen– of course you can use from your garden! As long as they haven’t been sprayed with lots of pesticides. You’ll need to boil them a bit longer to soften. Specific instructions are in the recipe. I have never frozen these so I couldn’t tell you if they freeze well or not. I can tell you that they’re very tasty. :) Enjoy!

  18. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Recipe sounds great. I want to make them for thanksgiving. I don’t want to do it all on Wed. What parts can I do on Tues. and have them be fresh? More importantly, I do have access to fresh leaves, but don’t know when top pick them or how to store them. I know my aunts used to. Do you know? Thanks! P.S. It’s too late for this yr. I know. Oh and does it matter if they are wine grapes?

    1. Hi Delores, the grape leaves can be made completely in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. So you can actually make them on Tuesday and serve them on Thanksgiving day without any problems. As for the grape leaves, best to pick larger leaves while the grapes are in season. They are stored in brine, although I’ve never brined the leaves so I can’t give you specifics. I shouldn’t think that the type of grape leaf would make much of a difference, as long as they’re the right size.

  19. Tory, just wanted to let you know that I recently made an unstuffed stuffed grape leaves casserole from Vegetarian Times. Let’s just say that I was less than satisfied with it and ended up recommending your stuffed version instead.

    1. Glad you’re enjoying this recipe Dena! I like deconstructed and unstuffed dishes from time to time, but unstuffed grape leaves seem a bit like defeating the purpose… :)

  20. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Hey, my grape leaves were a HUGE hit with everyone! I am so glad my best friends daughter, requested vegetarian ones. I was a little put off by the request at 1st (how dare anyone not just be thankful I am making them at all)! But reluctantly, I gave in, and lucky for me. My family, who had never had veg. home made ( we use lamb) ones couldn’t believe how good they were compared to the deli ones. And although I did make some with lamb, we could have done just fine with veg. only.
    Here’s the thing though….to me, the biggest pain in the a….is separating the individual leaves! It was sheer torture. Time consuming and difficult until……I changed brands. I don’t remember the name of the ones I hated, but they come in a fat jar. But the ones that saved the day are PELOPONNESE. They are easy to separate and a nice large size to work with. Trust me, it makes a difference. Later D

  21. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I have made stuffed vine leaves often but this vegetarian version is the best. I use my own vine leaves. I have made this recipe numerous times. I added a small handful of currents to one batch and they were delicious.

  22. I wish Lily Angel would expound on her method of preparing fresh vine leaves. I have only gotten vague ideas of how to prepare the leaves for stuffing

  23. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Hi Madhatter,
    Preparing home grow vine leaves is easy. Pick medium size leaves . Place leaves in a tub pour over hat water and let then sit. Give them a bit of a stir until they change colour. I then drain and cut off the stems. You can use them straight away or lay them on top of each other and freeze them in snap lock bags until you need them. When using out of the freezer you need to thaw them or quickly refresh them with hot water.

  24. Hey, Tori,
    Couple of questions: can I use basmati rice, or is the flavor too strong? Also, what about brown rice if I use more broth and cook longer. If brown rice really doesn’t work, I can do white, just curious. Thanks for any tips. You are my go-to sight for all things Middle Eastern. Any recipe goes through the Tory Avey research first. Love your site!

    1. Hi Anne, basmati will work great. Brown rice would probably work too, but I would cook it closer to done– perhaps 3/4 done rather than 1/2 done– since it will take longer to finish cooking to tender inside the grape leaves (yes, this will take more broth). Mind you I haven’t tried it myself, but as long as the rice gets tender I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. FYI since posting this recipe I’ve tried adding cooked chickpeas to the filling, which gave it a nice boost of “meatiness.” Just in case you’re experimenting. :) So happy you’re enjoying the site! That is quite a compliment.

  25. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Tori, I made these last night, substituting chickpeas for the pine nuts and using grape leaves from a wild vine we have in our yard, and my husband and I really liked them. They were delicious, and very easy to make. I pre-cooked the leaves and the rice the day before, so last night all I had to do was mix the rice with the other ingredients, fill the leaves and finish cooking them. As a side dish, I added peeled eggplant cubes and asparagus to the same pan I cooked the leaves in, and when it was all done, I removed the eggplant and asparagus and seasoned them with olive oil and lemon juice. Thank you for this recipe!

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