Stuffed Grape Leaves are one of the most iconic Mediterranean dishes!! Every country around the Mediterranean has their own version of this recipe. Some people call them dolma, some japrak or yaprak and some sarma. In my native country, Albania we call stuffed grape leaves ‘Japrak’.
Grape Leaves (in Albanian Gjethe Rrushi)
You can make stuffed grape leaves with fresh grape leaves or canned / jarred ones. Growing up in the Mediterranean, we picked fresh leaves on the vine. We are so picky on the size of leaves, thickness and even age. Those factors can make the dish a success or failure. We usually bought grape leaves in the farmer’s market and even had a grape vine growing on the side of our balcony. The obsession with this dish can only be understood by the people growing up along the coast of the Mediterranean.
Living in Florida, I don’t have many options for fresh grape leaves so mostly I use leaves from a jar. I’ll give instructions in the recipe card below for both fresh and jarred grape leaves. If I’m completely honest, I’ll say that there’s no comparison between the two: fresh leaves make for much better japrak than the canned ones. The most commonly found brands online at the time of writing this post are: Orlando and Cortas while Krinos is mostly found in the grocery stores in the area where I live.
A friend of mine sent me grape leaves in the mail so I cooked them the next day after I got them, that’s how excited I was to get some fresh leaves. She had vacuum sealed them.
Stuffing for Grape Leaves
Stuffing for grape leaves changes from country to country and sometimes even regionally. For example, my grandparents were from opposite sides of my native country and one set made stuffed grape leaves with meat and one without.
In Albania it is typical to use lots of herbs with ground beef and rice to make the stuffing. In college I had an Egyptian friend who used Seven Spices and Cumin in the stuffing of her grape leaves. Some places make vegetarian stuffed grape leaves, while others might even mix different types of meat in stuffing.
Herbs & Spices and more ingredients I’ve seen used in cooking this dish from different people are as follows: cumin, seven spices,cinnamon, pine nuts, tomato or tomato paste, dry herbs, chickpeas etc.
How To Roll Stuffed Grape Leaves?
The hardest part of making this dish is stuffing the leaves. Make sure to boil, separate and cool down the leaves. Also, cook the stuffing according to instructions below and let cool to touch as well.
Grab a big grape leaf, flatten it on a clean surface and place about 1 tablespoon of stuffing on the bottom, right where the stem is. Fold the left side over stuffing, then the wright side. Then grab from the bottom, fold once then roll until you’re done. The video below is short, but it demonstrates how to do the rolling.
It’s easier to roll into a cigar the bigger grape leaves. Once you run out of the bigger leaves, then use 2 medium leaves to make one roll. Or you can use a broken leaf combined with a smaller one to create one roll. Get creative and use as many as you can until you are done with stuffing.
Remaining unused eaves go to the bottom of the pot. This will prevent the bottom layers of grape leaves from burning. Add water and then cover with a heavy plate. Cook for about 40-45 minutes in low heat.
Tips and Notes
Best tip I have for this recipe is to try to make the stuffed grape leaves yourself few times. Practice makes perfect. Also, figure out if you want the dish to be vegetarian or not and what spices and herbs you like since this recipe has so many variations.
My recipe is simple and I really hope you like it!!
- Onions – I love using both white and green onions in this recipe for best taste. Chop them as fine as you can. You can use yellow onion instead of white.
- Herbs – my favorite herbs for this dish are dill, mint and parsley. If you don’t have parsley add more dill and mint, but I wouldn’t cook it without dill or mint as they give so much taste to the stuffing.
- Rice – use a small grain rice instead of long. You don’t want to use rice that doubles in size as it will unroll the stuffed grape leaves.
- Cooking – cook the dolmas in low or low-medium heat, even though it might take you longer. Cooking in high heat might un-roll them so you’ll lose all the work and effort you dedicated in rolling them. Also, it helps to cover the rolls with a heavy plate so they stay in place.
- Grape Leaves – the leaves have to be large and thin. Thicker leaves don’t taste so good. Feel free to combine two leaves into one roll as you run out of the bigger leaves.
Pro-Tip: Do not overstuff the grape leaves! Rice expands so if you overstuff, the rolls can be undone while cooking.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
- 40 fresh grape leaves thin and large
- 12 ozs ground beef
- 0.5 cup rice use small grain rice
- 1 white onions
- 3-4 green onions
- 1 cup fresh dill about 1 bunch of dill from US grocery stores
- 0.5 cup fresh mint about 1 bunch of mint from US grocery stores
- 1 tbsp dry parsley or 2 tbsps fresh, chopped parsley
- 0.5 tsp salt plus a pinch more for adding to water while it cooks
- 0.5 tsp black pepper
- 2 tbsps olive oil extra virgin
- 2 lemons juice one, slice the other
- Rinse the fresh grape leaves then boil them for about 3-5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the leaves and spread them out on a big platter to separate the leaves from each other. Let the leaves cool down. If using jarred leaves, just rinse and drain.
- Chop the onions as fine as you can. Chop dill and mint. Make sure ground beef is thawed.
- Use a large skillet to start heating the oil. Then add both onions, saute until onions are translucent. Add ground beef and keep stirring with wooden spoon in order to allow for meat to cook but vegetables not burn.
- Add herbs and rice. Also, add salt and pepper. (Feel free to add more ingredients to your taste). Mix everything well and let cook for few minutes. Turn heat off and let the stuffing cool down enough so you can touch it by hand.
- Get one grape leaf at a time. Place 1 tbsp of stuffing right at the stem area. Do not overstuff. Fold the sides towards the middle then the middle up as an envelope. Roll the grape lead as a cigar until you're done. Place it seem down. Continue rolling until you're down with leaves or stuffing.
- Get a medium size pot and place all the unused leaves on the bottom of the pot. Start arranging the stuffed grape leaves in layers, tight against each other. Once done, add a heavy plate on top of the rolls so they don't move around.
- Pour about 1.5 -2 cups of hot water over the grape leaves. Sprinkle some salt and the juice of 1 lemon. Cover once it boils and cook for about 40-45 minutes in low-medium heat. If using jarred leaves, let cook for about 55 minutes. Once you turn heat off, let the pot rest for about 20 minutes before you try to get the rolls out. They'll settle in as they rest.
- Remove from pot and serve with lots of lemon slices and other Mediterranean side dishes. Enjoy:)
- Cooking time – the more you cook this dish, the faster you get at it. Try to cook the stuffing and leaves simultaneously to overlap some cooking time them. Plus, they’ll both need to cool down so you can start rolling the grape leaves. Rolling the leaves is the most time consuming part of this. Enroll kids or other family members for help:).
- Jarred or Canned grape leaves – if using jarred grape leaves, double the stuffing ingredients. Don’t cook or blanch the leaves as they come ready. Rinse them well, drain and then and prepare the stuffing. When cooking the stuffed grape leaves with jarred leaves, cook them for an extra 5-10 minutes.
- Storage – if you have leftovers (which I doubt), store them in an aritight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- In Albania we always have a side of plain yogurt to serve with stuffed grape leaves. It’s a match made in heaven!!
Stuffed grapes leaves are known by different names in different countries. You can find them as dolmas, dolmades, japrak, yaprak, warak enab or sarma. These terms might represent grape leaves for some but other stuffed vegetables for others. So it’s important to know what each culture calls this dish.
Yes, I consider this recipe to be healthy and nutritious. Especially when using fresh leaves and fresh ingredients.
Yes, you are supposed to eat stuffed grape leaves rolled. You’re not supposed to peel away the leaf part. The leaves are thoroughly cooked and they taste amazing!
If you would like to save this recipe for later, please save the below image in your boards in Pinterest. Let me know in comments if you have any questions or feel free to tag me in social media with variations of this recipe. Thank you so much:).
More Traditional Mediterranean Recipes
Feel free to look through some of my other Mediterranean recipes.
- Stuffed Peppers
- Stuffed Zucchini & Yellow Squash
- Tarator – Cold Yogurt Soup with Cucumber and Dill
- Potato Salad