Eat Local Mouneh

Picking and preserving grape leaves

Tender grape leaves are picked and their stem is removed with scissors

The “art” of rolling leaves (grapes, Swiss chard, cabbage etc.) is common to the Middle East where leaves are served either as a main course or part of the starters (mezze). Stuffed grape leaves are called “dolmathes” by the Greek, and “yaprak” (meaning leaves) by the Turkish which is at the origin of the name “yabrak” used by the Syrians and Lebanese.

Vegetarian grape leaves or “yabrak”

The tradition of harvesting and cooking grape leaves in Lebanon is very old. Starting mid-May and until mid-June, tender and vibrant green grape leaves are harvested. Pesticide-free leaves are collected and their stem is trimmed with scissors, a knife or pruning shears to avoid tearing of the leaves. Leaves big enough to hold a teaspoon of stuffing are those that are selected, and those that are not soft enough (probably collected by the end of the season) are blanched (soaked in warm water) before being stuffed and cooked. While selecting leaves around the grapes, it is advised to leave 10 leaves or more for every grape cluster to protect it from the sun.

Thick leaves are blanched prior to rolling and cooking

While vegetarian stuffed grape leaves are an essential starter on the Lebanese table, grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice or meat and bulgur constitute a traditional Lebanese meal served with stuffed zucchini, eggplants and sometimes bell peppers. The stuffed grape leaves are often packed and tied with a thread (grandma’s way), and served with refreshing yogurt.

Grape leaves ready to be frozen

[quote]Freshly picked sour leaves are often enjoyed with tabbouleh instead of lettuce or cabbage leaves.[/quote]

The preservation methods of grape leaves vary from freezing to packing in jars and preserving in brine. Grape leave are frozen without being washed; wiping them with a dry towel to remove any dust or debris is enough before stacking them flat in a plastic bag. Removing air as much as possible prior to sealing the bag and freezing is essential. Frozen leaves can last in the freezer up to 12 months. For defrosting before cooking, the bag is moved to the refrigerator a night before use and leaves are washed under running water.

Beautifully rolled stuffed leaves

To preserve grape leaves in jars, no need to wash them either. Leaves are packed flat and solid in an airtight glass jar which is stored in a dark place up to months. Leaves can also be rolled in packs of 10 or more then placed in the jar. Once the jar is open, it should be stored in the refrigerator to avoid molds formation. Leaves are washed prior to stuffing and cooking.

Grape leaves preserved in jars. Picture ©

To preserve grape leaves in brine, leaves are washed and pat dried. They are then stacked in piles of 10-20 leaves and rolled like cigars, then placed vertically in glass jars. A brine solution is prepared: for every cup of coarse sea salt, 12 cups of water are added. The salty water is then brought to boil while stirring to completely dissolve the sea salt. To make sure water salinity is enough to preserve the grape leaves, a clean raw egg is placed in the water: if the egg floats then the water is salty enough, and if the egg drops to the bottom then more salt should be stirred in until the egg floats to the surface. The hot water is poured over the leaves in the jar and the color of the leaves will get darker, which is normal. Jars are then closed tight and will last up to a year. Once opened, a jar should be put in the refrigerator.





Grape leaves stuffed with chickpeas

You can line the bottom of the pot with slices of carrot or tomato to prevent the grape leaves from sticking and to use he veggies in the plate decoration

Stuffed grape leaves are a traditional Lebanese mezze item. They are prepared with different stuffing; they can be either vegetarian or with meat. The traditional old version of this recipe uses qawarma (meat preserved in lamb fat),  but for a healthier one, lean meat can be used instead.

Chickpeas help lower the risk of breast cancer, and protect against osteoporosis. It also minimizes hot flushes in post menopausal women.

Serving: 6

Caloric content: 200 calories/serving


1 cup of chickpeas, soaked in water overnight

1 cup of short rice

2 tbsp. of qawarma

½  tbsp. of salt

½  tbsp. of pepper

Grape leaves soaked in warm water for 5 minutes

Preparation method:

  1. Peel the chickpeas and mix them with the rice and qawarma
  2. Add the salt and pepper to the mixture
  3. Stuff the grape leaves by putting one teaspoon on each leave, closing the leave from both sides then rolling it to obtain a cylindrical shape
  4. Line the stuffed leaves in a cooking pot
  5. Add water to the limit of the rolled leaves and put them on a medium fire until water boils
  6. When water boils, lower the fire, cover the pot and leave to cook for about 25 mns
  7. Serve hot.

Vegetarian Stuffed Vine Leaves

Stuffed vine leaves or “waraa enab” in Arabic is a popular dish around the Mediterranean. In this version of the recipe, bulgur has been used instead of rice as it is very rich in fiber and is produced locally in the Bekaa valley of Lebanon.

Total Servings: 18

Preparation time: 1 hour

One serving: 12 pieces


650 g vine leaves, washed

4 tsp salt

For the stuffing:

1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

4 small tomatoes, washed and finely chopped

3 ½ cups (140g) parsley, washed and trimmed

15 g fresh mint, washed and finely chopped

3 ½ cups bulgur

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

¼ cup olive oil

Juice of 2 medium lemons

Preparation Steps:


  1. Wash the bulgur and leave it aside to dry.
  2. In a large bowl, mix well all the ingredients of the stuffing with olive oil and lemon juice.

Grape Leaves:

  1. Clean and cut stems off the vine leaves. Place the fresh leaves in boiling water for 3 minutes until softened.
  2. Spread each vine leave and fill it with 1 Tbsp of the stuffing. Then roll it in a finger-like shape.
  3. In a large saucepan, arrange the stuffed vine leaves in layers, then cover them with water and add salt.
  4. Cook for one hour or until done.