Sardines Wrapped & Grilled With Grape Leaves

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IMG_6293-1One of my goals of writing and sharing this blog about Greek food is to bridge the gap between what most of you are served at Greek restaurants in the West (Canada and the US) and what’s actually served in Greece and in Greek homes.

In the summer, Greeks eat less, eat lighter and as always, what’s fresh and in season. The Mediterranean teems with fish and seafood and right now, sardines are “the catch of the day”. They are “up there” with salmon on the Omega-3 count, no mercury (low on the food chain), easy to clean and prepare and a joy to eat.IMG_6278-1

In keeping with what’s fresh and seasonal, I also recently collected and jarred eight jars of grape vine leaves. I’m now stocked for the coming year, to make Dolmades on a whim with the tastiest and most tender grape leaves I’ve tasted in years. The grape leaves from the store simply do not compare.

This next dish pairs land and sea. Sardines get wrapped in grape leaves, given a quick grill (sardines don’t take that long) and finished with a bright and delicious Ladolemono with parsley and oregano.IMG_6304-1

A Ladolemono is an oil-lemon dressing and appears on many instances at the Greek table. It’s basically a dressing of 3 (or 4) parts olive oil and 1 part acid. The most common herb used is oregano but a Ladolemono can employ any herb and its use is applied to both meat and fish.IMG_6273-1

When picking sardines (or any other fish), look for whole fish, you know…with the head on. A whole fish will allow you to inspect how fresh (or old your fish is). Before anything, get your nose right down into the fish. If it smells anything other than the sea, then don’t buy the fish. Fresh fish and seafood should not smell “fishy”.

The next thing to look for are clear, glossy eyes and ones not sunken-in or bloodshot. You should also carefully lift up the gills (check just a few sardines in the batch) and you should see only a bright red gill. Another good sign.

Finally, the fish should be firm to the touch and you should NOT be able to feel the scales as you run your finger over the fish.

You’ve now determined you have fresh fish. You want to remove the heads? Go ahead but I usually like the head-on, helps me when grilling and my fish stays moist.

You can ask your fish monger to clean & gut your fish or take them home and scale the fish, gut it and rinse well under cold water. Pat your fish dry and place in the fridge (covered in plastic wrap) until you’re ready to grill your fish.IMG_6284-1

Sardines wrapped in grape leaves…hmmm. You might be asking, why do this? It’s done simply for flavour. The briny leaves actually become a second skin to the sardine and the new flavour that arises is simply a delight and the result is always a crisp but moist fish.

The grape leaves that I picked and jarred were thin and tender and on this occasion, I doubled up the grape leaves that were used to wrap the sardines. One leaf per fish should suffice.

While your gas or charcoal grill is pre-heating, you can whip up your Ladolemono Sauce. You’ll need some grated carrot, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, fresh oregano and fresh parsley. Salt and pepper are at added at the end to adjust taste.IMG_6291-1

Sardines Wrapped & Grilled With Grape Leaves

(serves 4 to 6)

1 kg. of fresh sardines, gutted and scaled

jarred grape vine leaves, rinsed and patted-dry

sea salt and ground pepper

olive oil

Oregano and Parsley LadolemonoIMG_6295-1

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 tsp. of Dijon mustard

1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup of chopped fresh oregano (half if dried)

2 Tbsp. of grated carrot

1 dried chilli

2/3  cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice

sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

  1. In a jar or a food processor, add all of your Ladolemono ingredients and shake (or process) until amalgamated. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly (salt, pepper, oil, acid). Set aside.
  2. Pre-heat your gas or charcoal grill. Brush your grill surface well to remove any grilling residue and before grilling your fish, wipe the grill surface with a towel treated with some vegetable oil.
  3. Take your sardines out of the fridge and rinse and pat-dry (again). Lightly season the fish (inside & out) with some sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Take one (or two) grape leaves and wrap each sardine in a blanket of grape leaves (should be wrapped snugly).
  4. When your grill reaches a high heat (when you can only count up to three when placing your hands over the grill), then place your sardines on the grill. Fish and seafood do not take too long to grill. Grill your sardines for 3 minutes a side and remove.
  5. Place your sardines on a platter and drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil. Spoon over some Ladolemono Sauce. Place the rest in a serving bowl with a spoon for those that want more.
  6. Serve the sardines with lemon wedges, a potato salad and some greens like Vlita or a seasonal salad from your garden.
  7. Serve with a Domaine Gerovassliou White, with a combination of the Assyrtiko and Malagouzia Greek grape varietals.IMG_6296-1

If you are not reading this post in a feed reader or at then the site you are reading is illegally publishing copyrighted material. Contact me at truenorth67 AT gmail DOT COM. All recipes, text and photographs in this post are the original creations & property of the author.

© 2007-2009 Peter Minakis

© 2009,
Peter Minakis

. All rights reserved.

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40 Comments for “Sardines Wrapped & Grilled With Grape Leaves”


Oi sardelitses theorountai apo ta pio ftina psarakia stin Ellada.
Psimenes omws sta karvouna opws perigrafeis, mporoun na synagonistoun to pio akrivo psari!


I love your opening paragraph. I think your bog serves the purpose of educating us about authentic home-cooked Greek food beautifully. The North American ideas about most “ethnic” foods is based on restaurant foods… they don’t eat pizza every day in Italy, nor sushi rolls in Japan!!
I love sardines. so much flavour packed in those tiny little guys!


I love this ! I have eaten in Creta for the first time, and tomorrow it’s laiki in my street, I had decided to take some, they are vine leaves too those days.


Those sardines (pre-grill) looked like you pulled them directly from the sea. They are so fresh looking. And, the finished product makes me drool. I’d love it served with a cool glass of white wine and a hot hunk of crusty bread.


what is it about the word “sardine” that strikes fear into my heart? i don’t know, but it does. love the grape leaf aspect though. :)


What a great way to keep these little babies moist and delicious!!! I love sardines…it is a very “social” meal!!!


Peter, we really appreciate your effort to close the gap between real Greek food and what we eat over here as Greek food. I have learned so much about Greece with your blog that now I really want to visit just to try some of those delicious foods, especially all the seafood, oh deliciousness!


What a great little dish! I have always felt a little weird about liking sardines, but no more!! Thanks for the idea, will get on this soon….


I love the look of these, Peter. We can’t get fresh sardines here on the northern California coast. Do you have any suggestions for a substitute fish?


Thank you! There just aren’t that many whole fish recipes in our world, you know? And certainly authentic recipes are rare too! My only concern is that sardines are ridiculously addled with lots of tiny bones! :P


Unfortunately the only sardines I can get are in a can. But I love the flavors of that sauce. I would use it on just about everything!


Hi Peter, these are making me drool. Off for some mackerel in the morning so may do something similar with these if the suns decides to come out. Hope life is sweet, still enjoying the book!



Wonderful looking! I love the wrapping of them. Must just add so much with the briny taste! Did you eat the eye before the pic??? LOL!


I think this blog will open a lot of people’s eyes. How many people otu there only see sardines in a can? My roomate in college often snacked on canned sardines. I wonder what she’d think if she saw these.


I love the fact that you can your own grape leaves, Peter. I’m not terribly familiar with sardines… have had them once or twice, but I think I need a few more samples to get friendly with their “fishy” flavor. Am pretty sure this would win me over.

You up for an extra guest the next time you throw these on the grill??


Sardines are such great fish, but they need to be extra fresh, otherwise they have a very heavy taste. I like your presentation with the vine leaves.


Oh, what a nice was to use those grape leaves. I canned (jarred) some myself last spring, but didn’t know how to use them other than for dolmades.

We have one fancy store in town that sells fresh sardines – I know they’re one of the best fishes for pregnant women to eat for all of the reasons you mentioned. Should pick some up.


Love this dish — I stuff my sardines first with a minced mixture of garlic, parsley, mushrooms, lemon zest and whatever else suits my fancy at the time. Oh, and I split my fish to take out all the bones — MUCH easier to eat!


Gotta grill fish with the head on… I’m with you there. I wonder what effect the grape leaves have on the fish after grilling.