The first thing to do is choose a leafy head of cabbage. This recipe calls for loose leaves of cabbage. Many grocery stores and even farm stands "clean up" their heads of cabbage. I have been lucky to find the loose leaves others have caste off or I ask the produce manager if he has any. You will have to buy several heads of lettuce if you can't find one with loose leaves.
Next you will have to decide what you're going to stuff your cabbage with. Most people stuff with ground beef or "meatloaf mix" and white rice. I stuff mine with ground pork (pasture raised) and pre-soaked barley. I have never tried, but I would think you could make a delicious dish using a vegetarian protein substitute for the meat.
First soak 1/4 cup of barley in water.
Next peel the cabbage leaves and break or cut them off the head. Continue until you can no longer peel the leaves without ripping them. Then take a knife and core the cabbage head and peel as many more as you can.
Put the loose cabbage leaves in a steamer, steamer basket, or a large pot with an inch of water at the bottom. Place the loose leaves in the pot and steam them with the lid on for about ten minutes. You want the leaves to be pliable but not floppy.
While the cabbage is steaming in a lidded pot. Make the tomato sauce. This sauce is also good for stuffed peppers.
Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a Dutch oven (I use cast iron). Add 1/2 cup of chopped onions, and 1/2 cup of chopped celery. Cook until tender. Then add 1 can of tomato soup (I use Amy's organic Tomato Bisque) and 1 1/4 cups water, 2 Tablespoons of chopped parsley, the juice of a whole lemon, 1 teaspoon sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat off and set aside. You will put the stuffed cabbage rolls into this pot and sauce.
Next prepare the cabbage leaves. Take each leaf and trim the thick stem end if needed. Throw what you trim off into the pot.
Mix the meat and barley. Pictured here is one pound of ground pork so you can see the ratio. You can certainly put more meat or more barley (or rice) to suit your taste. Remember both the barley or the rice will expand in cooking.
Add salt to your taste and mix until blended.
Now take a steamed, trimmed cabbage leaf and a meatball sized ball of meat mixture and place the meat mixture on the leaf.
Gently roll the cabbage leaf with the meat mixture inside.
With your pointer finger, gently tuck in the ends. Be gentle so as not the rip the cabbage leaf.
Place the cabbage roll, seam side down (the photo shows the seam up) into the pot of cooking sauce.
Next take the rest of a head of cabbage that you couldn't get the leaves from and cut it into wedges.
Place the cabbage wedges on top of the cabbage rolls in your pot.
At this point I put a lid on my pot and bake it at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 - 2 1/2 hours. Many people cook their stuffed cabbage on top of the stove. I've found that low and slow baking makes the flavors marry and makes the cook happy because she doesn't have to check everything a hundred times. In the oven, fix and nearly forget. About an hour in...check the liquid level. Add water if you feel it necessary.
My father was not fond of stuffed cabbage as a dinner so my mother would put kielbasa (Polish sausage) or hot dogs on top. It would steam and take on some of the flavor of the meal. I still do it. Comfort food.
Likewise this dish is traditionally served with mashed potatoes. I don't eat them anymore...not exactly low carb and the Harvard School of Public Health recommends we eat potatoes like a candy treat. Rye bread is a wonderful accompaniement to this dish. As a kid we would have this with mashed potatoes, apple sauce, and rye bread. Delicious!