I was involved in a cabbage roll cook-off a bunch of years ago where many variations were produced, including the usual ground beef. My version was vegetarian with roasted red peppers and feta cheese, but my favourite (not made by me) had a mushroom filling that was so delicious! I wish I could remember the ingredients. No matter the filling, each type was made with already cooked rice. I generally prefer cooking the filling first so I can be sure it is seasoned properly. But I thought I'd give the raw rice method a go as that is how my mom had made them growing up (regular beef cabbage rolls, that is). Although slightly undersalted as the raw lamb prevented me from properly checking the seasoning, they came out great and it certainly reduces the time required. I really enjoyed the lamb in this dish; the cumin and just a pinch of cinnamon are just enough to enhance the flavour of the meat.
I would have preferred using savoy cabbage (looser, more flexible leaves) but I don't ever see it being sold around here. And I'm too cheap to buy napa cabbage. So good old green cabbage worked just fine.
1 head cabbage
1 lb minced lamb
1/2 cup arborio rice, uncooked
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp pine nuts
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp cumin
Pinch of cinnamon
3 cups chopped tomatoes with juice
Vegetable / Chicken stock
Saute onion and garlic until onion is translucent. Add pine nuts and cook for 1-2 minutes to lightly toast. Add fresh parsley, cumin, cinnamon as well as some salt and pepper. Cook for 2-3 minutes to blend the flavours together. Remove from heat, squeeze in juice of one lemon and let cool.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Combine cooled onion mixture with lamb, rice and egg to form the filling.
Remove the core from the cabbage, cutting at least 2 inches down. This helps the leaves loosen from the head.
While preparing the rolls, heat the tomato juice with about 1 cup of vegetable stock.
Place each roll into a casserole dish until you have a full single layer (I doubled up with just a few extra, but generally a single layer is preferable). Toss in the leftover lemon skin for added flavour. Pour over the heated tomato sauce ensuring the rolls are fully covered (add stock, tomatoes or water, whatever so long as the rolls are covered).
Bake at 350 degrees F for about 1 1/2 hours. Cut into a roll to ensure meat and rice are cooked. Serve hot with some of the tomato sauce, and crumbled feta cheese.