I have had a 20+ year obsession with the search for the perfect cabbage roll recipe. (Don't ask me why.) My BFF used to make them on New Year's Day for a big party. Up until the time I met her, I had never voluntarily eaten anything with sauerkraut in it (except a Reuben sandwich every so often, which I usually regretted). Her cabbage rolls were good. No, they were great!
After we moved to Florida, we no longer had access to our annual cabbage rolls orgy. So, my Dear Husband and I decided to learn to make our own cabbage rolls. We had a general idea of the ingredients my friend used, but her party was usually for a hundred people or more, and we were cooking for just the family, so we had to scale back the proportions. The first year our effort was okay. The second year we (I mean, I) decided to make them spicier, and I went overboard. I loved them but nobody else could get near them. After that I gradually reduced the spice. Eventually I ended up with a reliable recipe that we all liked.
A couple of years ago, I ran out of sauerkraut before I ran out of meat and cabbage, so I made one small pot of rolls with no sauerkraut, just extra cut up cabbage for filling between the layers. When we tasted it, we all thought it was the best batch of cabbage rolls we had ever had. (Because the fact is no one in my family actually likes sauerkraut.)
This year, we did not make cabbage rolls for New Years. A couple of weeks ago DH came home with a bunch of heads of cabbage that someone gave him. He suggested we make a batch of cabbage rolls. Initially I balked because it's starting to get hot and cabbage rolls are "winter food." But, then again, I am not one to turn down free ingredients. So I spent Mother's Day afternoon making a small batch of cabbage rolls. We have been eating off them ever since. They get better each time they are reheated.
I am sharing my recipe here because something so good deserves to be shared. This was not created by the Betty Crocker kitchens, so the proportions are anything but exact. Sorry, but that is the way I cook.
Cabbage - However much you have. I usually start with anywhere from three to five heads of cabbage. You can increase, decrease depending on the size of your crowd or your freezer (these things last for months in the freezer).
Sausage - Equal parts of mild bulk breakfast sausage and hot bulk breakfast sausage.
Onions - Rough chopped, about one large or two medium onions for every two pounds of sausage
V-8 Juice (or equivalent store brand) - I (personally) like to use the spicy version, but my family says that's too "hot", so I've reverted to the regular vegetable juice. Use a cup or two for every two pounds of sausage.
Chop onions and mix with sausage in a bowl. Set aside.
Blanche the cabbage - discard the tough outer leaves and then submerge the entire head of cabbage into a stock pot of boiling and well salted water for 10-15 minutes, pushing it down in the water to keep it submerged. When the head of cabbage is beginning to become tender, remove it and put it in a bowl of water to cool.
When cabbage is cool enough to handle, peel off outer leaves and put them in a large bowl and set it aside. Slice or very roughly chop the inner part (as you would for sauerkraut). Set aside.
Put a layer of the chopped cabbage** in the bottom of a roasting pan or dutch oven.
Make meatballs out of the sausage/onion mixture. (The proper size is a matter of opinion: I like small meatballs, about 1 - 1-1/2 inches in diameter. DH -- the meat lover -- prefers larger ones, about the size of a ping pong ball, or larger if he thinks he can get away with it.) and roll up in large cabbage leaves, like a burrito.
Pack the rolls fairly tightly in a single layer. When you finish a layer of rolls, cover it with another layer of chopped cabbage the then continue to add layers of cabbage rolls and chopped cabbage.
When you get near the top of the pot. Pour V-8 juice over the cabbage rolls and press down hard, pulling in the edges with a spatula to let the juice go to the bottom.
Cover the top with some of the large, tough outer leaves.
Cover the pan tightly and bake at 350-degrees for 4-6 hours if the pan is relatively small. Large roasters may take longer. For a large roasting pan with several layers, you might want to cook it at 320 overnight. (You may need to add more V-8 as it cooks.)
Serve with mashed potatoes and bread & butter. It's good the first day and even better the second. By the third time it is reheated, it's just damn fine, but by then you're probably getting sick of it. Freeze the rest in small packages. They keep for months and make great quick meals.
**If you like sauerkraut, by all means use it for a more authentic dish! Personally, I think sauerkraut makes the dish too strong.