It's hard to find a good cabbage roll. Some of them are just absurdly large. Others are in a gross tomato sauce. A lot of them simply have too much rice and not enough spice. Well, problem solved! Here's my adaptation of this recipe from Almost Turkish.
The lamb makes these pack a flavor wallop, but you can use beef instead. I like the texture of the barley better than rice and I wanted to use a whole grain, but you can use any other grain or leave it out entirely. If you can find a loose-head cabbage this will be easier, but just work with what you've got.
1 lb. ground lamb
1 large head of cabbage
1/2 c. pearled barley
1 onion, grated
1/2 c. parsley, minced
1/4 c. fresh dill, minced (or 1 Tbsp. dried)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tsp. ground black pepper
1 tiny pinch allspice
1 lemon, juiced
2-3 Tbsp. butter
Cook the barley (1:1.5, 15 minutes) until al-dente. Meanwhile, boil a large pot of salted water. You can cook the rolls on the stovetop or in the oven--if you decide to use the oven, preheat it to 375.
Cut out as much of the core out of the head of cabbage as you can. Dunk the cabbage in the boiling water for 1-2 minutes until the outer layers look cooked. Run the cabbage under cold water and carefully peel off the cooked layers. If you tear a leaf in half at the mid-rib that's OK, you'll just have smaller cabbage rolls. Repeat this ~3 times until you've removed all but the smallest leaves. Cut the ribs out of the bottoms of the leaves where they're thickest. If you want smaller cabbage rolls, cut the leaves in half.
Mix together the meat, 1 c. of the cooked barley (you will probably have some extra), onion, garlic, tomato paste, olive oil, herbs, and spices. Feel free to improvise with the spices (I think I may have added mint flakes and hot paprika).
Place 2-3 Tbsp. filling (more for large leaves) at the base of each leaf and roll it up as best you can. Don't worry--you won't be graded on this. If you're going to cook these on the stovetop, melt a little butter in a large, flat pan with a close-fitting lid. If you're going to bake them, melt some butter in a large baking dish. Place the rolls in your cooking vessle so that they stay rolled.
Pour the juice of one lemon over the dish and add hot water so that it comes 1/2-3/4 up the side of the rolls. Place small pats of butter on top of the rolls. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes if you're cooking on the stovetop, adding more water if need be. If you're baking the rolls, cover the dish with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes.
I served these with ful medames (fava bean dip), pita, and turnip pickles. They are great for lunch the next day, but be careful not to drip the juice on your shirt!