I grew up eating cabbage rolls (my step-father's side of the family was Polish), but never liked the cabbage part. The filling rocked, but I hated cooked cabbage.
My husband, however, adores cabbage rolls - every single part of them. His mother usually makes a huge batch about once a year and since she lives next door, she calls my hubby over to grab a big plate of them to take home. Since today is our anniversary, I made some in his honor for our Sunday dinner this past weekend. (How "romantical," right?)
Cooking the cabbage rolls in the slow cooker keeps them super moist and really allows time for all of the flavors to meld together. I use the same filling for my stuffed green peppers and those can be done in the slow cooker, too.
You do need to allow a little time to assemble the cabbage rolls, but I often assemble the cabbage rolls the night before, store them in the fridge in an airtight container (without the V8 juice addition) and then start them in the slow cooker in the morning.
Yields 12 - 16 cabbage rolls.
1 large head of cabbage
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup crushed saltine crackers (about half of a sleeve)
1/2 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese (yes, the kind in the shaker canister)
1 egg, slightly beaten
3/4 cup quick-cooking rice (instant)
8 ounces tomato sauce (1 small can)
46 ounces V8 juice (1 large can)
Additional Parmesan cheese for time of service (optional)
Cut the core end out of the cabbage so that the leaves can be removed easily once they cook. Submerge the whole head into a large pot of salted, boiling water. Remove the leaves using tongs as they separate from the head during the boiling process. You're just looking for the leaves you'll be stuffing to be pliable. Transfer leaves as you remove them into a large colander to drain. Do this until you've retrieved 12 - 16 of the leaves and only a small part of cabbage remains. Be careful during this process. Obviously, the water will be very hot.
Remove the small part of the cabbage head that remains - it's okay if it's not cooked tender. Allow it to cool for a few minutes, then use those small leaves that you won't be stuffing to line the bottom of your slow cooker. This will create a protective barrier on the bottom of the insert so that the stuffed cabbage rolls do not scorch or burn.
Begin assembling the filling by combining the crackers, green pepper, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, Parmesan, beaten egg, tomato sauce (not the V8 juice) and rice into a large mixing bowl.
Add in the ground beef and gently work together the ingredients.
Lay out one cabbage leaf at the time onto a clean work surface. Cut out the thick vein at the bottom of each leaf - making a v-shaped cut. Place about 1/4 cup of filling onto each leaf. (You may use slightly more or less depending on the size of each leaf.) Fold the cut end of the leaf over the filling, fold in the sides and roll to enclose the meat mixture. (Basically, you are rolling them up like you would burritos.) Depending on how much filling you put into each leaf and how big your leaves are, you should end up with 12 - 16 rolls.
Place the cabbage rolls into the slow cooker (seam side down). You will end up with two layers of cabbage rolls on top of the loose leaves.
Pour the V8 juice over the rolls. It will look like a lot of juice, but this is needed to keep everything moist.
Cover and cook on low for 7 - 8 hours. If you are home during the cooking, baste any cabbage rolls on the top layer that may not be submerged in the V8 juice a couple of times during cooking.
Spoon some of the tomato cooking juices over the rolls at the time of service. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese, if desired. Even though there is rice in the stuffing mixture, we love these over mashed potatoes.