This is another of those recipes whose flavors and smells bring back so many beautiful memories! As far back as I can remember - which admittedly is not very far! - I've loved eating cabbage rolls, but haven't much enjoyed making them. On the rare occasion I've attempted them on my own the cabbage leaves have either been to firm or too soft, cracking or tearing with abandon and leaving me with quite the mess afterwards. By contrast, my godmother and Ukrainian and Russian friends' cabbage rolls are always so beautifully perfect, a feast for the eye as well as the mouth.
While I'd love to have the time to take a cabbage roll master class with a babushka, a lack of time and money together with the sad paucity of babushki in my life currently means that I have to either pay ridiculous amounts for the store-made cabbage rolls locally available (which is a gift to be sure!) or figure out an alternative that meets me at my level. This soup - a mishmash of ideas - is the result. It's not the same of course, but it has been a great comfort to me this year, and I expect will be a staple for me in coming years. I hope it brings some of the same warmth and joy to you!
Cabbage Roll Soup
500g / 1lb of ground beef
1 medium-large onion (chopped/diced)
5 cloves of garlic (crushed/minced)
2 bay leaves
Black pepper (to taste)
Dill (to taste)
Parsley (to taste)
Salt (to taste)
4 cups of beef broth
1 cup of water
1/2 of a medium cabbage (sliced)
400ml / 13.5oz of canned diced tomatoes
1) In a large pot over medium-high heat sauté the ground beef and onion until the beef has browned, then drain the grease. (While this can be a pain, I wouldn't go for the extra lean beef at the store myself, the fat left behind from the draining provides a definite boost of richness and flavor that I've missed on the occasion that I've made this with lean beef instead.)
2) Return the pot to the stove, add the garlic and seasonings, and sauté until fragrant (a minute or so). I generally use dried dill since I always have it on hand, but if you're using fresh dill feel free to add it later with the broth. I generally go easy on the salt, more can always be added at the end of the cooking process if necessary.
3) Add the broth, cabbage, and tomatoes, bring everything to a boil, and then cover the pot and simmer over reduced heat until the cabbage reaches your desired tenderness. If I've cut thick slices I tend to need about 30 minutes, but thinner slices would of course require less time.
4) Stir in the rice and return the pot to a boil to allow the rice to absorb some of the flavor of the soup.
5) Serve as is or with sour cream (definitely the best garnish you could add!) or bread, and enjoy!