Cabbage rolls are served in different versions in just about every country in Eastern Europe -- and beyond -- but they all bake the same way: in a covered dish at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until their internal temperature reaches 165 F, the minimum internal temperature for ground meat. You'll find slight variations in the sauce and the fillings, but the prep work -- steaming the cabbage, browning the ground meat and rolling the leaves -- is the same for each version.
Poland has a reputation for everything cabbage. Sauerkraut exemplifies uncooked Polish cabbage dishes, and golabki, or cabbage rolls, represents the cooked. Polish golabki, pronounced "gwumpki," typically calls for diced onions, rice or buckwheat, and ground beef and pork bound with egg as the filling. Western Polish versions, or the regions with the most Germanic influences, typically use beef stock for the cooking liquid; eastern Polish versions, or those with Russian influences, often call for tomatoes seasoned with garlic and herbs for the cooking medium, which reduces to a sauce during baking. Golabki is commonly topped with a spoonful of smietana, a type of soured heavy cream; you can use regular sour cream for the same tangy effect.
Germany doesn't have large-scale tomato production, and tomatoes are not a big part of Germanic cuisine -- so the country's kohlrouladen -- which translates as "cabbage rolls" -- are rarely cooked with them. Kohlraden is usually baked in beef stock, and it contains ground pork and beef with a breadcrumb binder. Kohlrouladen makes use of another German staple: cured and smoked pork belly. Instead of pork belly, you can fry a few strips of bacon in an oven-safe frying pan and brown the cabbage rolls in the rendered fat before you add the stock and bake them.
You see both Mediterranean and eastern European influences in coastal Balkan cuisine, especially Croatia's sarma, cabbage rolls cooked in pork stock. Sarma's filling often consists of beef, pork and rice along with pungent and aromatic ingredients, such as garlic, onions, minced dry-cured ham, paprika and pickled cabbage leaves or sauerkraut; an egg binder hold everything together. Traditional sarma cooks in tomatoes, sauerkraut, onions and garlic.
Middle Eastern cabbage rolls, or malfouf, differ most from the cabbage rolls you know and love. Comprising lamb, rice and lean beef, malflouf are baked in diluted lemon juice and 1 or 2 heads of minced garlic. Malfouf has a characteristic floral aroma that comes from bakharat, a mix of seven spices used extensively throughout the Middle East for their ability to marry mild and pungent ingredients. Saute the garlic in olive oil and lemon juice and stack the cabbage rolls in 2 layers in a baking dish, sprinkling the garlic between them. Mix enough equal parts lemon juice and water or stock to almost cover the cabbage rolls and pour it over them before placing them in the oven.
Steam or boil a whole head of cabbage for 5 to 10 minutes to soften the leaves for peeling and rolling. Brown the ground meat and mix it with the binder, grains and vegetables, if you're using them. Lay the leaves flat on the work surface and place a packed portion of filling in the centers. Fold the ends of each cabbage leaf over the filling; wrap the leaf around the filling and secure it with a toothpick. Place the cabbage rolls seam-side-down in a baking dish and place them in the oven.