If you don’t love sauerkraut, no worries: a beautiful rich tomato sauce is a great alternative.
Also, I encourage you to serve the cabbage rolls directly from your baking vessel. So if you’re aesthetically inclined, choose your wares accordingly!
START THE CABBAGE ROLLS:
You’ll need 12 to 15 nice large leaves to make these rolls. Gently peel off the outer leaves of the cabbage, then steam these over a pot of boiling water until pliable, roughly 15 minutes. Lay them out on a kitchen towel to cool and dry. Chop up the remaining cabbage (up to ½ head) into medium chunks.
MAKE THE STUFFING: In a large bowl, mix together with your hands the pork, beef, paprika, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, coriander, black pepper, garlic, onion, and rice, adding a generous sprinkling of salt. Shape a very small patty of the mixture and, in a hot small frying pan lightly coated with oil, cook it for 2 minutes on each side. Taste for salt and adjust your overall mixture accordingly.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Roll up ¼ cup of the stuffing into each steamed cabbage leaf, like you would roll a burrito, and tuck each roll into a deep baking dish, seam-side down. Pour a light layer of the sauerkraut juice and all of the tomato juice over the rolls. Insert small pieces of the cabbage heart(s) in between each roll, then top with the sauerkraut and more of its juices: the overall amount of liquid should come three fourths of the way up the cabbage rolls. I like to add some slices of smoked bacon over the top to add flavor while the dish cooks, but it’s your choice. Cover tightly with a lid or buttered foil, and bake for 2½ to 3 hours, until tender.
IN THE MEANTIME, MAKE THE CREAMY CUCUMBERS: Slice the cucumber into rounds about the thickness of a nickel. Combine in a nonreactive bowl with the vinegar, sugar, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Allow to sit for 20 to 30 minutes at room temperature. Drain off the cucumber liquid. Mix the cucumbers with the sour cream, dill, remaining 2 teaspoons salt, and the pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
TO SERVE: Serve family-style right from your cooking vessel, with the creamy cucumbers on the side.