Note: Pick cabbage that is not too hard and is softer to touch, with leaves not too tight together. They will be easier to pull off.
For the Stuffing:
1 pound (450g) ground beef or lamb (or combination), preferably not very lean
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped (2 cups)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup medium grain rice, thoroughly washed and drained
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)
½ cup chopped fresh dill
2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 large green cabbage (about 3 pounds /1kg 400 g)
2 tablespoons tomato paste (when in season, you can use 1 medium ripe tomatoe, peeled and grated, with juices and 1 tablespoon tomato paste)
1 ½ cup hot water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
First, prepare the stuffing. In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the filling. With your hand, knead thoroughly until well blended. Set aside.
Meanwhile, prepare the cabbage leaves. Fill a large saucepan with water, add a generous pinch of salt and bring to a boil. With a sharp knife, cut out the core of the cabbage and carefully pull off the leaves, keeping them whole and undamaged. Plunge the leaves into the boiling water in batches of 2-3, and blanch them for 5 minutes, until they have softened a little and are pliable. Remove the leaves with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Repeat with the remaining leaves.
Keep a medium saucepan at hand. When the leaves are cool enough to handle, place them onto a cutting board, and using a sharp knife, cut out the rough center vein in teh shape of a V from the leaves so they will be easier to roll up. You will need the cutouts veins later, so do not discard. If the leaves are too big, cut them in two along the center vein.
Place about 2 heaped tablespoons of the stuffing in the middle of each leaf and shape the filling slightly like a log. Fold in the sides, then roll tightly. Arrange the reserved cut out veins on the bottom of the saucepan (you can also arrange the damaged and torn leaves, or unused leaves on the bottom too), then place cabbage rolls on top, close together and seam side down, making several layers. If using fresh tomatoes along with tomato paste, toss a little in-between the layers.
Dissolve the tomato paste in 1 ½ cup hot water and pour over the top of the rolls. The water should come to a little less than half of the rolls, but not more as the rolls will release their own juice, too. If not enough, add more. Dot the top layer with butter. Place a small lid or a small ovenproof plate on top to keep the rolls tight and to prevent them from opening. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium to low and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the cabbage leaves are tender, the filling is cooked, and the liquid has somewhat reduced.
Place dolma on a serving platter and spoon some of the cooking liquid on top. Serve with bread on the side.