This is a riff on a recipe I clipped back in the 1980s or 1990s, probably from Sunset Magazine. I really like it for the use of barley, which I really enjoy instead of the usual rice. The original recipe used veal or dark turkey meat and called for a layer of yeast bread over the top. I did try it that way once, but it was too doughy, just too much bread. I usually use chicken breast, but have also used pork. It’s a very forgiving recipe, so just do it that way you want to. Warning that the preparation is time consuming.



1/2 cup pearl barley
1 large head cabbage
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
Flour for dredging
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and slivered
1/4 cup sour cream
2/3 cup chicken broth
2/3 cup dill pickles, slivered
Salt & pepper to taste
Smetana Sauce (recipe below)

Combine barley with 2 cups water in a 1 to 1-1/2 quart pan. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until barley is tender to bite, about 30 minutes. Drain, set aside.


Bring 4 to 5 quarts water to boil in a very large pot over high heat. Core cabbage and, with a spoon, submerge head in water for 20 seconds or so. Lift out cabbage; when cool enough to touch, gently pull off as many outer leaves as you can. Repeat until you have about 12 to 14 large leaves.


Return the leaves to the boiling water, about 4 at a time, and cook until each one is pliable, 2 to 4 minutes; drain well. I lay out a tea towel for them to sit on. Cut the thick section of the stem from the back of each leaf.

Cut meat into 1/4-inch strips. Coat strips with flour. Put butter and oil into a 10 to 12 inch frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add half the meat at a time and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes; transfer to bowl. Add more butter and oil if necessary.

Cook the bell pepper in the same pan, until limp, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove pan from heat and mix in sour cream, broth, pickles, barley, meat, salt and pepper.


Prepare a baking dish approximately 10 X 15 inches by spraying with non-stick spray or by greasing the dish.

Eyeball your filling to your cabbage leaves and judge how much filling to put into each leaf. Fill the leaves, folding each leaf over the filling and placing the rolls into the prepared dish, seam down.

Prepare the Smetana Sauce. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Smetana Sauce Ingredients:

3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
2-1/4 cups chicken broth
1-1/2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup sour cream
Pepper to taste

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat, stir in flour until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Stir in broth and tomato paste. Stir until sauce boils. Remove from heat, stir in sour cream. Add pepper. Use the sauce while it’s still hot.


Pour hot Smetana Sauce over the cabbage rolls. Cover the baking dish and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until heated through.


Serves 6.