You will only need the large leaves to make the rolls. Once you’ve sorted out the leaves which are good for rolling, finely chop the discarded parts and put a layer of these chopped pieces into the cooking vessel to form a barrier between the bottom of the pot and the first row of sarmale – this’ll help prevent burning.
Cut each large leaf in half, removing the tough core part too to make it easier to roll them.
Add a tablespoon of ground meat mixture to each half leaf.
Cover the filling with the edge from the base of the leaf. Bend edges on both sides and cover over the filling.
Roll the stuffed cabbage leaf holding firm, so they won’t break during cooking time. Repeat these steps until you finish all of your group meat mixture.
Start adding the rolls, creating a first level.
Continue the rolling process until you have a complete layer, onto which you can place some more of the smoked meat, some sprigs of thyme, other spices (like the bay or paprika, if you so wish), and maybe more of the chopped cabbage to fill any large gaps.
Start creating the second level, putting rolls to the saucepan. Allow a little space at the top for expansion.
When you finish the layer, add some more chopped sour cabbage on top, smoked bacon, another 2 bay leaves and some fresh thyme.
Pour on the seasons tomato bullion so it soaks in between the tightly-packed sarmale and reaches the level of the top layer. Finish it all off with a layer of whole cabbage leaves on top, just two of three to cap it off.
Place a lid on top of the saucepan and braise them on low heat for at least 2.5 hours, or bake in a 300 degree Fahrenheit (150 ℃) oven for 3 hours. Top up the sauce with a cup of hot water every hour (as needed). At the end there should be sauce halfway up the pot.
Serve hot immediately with sour cream on top, polenta and hot peppers.