Place the cabbage head into a pot filled with cold water to release the excess salt. Rinse and dry the rice. Julienne one onion and keep it aside. Finely chop the rest of the onions. In a large pan pour 6 tbsp cooking oil and let it heat on medium flame. Add the onion and saute until soft and golden. Add the rice, cook for 5 minutes together stirring continuously. Add 2 tsp of dry thyme and cook another 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.Drain the cabbage and cut the leaves into 2 or 3 depending of the head size. Remove the thicker part of the bottom. Chop the core of the cabbage and some unusable leaves and cut the bacon in small pieces.In a large bowl add the ground pork, salt, pepper and the rice / onion mixture and mix everything with your hands.
Start the rolling process: place a piece of cabbage leaf on the cutting board and 1 tbsp of filling mixture on it, near the bottom. Fold over the sides and start rolling upwards until the whole leaf is folded.Make sure every bit of leaf end is well encased and the filling is safely sealed. Place the rolls onto a platter at hand. Continue until you finish all the cabbage leaves.
Layer the rolls: pour 2-3 tbsp of cooking vegetable sunflower oil on the bottom of a big cooking pot. Add the julienned onion and a handful of chopped cabbage. Arrange the cabbage rolls in circles, one close to another.Scatter some bay leaves, peppercorns, a handful of bacon and 5-6 teaspoons of tomato paste over them. Cover with chopped cabbage and repeat with another cabbage rolls layer.Repeat the bay leaves, peppercorns, bacon and tomato paste addition. Finely cover with a layer of chopped cabbage. Pour cold water to cover everything in the pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat.Then, lower the flame to minimum and let them cook partially covered for about 2 1/2 hours, until fork tender. Shake the pot every 20 minutes to avoid sticking anything to the bottom. Add some hot water from time to time, to ensure the level of the liquid remains the same.
Serve these Romanian cabbage rolls (sarmale) with a dollop of sour cream (optional) and if you eat spicy - some chili / jalapeno peppers on the side.