Russian pelmeni (dumplings) is a savior for women making a quick dinner on busy days; something every poor student used to live off for at least a week at some point of his life; and what you’ll find in a freezer of every Russian bachelor.
Russian pelmeni recipe might remind you of Chinese dumplings and Italian ravioli. Pelmeni are made of ground meat wrapped in unleavened dough and then boiled.
A Few Facts About Russians and Pelmeni:
- The best pelmeni are homemade, but nobody has time for that. Mostly, people make them at home for big celebrations like New Year. Otherwise we get a pack at the grocery store.
- Pelmeni are a must on New Year’s table. The whole family gathers on the evening of 30th of December to make hundreds of pelmeni while watching a Soviet comedy and chatting. Usually, it’s a factory-like process with, say, a father cutting out rounds of dough, while a mother and a grandma fill them up with meat and seal the edges (This is the role distribution in my family, with me at the end of the chain conveniently storing pelmeni in my tummy).
- Traditionally, the filling is made of three kinds of meat: beef, pork and lamb. Nowadays, though, you can find beef and pork mix, beef alone, or even ground chicken as filling. If the filling is anything else but meat (potato, cottage cheese, mushrooms, cherries) then you call it vareniki.
- The choice of sauce for pelmeni is as important and sacred as choosing your religion. There are mayo lovers (me included), mustard devotees, people who prefer their pelmeni with diluted vinegar, some like it with sour cream, others place a piece of butter on top or horseradish sauce on side. There are also weirdos who have it with ketchup (big no-no!)
- Pelmeni are a regular item on the menu of both cheap student canteens and upscale restaurants.
Why You Need Pelmeni in Your Life
Pelmeni, or Russian dumplings, take a lot of time to make. But once you stuffed the freezer with a few kilos, you only spend minutes to prepare a dinner on a busy night or set a table for unexpected guests.
Origins of Pelmeni
Theories on origination of this dish are so confusing and contradictory that I am reluctant to cite any here. Most of researchers agree, though, that the ancestor of pelmeni are Chinese dumplings.
Some believe that it was brought to the Ural region of Russia where I am from by mongols; others — that pelmeni were invented by Komi-Permyak tribes that inhabited the Urals and made their living by hunting.
I tend to believe the latter. What is easier to cook for a hunter who spends most of his time in the forest but dumplings? They can be frozen, stored for months, then cooked in a few minutes. When Russians moved to Urals and Siberia they adopted the recipe.
Traditional Russian Pelmeni Recipe
When I started out making pelmeni, I looked for the most authentic recipe from the Urals, where I come from. One of the first thorough and detailed recipes I used about five or six years back belonged to Elena Aizikovich. You can still find the recipe on her blog. If you read Russian, jump to her blog and give her pelmeni a try.
Elena got the recipe from her nanny, who was a native Permyak, so it doesn’t get any more traditional than that. My recipe is heavily based on hers, but over the years I made quite a few changes.
Even though I love cooking from scratch, the idea of grinding my own meat for pelmeni is still a little intimidating, so I use store-bought mix of beef and pork. I currently live in Germany, though, so the quality of meat is not something I ever worry about.
I also modified the proportions of the dough, increasing the water quite a bit to make it softer and easier to work with.
There are a few more insignificant tweaks to the technique of rolling out the dough, but that’s inevitable as every woman finds her own way of mastering the dough.
The dough is made using eggs which are important since you need the dough to be elastic and easily rolled out. In the original recipe, Elaizik uses equal amounts of eggs and water. As she describes it, her nanny used cracked egg shells to measure water for the dough.
After trying this recipe several times I increased the amount of water by a few tablespoons. Unlike in the original recipe, in my recipe (below) the amount of water is slightly higher than the amount of eggs. When you are finished kneading, the dough should be firm enough to not let water get inside pelmeni while they are being boiled, but elastic enough to roll it out paper thin.
Beef and pork are used for the filling in 1:1 proportions. The ideal way to prepare it is to buy a whole piece of meat and grind it yourself. Years ago meat for pelmeni was chopped with a special knife in a wooden bucket. Today, though, using an ax-like knife in your kitchen seems a bit too complicated and messy, so grinder it is.
You can always choose the easy way and buy ground meat in the supermarket. But buying whole meat pieces will ensure nothing is added to the mixture and you can control the meat/fat ratio in the final product.
Working with Pelmeni Dough
The most popular way is to roll out the dough very thin and then cut out rounds using a wine glass. The right way is to cut small pieces of dough and roll them into rounds individually. Although, the first method is faster, the second one is the way Russian grandmothers used to do it and provides better results. When filling pelmeni, place a teaspoon of meat onto the lower part of the round of dough.
Cover meat with the upper part of the round of dough and start sealing from center working your way down each side.
Then seal the ends together.
If the dough is thin enough it should “shrink” during the boiling process making “wrinkles” around meat filling. This is a sign your dough is prepared perfectly. Make sure to drain all the water when you take pelmeni out of the pan. It’s best to serve pelmeni with butter or sour cream. If there’s any water left in the plate, sour cream and butter will be diluted by water and make a mess. On the other side, when pelmeni are dry, sour cream and butter tend to stick to the surface of the dough and enhance its flavor.
You can find the detailed pelmeni recipe below. And here’s a video showing me making Russian pelmeni at home. Make sure to turn the volume up, the music in the background is an awesome Russian song by Leningrad!
Traditional Russian Pelmeni (Russian Dumplings)
For the dough:
- 2 eggs
- 1 tbsp oil
- cold water
- 500 gram flour
- pinch of salt
For the filling:
- 1 kg ground beef and pork
- 2 onions
- 5 garlic cloves
- 2 bay leaves
Making the dough
Crack eggs into a cup and add oil.
Add cold water to eggs so that the total weight is 260 g (2 eggs should take up approximately 100 g).
Sift flour into a separate bowl and make a hole in the center. Pour egg mixture into the center.
Mix the dough with a mixer for 10 minutes using dough hook. If the dough doesn't come together well, add one more tablespoon of water.
When all the wet ingredients are mixed in and the dough forms a ball, place it on the table with the leftover flour.
Knead the dough until it stops sticking to your hands. You might need to add a little more flour depending on its quality. Cover the dough and leave it to rest for 30 minutes to 2 hours.
After resting the dough will become softer and easier to work with. Knead for a couple more minutes to get a uniform mixture. If after resting the dough still sticks to your hands, add a little more flour.
Making the filling
Cut onions and garlic cloves finely. Mix ground meat with onions and garlic.
Add salt and pepper and mix well.
Cut a stripe of dough and roll it into a cylinder approximately 2 cm (1 inch) in diameter. Tip: keep the rest of the dough covered to prevent it from drying.
Cut up the cylinder into 1 cm (0,5 inch) pieces and place it on the table dusted with flour.
Take 1 piece at a time and roll it in between your fingers to make a round.
Roll every round as thin as you can using a rolling pin. This part is tricky because you want it to be as thin as possible for better taste. But if you roll it too thin, the dough will break when you boil pelmeni. There’s no way around but practice and more practice until you get the feel of what is perfect thickness.
Place rounds of dough on top of each other to prevent them from drying. Before starting the process of making pelmeni turn the stack upside down so that the first round you made is on top now.
Hold the round in your left hand and place a tea spoon of filling with your right hand on the lower part of the round. Remove any excess filling.
Place the upper part of the round on top of the filling and start sealing edges. Start from the center and work your way down one side, then the other side. Seal the ends of pelmeni together.
Repeat to the rest of the dough. When you finish making pelmeni, place them into the freezer.
Fill a cooking pan with water and bring it to boil.
Add salt (1 tsp of salt for each 1 liter of water)
Place desired amount of pelmeni into a pan. Tip: don’t give in to temptation of placing a lot at once. Keep it down to 25 pieces at a time. After you add pelmeni to boiling water, the water will cool down and you will need to wait for it to boil again.
Mix pelmeni carefully with a slotted spoon making sure none are stuck to the bottom of the pan.
After pelmeni come up to the surface of water cook it for another 3 minutes, then take it out using a slotted spoon. Make sure all the water is drained.
Serve immediately with sour cream or butter.
You can replace ground pork and beef with ground chicken if you don't eat red meat.
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