Siberian Pelmeni for a London Yummy Mummy

By April 20, 2010 May 30th, 2017 Food, Russia

I had to laugh when my friend Susan casually asked me if I knew how to make Siberian pelmeni.

Pel'meni

Photo Credit: Jennifer Eremeeva

Susan, bathed in the innocence one who has never attempted them, wanted to make.  “My daughters had a Russian nanny who used to make them these incredible meat dumplings,” she said, “and after she left us, we haven’t really found anything else they like quite so much.”

I could not imagine clever, chic, artistic Susan, who works as a TV producer, up to her elbows in flour and pelmeni filling, nor indeed, that Susan could spare the entire day and a half the process entails.  Pelmeni and Susan didn’t seem like a match made in heaven when I looked at it objectively.   Susan’s life little resembles that of the women of the ancient Finno-Ugric tribes who brought pelmeni to the Ural Mountains. Although she’s often on the go, she’s not necessarily on the move; so is not forced to carry her entire food supply on her back, which means she isn’t choosing pelmeni because of the protection they provide to her family from savage animal predators: the dough on the outside of the dumpling masks the smell of the meat inside, an early, and indeed enduring appeal of pelmeni to the local tribes of the Ural Mountains.

The climate Susan lives in (Fulham, London) doesn’t get cold enough to facilitate the natural flash freezing capability which made pelmeni such a hit with Siberian housewives.  These sturdy women gathered after an animal had been slaughtered to create an assembly line Henry Ford would have envied: parlaying the fresh meat and simple dough into hundreds of delectable pelmeni, which they then buried in the snow.  This locked in the freshness of the meat and provided an ample stockpile of food for the long Siberian winter ahead.  What does a chic yummy mummy need with this kind of fodder?

But then I thought: Susan is, after all, a mother, and mothers through the ages have known that you’ll never be stuck if you have some frozen pelmeni on hand: be they buried in the -40-degree Siberian permafrost or tucked in the back of your SUBZERO freezer.  So, Susan, if you can find a two-day break in your hectic life, here is your pelmeni recipe:

If you are going to go to the trouble of making pelmeni, so the Russian saying goes, you might as well make a lot.  And, take your time, because, “pelmeni ni terpyat speshki,” or pelmeni don’t tolerate rushing.  And, take a leaf from the Siberian villagers, rope in some like-minded friends, and make it a community effort.

 

Ingredients: 

For the dough:

3 cups of flour

1-teaspoon salt

3 whole eggs

1/3-cup warm water

For the Filling:

250 grams of beef

250 grams of pork

1 yellow onion

1 tablespoon of salt

3 grinds of black pepper

A pinch of marjoram or spices to your taste (note: classic Siberian dumplings do not have any spice but rely on the garnish to give the dumplings their flavor, but the Baltic version of pelmeni does include marjoram, and I think it adds much to the meat, so I include it here.)

Make the dough:

Sift together the flour and the salt in a large bowl.   Create a shallow well and add the eggs and the water into the flour.  Work the dough together and turn out onto a floured surface, kneading with your hands until the dough holds together.  Cover with a bowl and leave to set for an hour.

Sift together the flour and the salt in a large bowl.   Create a shallow well and add the eggs and the water into the flour.  Work the dough together and turn out onto a floured surface, kneading with your hands until the dough holds together.  Cover with a bowl and leave to set for an hour.

Make the filling:

For ancient nomadic women, this was the labor-intensive part, as they minced the meat into tiny slivers.  I used my food processor, which took about 45 seconds.   Process the meat, onion, salt, and spices together in the food processor until smooth.  Cover and set aside.

Assemble the pelmeni:

At this point, I put “pasta roller” on the list of things I wanted for Christmas, and if you have one, by all means, dust it off and use it.   I rolled my dough out with a rolling pin until very thin (no more than 2 millimeters).  Using a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass cut out circles approximately 7 cm in diameter.  Into the center of each circle, place a ball of filling.   Fold the dough circle in half over the filling, and crimp the edges together.  Then fold the crescent into half again, and pinch the two edges together to form the final dumpling.  The comprehensive website dedicated to the history, art, and traditions, pelmeni.ru notes a time-honored tradition of sneaking a “surprise” into the last pelmeni of the batch: and the one who gets this dumpling, receives the good fortune implied by it: a small coin for wealth, sugar for love etc.

Cook the pelmeni:

Bring a large pot of cold, salted water to a vigorous boil.  Add a tablespoon of oil to the boiling water, and then drop the pelmeni in, one by one, taking care not to overcrowd the pot, and keeping the pelmeni from sticking to one another.   Cook for 4-6 minutes, or until the pelmeni bob up to the top of the water.  Drain.

Serve, garnish, and eat pel’meni:

Siberians eat pel’meni with tangy vinegar and hot mustard; Russians in the western part of Russia smother them with melted butter or sour cream.   Pel’meni are also often served in broth as a soup, in which case the cooked pel’meni are gently lowered into the hot broth, and stirred gently to warm them through, serving immediately.
 Priyatnogo Appetita!

Priyatnogo Appetita!

Author’s notes:

This article first appeared in French in La Russie d’Aujourd’hui, a supplement in Le Figaro on April 21, 2010.

Recipe adapted from A Gift To Young Housewives by Elena Molokhovets’ and A La Russe, by Darra Goldstein.

I’m indebted also to www.pelemeni.ru.

Dear Reader:

Thank you for visiting my blog and reading this article.  It means a lot to me, as does your feedback.  Tell me, did you try the recipe?  Did it work?  Are you a Yummy Mummy?

11 Comments

  • Tess says:

    Well done Jen! What an achievement! You’ve managed to make pel’meni appealing (which I found even Pushkin Cafe failed to do for me!). I might have to rope in the Russians stuck (volcano-ash) in my house, though I think Tanya would disapprove of the herbs.

  • Susan says:

    Dearest Jennifer, I am deeply, deeply flattered by both the description of myself and the inclusion of the recipe in your blog. But, in hindsight, it would have been easier to sleep with a cabinet minister to get the Russian nanny’s visa extended than attempt this myself.
    But I feel a gauntlet has been thrown down and I need to get in touch with my inner Finno-Ugric tribeswoman. I will let you know how I get on. xxxx

  • It isn’t hard to imagine you with all the ash-u-gees landed in on you! How like you, Tess to take everyone in! Go for the herbs…just sneak them in when T isn’t looking. Missing you!

  • Dearest Susan:
    Purely non-fiction, I assure you. I look forward to hearing all about the Finno-Ugric roots…they also wore a version of waxed cotton, did you know;)

  • Mary Hobson says:

    Hi Jen,
    I am inspired to make antipodean pel’meni. Now that the Maori have stopped eating “long pig”, we need some new insights into cuisine. I’m not aware of how much Finno-Urgic influence has yet reached New Zealand, but maybe now is the time.
    Thanks for the inspiration – as ever.

  • Dear Jen,
    Aside from another HAPPY BIRTHDAY, I have to say, I have NO IDEA what this recipe translates to and really don’t care as it look so luscious in your photos, I must try it for soup or cocktails or whatever!
    As I have said many times, I am having trouble keeping up with you; your recipes and photos are piling up for the next special occasion! Thank you!
    xoxo A.A.D.

  • Laura (Meier) Roth says:

    Loved the pictures. They helped a LOT. Thanks.
    Have you ever tried making beet salad? My roommate and I used to treat ourselves with it for dessert after a long day struggling with metro and a long walk home after work, near Profsoyuznaya. 🙂

  • Mary, can’t wait to hear how your antipodean p’s go! Send me some news of NZ!!

  • AAD – ravioli…dumplings…? I worry they don’t look as they should.

  • Laura – beets – always a good idea. I have been in touch with the editors and we’ll be looking at summer salads to spice up shashlik…which of course Russians would never worry about!! Profsoyuznaya in my way of thinking is the Road to Hell. Hell, of course being Butova where I lived for way way way too long with HRH.

  • Jennifer, we’re in St. Pete’s right at this moment – October 20th – and would love a recommendation of where to find pelmeni as delicious as the ones you make on your blog! Could you do that? My email is nancy@artforyoursake.com. Gratefully yours, Anatoly and Nancy from Chicago.

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