In the cold of winter, few things are as gratifying as sitting down to a steaming plate of freshly boiled pelmeni (пельмени, dumplings).
Photo by Mesq
Pelmeni are a Russian type of dumpling made with the thinnest shell of dough that the maker can roll and a raw-meat filling that differs depending on the region of Russia where the pelmeni recipe originated. Sibirskiye pelmeni (Сибирские пельмени, Siberian dumplings)—which are the most popular—are filled with a mixture of beef, pork, chopped green onion, spices, and bread that has been soaked in milk so as to make the pelmeni more tender after boiling. Pelmeni from the Udmurtia Republic—a region in the Urals that is a federal subject of Russia— are made with beef, lamb, and pork, whereas pelmeni from Perm—a city west of the Ural Mountains—often have no meat filling at all but instead are filled with mushrooms, onions, turnips, or even kislaya kapysta (кислая капуста, sauerkraut).
What makes pelmeni uniquely Russian is the way the food was adapted to the extreme climate of the country: given the long, cold winters in many parts of Russia, pelmeni are often made in huge batches and then frozen, easing the need to keep large numbers of animals housed and fed through a long Siberian winter. Best of all, pelmeni can remain frozen without losing flavor for long periods of time. Taking mere minutes to boil, they’re a perfect food for people living in harsh climates, which may be why they’ve been cooked in one form or another for millennia.
Preparing pelmeni from scratch is definitely time-consuming, especially for a novice: flour, water, and eggs are mixed to make the dough, which is then rolled into a snake shape and cut into thin slices before each slice is rolled as thin as possible with a rolling pin. Spoonfuls of prepared filling are placed at the center of each dough circle and then each dough pocket is sealed by hand—to ensure the edges are sealed, the cook either brushes the edge with water or a well-beaten egg yolk.
To speed up this labor-intensive process, many housewives employ special metal contraptions that look like a metal mesh with very large openings. Sheets of thinly rolled dough are placed over the metal frame and spoonfuls of filling are centered in each opening before another sheet of dough is placed on top and rolled with a rolling pin to seal the edges. The pressure of the rolling pin against the metal frame acts to both seal the edges of each pelmeni and push them through the opening.
Photo by Samovaari
Pelmeni—Any way you want them
Almost all Russian stores, however, sell frozen pelmeni, which are quick and easy to make: a pot of water is put on the stove and seasoned with salt. As soon as it boils, the desired number of frozen pelmeni are added and, after a minute, stirred to ensure they do not stick to the pot. Continue to boil the water until all of the pelmeni have floated to the surface; once that happens, the pelmeni are ready to eat!
Pelmeni can be served in a variety of ways although the most common method is to strain them from the broth into a plate with butter. They can also be garnished with smetana (сметана, sour cream) or uksus (уксус, white vinegar), although variations include everything from mustard, to horseradish, to even tomato sauce. Some people eat pelmeni as a type of soup by ladling a bit of broth into the bowl.
In Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Block, there are restaurants that serve only pelmeni of different kinds and they are very popular places to eat for people of all ages because they’re relatively inexpensive and delicious. Russians have even brought their love of pelmeni to other countries and some restaurants in Europe and the United States have begun adding pelmeni to their menus.
Regardless of whether you make them by hand, buy them in a store, or order them in a restaurant, pelmeni have definitely found a permanent and beloved place in modern Russian cuisine as their ease of preparation has made them the perfect food for busy families or bachelors that don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen; pelmeni is a food that every child grows up to love.