of Pelmeni and Vareniki
Culinarian / Foodwriter
Pelmeni-a Russian Essential
Pelmeni belong to the family of dumplings. The main difference between a Russian Pelmeni and other kinds of dumplings is in their shape and size – a typical Pelmen' is roughly spherical and is about 2 to 3 cm in diameter, whereas most other types of dumplings are usually elongated and much larger.
Names and fillings might be similar; the Italians call them Ravioli or Tortellini. In Austria we have a name for them that only an Austrian can pronounce ‘Schlick Krapferln’ (little doughnuts that you swallow...)
Chinese fill their Wontons with everything from meat to most exotic things. They are also similar to Chinese jiaozi and pot stickers
In the Caucasian Republic of Georgia, the Khingkali are being filled with Pork meat only, and the dough is being twisted into a little button on the one and so you can hold them with your fingers, while the juice drips down your chin. Down further south, in the Moslem Republics, the same thing is being made with Lamb and called Manti.
A sweet variety, filled with apples, mashed potatoes, cottage cheese or all sorts of jams and berries are called Vareniki. Lots of powder sugar, melted butter or a big dollop of sour cream. Originated from the Ukraine, they are popular now even in the ‘West’.
Jewish Gourmets swoon over their Kreplach which of course only Grandmother or Mother in Law can make best.
You leave home for them.
The origin of Pelmeni is not clear, and many versions exist. The most widely accepted one is that they were discovered in the Urals by Russian explorers and pioneers, who found that a similar dish (called pelnyan - literally "bread ear" in the native Komi language), which consisted of pieces of meat wrapped in very thin bread, was being used by the native people of the region. Consequently, farther west in Poland, Pelmeni are called uszka, which also means ears. Another theory is that Pelmeni were invented by hunters, who were looking for light, easy-to-prepare and nourishing food to take with them on long hunting trips (besides, Pelmeni can be kept frozen for very long periods of time without any loss of quality or flavor, and the water they are boiled in makes a pretty good soup).
Or maybe, since Marco Polo brought from China the forbearers of modern day Spaghetti, he also must have been familiar with other pasta dishes,
So maybe the Pelmen come actually from China? And found their way back up there.
Yet another theory suggests that Pelmeni originated in northwestern China (thus explaining the use of spices such as pepper, which are non-native in Russia and had to be imported). And found their way into Russia via Siberia,
Another theory goes that Early Mongols may have borrowed it from the Chinese and carried it to the Urals and even as far as Eastern Europe. And I thought Mongols had no cooked food, but only their steak tartar, made soft under the saddles of their horses?
In any case, Pelmeni are documented to have already existed in central Russia by 16th century.
In the west they are known most often only in the plural, perhaps because it is nearly impossible to eat just one of them. Serious eaters, does not matter where they are, start of with at least a dozen and for sure will ask for another one.
While the different versions differ fairly widely in their modern forms the wide geographic area of the food says a lot for its practicality. Pelmeni keep and travel so well that they were also once known as “hunter’s preserved meals.” Pelmeni filling consists of ground beef and pork or lamb in countries were pork is not being eaten, mixed with minced onions and salt, all natural preservatives for meat. More extravagant versions sometimes include wine (another preservative) or pepper, some consider its preservative powers as negligible, but which was highly valued before refrigeration for its additive culinary flavor – uniquely suited to masking the taste of slightly ‘off’ meat. Onions and salt are, of course, not infallible.
Of course, food in Siberia has a preservative edge, as refrigeration occurs there naturally for many months of the year. Pelmeni are often referred to (by foreigners) as “Siberian Dumplings” or “Siberian Ravioli.” They were and are traditionally made by the hundreds or thousands and kept frozen over time. In front of the house, stacked, like before the times of central heating, we had stacked the chopped logs high up under the rafters. So when it was -60C you did not have to go to far for your breakfast, lunch and dinner ‘supply’.
The process of making Pelmeni, which is a fairly tedious one of rolling, cutting, filling, folding, and pinching large quantities of dough, is a time-honored family tradition often accompanied by hours of songs, stories, and Vodka (what could be more Russian?).
Today, Pelmeni can be bought pre-made in the freezer section of any Russian supermarket. They are a hearty meal that cooks quickly and easily. But most Russians (or at least Grannies, they still have the time and patience) still prefer the tradition of making them by hand, and Russian housewives consider it a question of honor to do so. This unique state-of-affairs has led the frozen supermarket Pelmeni to acquire a modern nickname of their own: ‘bachelor food.’
Whatever you choose to call them, they are tasty and a true taste of Russia. Try them for yourself by the following the recipe below!
350 gr / 1 1/2 cups flour
120 gr / 1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 tsp. salt
450 gr / 1/2 lb. ground beef
225 gr / 1/2 lb. ground pork
2 medium onions, finely chopped
5 gr / 1/2 tsp. black pepper
Dough: Sift the flour into a large pile. Make an hole into the top and crack the eggs into that indentation. Adding the warm water gradually, knead the dough vigorously. Pelmeni dough should be elastic and soft, but not sticky. Cover the dough and let stand for 30 minutes before assembly.
Filling: For best results, whole beef, pork and diced onions should be placed in a meat grinder together and ground twice. For those without a meat grinder, mix the beef, pork, onions, pepper, and ½ tsp salt together. And chop by hand. orFor even better taste, sauté the chopped onions in oil before putting them through the mincer.
Assembly: Working on a flour-dusted surface, roll the dough into a long “snake” one inch in diameter. Cut the dough at one-inch intervals and roll the pieces out into circles 1/16 to 1/32 of an inch thick. Place a tablespoon of the meat filling in the center and fold the dough over, pinching it to completely seal the pelmeni into a small packet. There should be no holes in the dough, so as to preserve the flavor and consistency of the meat inside.
Cooking: (If you plan to store your pelmeni, freeze them uncooked.) Boil a generous amount of water with 1 tsp. salt. Drop the pelmeni into the boiling water. They are ready to eat when they float to the top and stay there.
Presentation: Serve Pelmeni with one of the following: butter and salt, sour cream and dill, sour cream and vinegar, as a soup with meat broth (you may boil the Pelmeni in meat broth for added flavor). You may also serve Pelmeni with a traditional Russian salad of chopped cucumbers and tomatoes with mayonnaise or sour cream.
There is no greater treasure then pleasure....