I didn’t know where to start with this post because there is so much to write and say about pelmeni. This is just such a staple in so many Eastern European and Russian households so get ready to read all of the below if you can be bothered! Even though pelmeni take time to make, a freezer full of these was and is always so common in many homes, and pelmeni parties and feasts are big and happen often. My family had so many of these at home in Sydney and also when we go back to Eastern Europe – pelmeni parties happen at least once a week. All of us sit in my babushkas tiny kitchen, making pelmeni while sipping on cocktails – our latest cocktail was a nice match! We used forest berries and matched it with gin or vodka, lemon and herbs.
I think when introducing food that is slightly less known to some parts of the world, I try to give context to the dish as I think that’s easier for you guys to connect with, understand it and maybe enjoy it more! Some of the best food memories I have, are from a specific time and place and that is what sort of made the dish that delicious. So here is a lot of context and background on pelmeni…
Pelmeni are originally from Siberia and Ural Mountains region – generally though most agree that they come from the Eastern side of Russia. Today, they are so widespread throughout life in Russia and Eastern Europe that even the ones available and ready made in store in frozen packets are pretty good quality – or maybe I just think that because they are a quick solution to a dinner and i’m normally starving when we buy them! These days they are often filled with beef, pork, chicken and lamb, traditionally though they were filled with wild meats such as boar, moose, bear and reindeer. Pelmeni can also be filled with fish as well since lakes were and are such a source of protein. I found a traditional recipe for smoked fish as a filling in Belarus (The country is basically made up of forests and lakes so fishing and using it in recipes is very common…the recipe for this will be in my book). For a vegetarian option, you can fill pelmeni with mushrooms and mashed potato (add herbs for seasoning).
We often make pelmeni from scratch, and it’s surprising how fast they disappear! So the amount for the recipe below might seem like a lot..and yes it can feed enough people for a dinner party..but if you’re making this for two people, trust me they will probably be gone in a matter of days – unless you freeze them, and hide them deep in your freezer. You will be pretty happy when you realise one night when you cannot be bothered to cook that you have some of these frozen and ready to quickly throw into a pot of salted boiling water for dinner!
I remember my mum making these in large batches for us growing up. In the evenings she would call out and ask “how many pelmeni would you like!?!” and i’d say a number something like 20. I would get to the table and always regret I only asked for 20, then steal some off my dads plate or my brothers plate. We would always have the pelmeni toppings in the centre of the dining table, a variety of toppings and seasonings because that’s just how they are eaten…each can choose their favourite toppings.
Once mum would toss the pelmeni in plenty of butter we would add different toppings that included either mustard, or a bit of white vinegar, freshly crushed black pepper, and then a few spoonfuls of lots of full fat sour cream (smetana). Over time, when my dad began making adjika – I began to add that along with the sour cream (the spicy raw sauce along with the sour cream is amazing). These days, when I don’t have smetana in the house – I follow a less traditional approach and add some asian flavour as the seasoning (I mix soy or tamari sauce, with sesame oil, chilli, and roughly chopped spring onion). In Belarus, my cousin would mix ketchup with smetana and I have to admit – that was pretty delicious too. My aunt introduced me to having fresh rye bread on the side, topped with a spoonful of sour cream (yes treated almost like a dip), and lots of fresh, raw spring onion – cannot explain how good this is. It’s also common to add things like the leftover cooking water (this cooking water is like a quick buillion) into a bowl of pelmeni as well, otherwise add pelmeni to a nice home cooked broth and create a nice pelmeni style soup.
Mostly served boiled, I have very rarely seen pan fried pelmeni – just because it becomes a totally different dish really. But, I have pan fried them after boiling and it is still really nice so experiment if you wish! In a really nice cafe in Minsk, they serve these pelmeni boiled then baked in the oven with a mushroom sauce and as an extra if you like, crispy bacon. It’s a lot but I would eat that in winter happily.
I really recommend that you use a fatty mince for the filling. I’ve made it with lean mince before and it was such a waste as was so dry. It’s too much effort to not be happy with the filling so I think if you can, try find a butcher that sells mince with a good fat consistency. Otherwise mix pork mince with chicken or pork with beef OR use lamb, as these seem to have a higher fat consistency compared to beef.
Some tips and information about Pelmeni Dough
Pelmeni dough is different to other doughs that is used for dumplings. The pelmeni dough has a higher water ratio and only a small amount of eggs which in comparison to asian dumpling wrappers is made with boiling water with no eggs, and italian dough which either is equal egg ratio or a combination of just flour, water and salt. The dough for pelmeni I think is perfect for what they are and have a distinct flavour and texture. With the below recipe, you will find the dough to be dense but not heavy, smooth and soft but not silky as we only knead it for 10 minutes (overkneading can easily happen if you pass that time so I always recommend leave the dough to rest at the 10 minute mark). It also should be soft and when you press into it with your finger – it should slowly bounce back when you touch it straight after kneading.
Like many recipes with flour, the humidity in the air is a big BIG factor on how the dough reacts when you work with it. So, my recommendation is go with the below amount of recommended flour, and add just as much as needed extra flour. I’ve written below to use up to 150g flour during the combining and kneading process. It’s quite humid in Sydney and especially on rainy days (when you get tempted to make pelmeni) so see how you go! Don’t worry if it’s a bit extra or bit less, as long as the dough looks smooth, feels dense and heavy but soft to the touch then you are good!
My final tip with the dough is during the rolling out process. I recommend having a small bowl with extra flour just to easily add to the surface where you’re rolling out the pelmeni dough. Add flour at any point that you feel that the pastry is sticking to the surface. Add flour before rolling it out, and then flour your rolling pin lightly too. Basically, flour is your friend during this part!
The only technically tricky area that I find really takes practise (apart from kneading), is making sure that you roll out the dough as evenly as possible. Naturally the edges of a rolled out piece of dough will be slightly thinner so do keep in mind to roll out from the centre and outwards. Other than that, flip it over when you find you need to and avoid any sticking to the surface (this again will vary on the humidity in the air and how much or little flour you are adding).
In saying all this, this is just extra information and if you generally follow the below recipe, you will have a delicious outcome! Like pasta and so many dumplings, it can take many times to perfect, feel and truly master something!
Recipe for Pelmeni with Spicy Adjika Sauce
Serves 6 or 2 people with lots of pelmeni as extra
550g plain flour + approximately up to 150g flour for adding to the dough whilst kneading, and more for rolling out the dough
2 tsp salt
2 cups water
900 beef mince (You can also use lamb, chicken, pork or a mixture of pork and beef mince) (Choose mince that is not lean as it will be too dry for the filling)
1 onion (Blitzed into a roughly textured puree)
1 tsp ground coriander
A few pinches of crushed black pepper
1/2 cup water (do add more if you find that your mince doesn’t have enough moisture)
Quick spicy Adjika Sauce
7 capsicums (medium size and cores removed, deseeded)
4-6 red chillies (optional how much depending on how much chilli you like! Deseeded)
4 medium garlic cloves
40g fresh coriander roughly chopped (root ends removed)
2 tsp ground coriander
5 tsp salt (add more if you would like to)
Sour cream (use as little or as much as you like)
30-50g Butter (use as little or as much as you like)
- Sieve 550g of flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the the eggs, salt and water. Use a large spoon or spatula to roughly combine the mixture for approximately a minute or until a textured dough forms. Use a bit of the extra 150g of flour to lightly flour a surface. transfer the mixture onto this surface, coat your hands in some of the flour and knead the dough, adding as much or as little of the rest of the kneading flour and until the dough is smooth, soft, well combined and not sticky to your hands. Knead up to 10 minutes (try not to over over knead). Place the dough in a similar sized floured bowl and cover with plastic wrapping, a board or a plate. Let it rest for 30 minutes. (I recommend reading the above extra tips for kneading the dough!).
- Meanwhile, to prepare the filling place all of the ingredients for the filling into a medium mixing bowl and combine together thoroughly using your hands to ensure that all the ingredients are well mixed. Add more water than the above amount that I recommended if you find that the mince mixture needs more moisture. Cover with a plate and set aside in the fridge.
- To prepare the quick spicy adjika sauce, place the capsicums, chillies and garlic into a food processor and blitz until a rough textured raw puree has formed. Transfer this mixture into a medium bowl and add the fresh and ground coriander along with the salt. Stir through and season to taste with extra salt if you like. Transfer into a jar and set aside until serving. Use as much or as little as you like for the pelmeni – you can easily store the rest of the sauce in the fridge to use at a later time.
- After the dough has rested, place it onto a lightly floured surface and knead for another few minutes. Cut the dough in half if you have the space or in to 3 or 4 pieces if you prefer. Place a small bowl of extra flour next to you so that you can use it to sprinkle the flour whenever you need during the rolling out process. Add some flour to the surface first so that the dough will not stick when you roll it out.
- Roll the first piece of dough out into a large round shape, to do this – use the rolling pin to press down from the centre of the dough and roll out to the edges, flip the pelmeni dough onto the other side before it’s too large and wide. Once the dough is thinly rolled out, use a sharp edged cup to press down and cut out circles in the dough (I just use a wine glass as I find the edges are nice and thin). Repeat the same process with all of the pieces of dough but only roll out each piece of dough once you’ve already filled and made pelmeni with the previous piece. There will be extra dough as well, that you remove once you cut out the little circles (just save those and knead them altogether and roll out last to make more pelmeni).
- Prepare several trays by covering in a layer of flour. Begin to make the pelmeni by filling each circle with ½ a tsp of filling (place the filling on the stickier side of the pelmeni dough). Press it down lightly into the dough and fold each side together to create a half moon shape (normally you don’t need to use extra water to wet the edges as you do for other sorts of dumplings as the pelmeni dough is moist enough, however if you find that it’s too dry then do add a bit of water). Connect the edges together by pressing lightly with your fingers.
- As you make the pelmeni, place them onto the floured trays. You can even freeze the pelmeni directly by placing a tray or 2 full of them into a freezer then the next day remove the trays, transfer the frozen pelmeni into containers and place back in the fridge until using.
- To cook the pelmeni, bring a large pot of water to boil, season well with salt then add however much pelmeni you would like serve to the pot. Add them in and let them cook for approximately 3-5 minutes or until they have all risen to the top and are floating. To test if the filling is cooked through, you can quickly remove one and slice in half to see if its cooked or still a bit raw. Cook until ready and then drain the pelmeni or transfer the cooked pelmeni from the pot into a large mixing bowl. Add some butter to mix through and coat the pelmeni (using a large spoon or spatula to help toss the pelmeni through it) then divide onto individual plates.
- Serve with the toppings either on the side or straight away on the plates. Add a good spoonful of the spicy adjika sauce along with sour cream and a good sprinkle of crushed black pepper.