Making Siberian pel’meni is no easy feat, warns writer Jennifer Eremeeva. But if you really must have the meat dumplings, do it the Russian way and make a lot of them.
My friend Susan casually asked me if I knew how to make Siberian pel’meni. She, bathed in the innocence one who has never attempted them, wanted to make a batch.
“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 Susan, who works as a TV producer, to spend a day and a half up to her elbows in flour and pel’meni filling. Pel’meni and Susan didn’t seem like a match made in heaven when I looked at it objectively. Susan’s life hardly resembles that of the women of the ancient Finno-Ugric tribes who brought pel’meni 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. This means she isn’t choosing pel’meni over other forms of food 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 pel’meni 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 pel’meni 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 pel’meni, 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 pel’meni on hand: be they buried in the -40 degree Siberian perma-frost, 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 pel’meni recipe:
If you are going to go to the trouble of making pel’meni, so the Russian saying goes, you might as well make a lot. And, take your time, because, “pel’meni ni terpyat speshki“ (pel’meni don’t tolerate rushing). And, take a leaf from the Siberian villagers, rope in some like-minded friends, and make it a community effort.
– Three cups of flour
– One teaspoon salt
– Three whole eggs
– 1/3-cup warm water
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 on a floured surface, kneading with your hands until the dough holds together. Cover with a bowl and leave to set for an hour.
– 250 grammes of beef
– 250 grammes of pork
– One yellow onion
– One tablespoon of salt
– Three 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 flavour, but the Baltic version of pel’meni does include marjoram, and I think it adds much to the meat, so I include it here.)
For ancient nomadic women, this was the labour-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.
Assembling the pel’meni
I rolled my dough out with a rolling pin until very thin (no more than two millimeters). I then use a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass to cut out circles approximately seven cm in diameter.
At the centre 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 web site dedicated to the history, art, and traditions, pelemeni.ru notes a time-honoured tradition of sneaking a “surprise” into the last pel’meni 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.
Cooking the pel’meni
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 pel’meni in, one by one, taking care not to overcrowd the pot, and keeping the pel’meni from sticking to one another. Cook for four to six minutes, or until the pel’meni bob up to the top of the water. Drain.
To serve, garnish.
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.
Jennifer Eremeeva / Expatica
This article was first published in French as Pelemeni: Patience Siberienne in La Russie d’Aujourd’hui and Le Figaro on 27 April 2010.