Pelmeni are perhaps as quintessential to Russian cuisine as Borscht is to Ukrainian cuisine (for those familiar with neither: it is something that you simply have to try in order to fully experience that cuisine - analogous comparisons would include haggis in Scotland or lutefisk in Norway). Pelmeni (pl. noun) are small dumplings said to have originated in the Siberia region of Russia. They are made with a very basic dough and a simple meat filling.
The dough is made from scratch. Using only flour, egg, water and salt it is very easy to make. However the entire pelmeni-making process is very labor-intensive (it includes kneading and rolling out the dough, using a cutter to cut out rounds for the dumplings, and then assembling each dumpling by placing the meat filling inside and hand-molding it into its saucer-shape, one by one). The process can be simplified by a special pelmeni mold, which I don't have. To make a batch of the size the recipe calls for can take from one to two hours. This is why sometimes pelmeni making is turned into a family affair, where everyone helps assemble them. When frozen, pelmeni will keep for several weeks; as a result the pelmeni are typically made in very large batches and frozen for later. I usually double the recipe whenever I make them and freeze about three-quarters of them.
Traditionally the meat filling is a mixture of ground beef, pork and sometimes veal or lamb. We use ground turkey in our recipe to cut down the fat. If you want to try the more traditional filling, simply substitute the meat amount for 1/2 lb ground beef and 1/2 lb ground pork, or use an equivalent amount of ground pork/beef/veal combination.
Cooked pelmeni may be tossed with a bit of butter before serving to prevent them from sticking together. Serve them with a dollop of sour cream on the side for dipping, or any of your favorite sauces. My husband likes them with Tabasco or Frank's.
Pelmeni (Russian Meat Dumplings)
(Makes about 50 dumplings or about 4 servings)
You will need:
For the Dough
1 1/2 cups flour, sifted, plus more for rolling out the dough
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 to 1/3 cup water
For the Filling
1 lb ground turkey meat (alternatively 1/2 lb ground pork and 1/2 lb ground beef)
1/4 medium onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1. Prepare the dough. In a large bowl stir together flour and salt. Make an indentation in the flour mixture and pour the lightly beaten egg into it. Then using your hands, fold the flour mixture into the egg until uniform and crumbly. Gradually add 1/4 cup water. Mix using your hands until the dough starts to form. If the dough flakes, add the remaining water; if the dough is too sticky add a bit more flour. Knead the dough a few times and form it into a ball. Cover and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes.
2. Prepare the meat filling. While the dough rests, prepare the meat filling. Mix together meat, onion, egg, salt and pepper. Form about fifty meatballs (about 1 inch diameter) by rolling each into a ball between your palms. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
3. Roll out the dough. Divide the dough into two halves. Have a small bowl of flour ready for dusting. Dust your surface (you can roll the dough out on a large sheet of wax paper or on a clean kitchen counter). Dust the rolling pin. Take one half of the dough and flatten it into a five inch disk. Roll it out with a rolling pin to about 14 inch wide circle.
Using a 2 1/2 to 3 inch wide cookie cutter, make as many round shapes as you can. Peel off the remaining edges, form into a ball and roll the dough out again, using the cookie cutter to make more round shapes.
You should have twenty to twenty five round shapes. Repeat with the remaining half of the dough, to make a total of about fifty.
4. Assemble the pelmeni. Cover a large baking sheet with wax paper and set aside. Take one dough round and place one of the meatballs you've prepared in the center.
Fold the dough in half, and firmly press the edges together around the filling to seal the dumpling, creating a shape that looks like a half-moon.
Then, take the two corners of the dumpling and seal them together, to make a saucer-shaped dumpling.
One pelmen completed. Place it onto the baking sheet and repeat with remaining dumplings. Place the dumplings next to, not on top of, each other on the baking sheet. Then, refrigerate immediately.
7. Cook the pelmeni. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add a pinch of salt. Drop the pelmeni, one by one, in the boiling water. Bring back to a simmer and cook pelmeni for 7-8 minutes or about 10 minutes if frozen (always test one dumpling to be sure the meat and the dough are cooked through by removing it from the water and cutting it in half). Drain and serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream. Other possible condiments include ketchup, mustard, horseradish or hot sauce.
6. Tips. If you have any left over dough, you can make a dumpling with a "surprise" filling, which was sometimes done when I was growing up (e.g. grated cheese, chopped sausage, or chopped olives).
If you are not cooking the dumplings all on the same day, you can freeze the rest. Place the baking sheet with the remaining dumplings in the freezer for about one hour (freezing pelmeni on a flat surface will prevent them from sticking together). After they are frozen, place the pelmeni in a Ziploc bag, seal it and keep in the freezer for up to three weeks.