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Pelmeni (Russian Dumplings)

Monday, July 18, 2011

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.

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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 egg
1/4 medium onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

Directions:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Then, take the two corners of the dumpling and seal them together, to make a saucer-shaped dumpling.

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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.

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Cucumber and Tomato Salad

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sometimes the simplicity of combining just a few right ingredients is all that a dish needs. This recipe is for a very simple Russian tomato and cucumber salad. It is one of my favorite salads, it takes just minutes to make, and is yet another excuse to use sour cream.

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Sour cream can be used as a salad dressing in the same way as for instance Greek yogurt. Although it may be too heavy for lettuce-based salads, you can use it in other vegetable-based salads. For instance, my mother-in-law substitutes mayo with sour cream in potato salads, which I find to be absolutely delicious. Also, it can serve as a dipping sauce base for vegetable strips for a summer-time snack - just add chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, dill and chives, salt and pepper, and a crushed garlic clove to about half a cup of sour cream to make the dip.

Cucumber and Tomato Salad
(Serves 4)

You will need:
3 on-the-vine tomatoes, chopped
2 medium Kirby cucumbers (or 1 long), chopped
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp fresh dill, finely chopped
1 tbsp sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Place tomatoes, cucumbers, scallion, parsley and dill into a medium bowl. Toss with sour cream and season with salt and pepper. Serve chilled.

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Pasta with Puttanesca Sauce

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

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This recipe is saucy, tangy, very flavorful, filling, and best of all it uses no meat (it does use fish, very small, overly salted fish).

This is our take on the traditional spaghetti alla puttanesca recipe, of which there are many different variations, including simply mixing all of the ingredients for the sauce without cooking them.

There are several noteworthy items about this recipe. First, the name puttanesca, which - rather unfortunately or otherwise making a great dinner conversation starter - comes from the Italian word "puttana" which means a whore. There are several versions as to how the sauce got such a colorful name. Perhaps the most common one is that because the sauce does not take very much time to make, the Italian ladies of pleasure would make this dish for themselves in between their appointments for a quick meal. Another version is tied to the root of the word, which arguably comes from the Latin verb "puteo" which means to stink. This is not surprising, given that the ingredients - anchovies, capers, olives and garlic - when cooked together can emit a strong odor. It is also rumored that this smell would act as an attractant for hungry men in search of both a meal and female company. So make of that what you will, but the sauce is easy to make and the odor and flavor are both quite strong.

The second noteworthy but perhaps less colorful item about this recipe involves one of the ingredients - the anchovies. Although some recipes recommend soaking them in water to desalt them, it is not necessary. The anchovies are very salty, but when used sparingly can add wonderful flavor (and salt) to the meal. For that reason the recipe for the sauce does not call for salt, as all the salt you need will come from the anchovies (I use a sprinkle of salt when cooking the pasta).

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This recipe uses about 5 finely chopped anchovy fillets for about half a package of spaghetti (I may have used more in the actual dish I made). But you can always adjust to your own palate, just two or three fillets for that amount of pasta is enough for the flavor to come through without being too overwhelming.

This dish works well with the Insalata Caprese as an appetizer.

Pasta with Puttanesca Sauce
(Serves about 3)

You will need:
1/2 lb spaghetti
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
14.5 oz can organic unsalted diced tomatoes
1 tbsp capers
1/4 cup pitted green olives, finely chopped
5 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, cut into slivers
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

Directions:
1. Bring water in a large pot to a boil. Add a sprinkle of salt and pasta and cook until al dente. Drain. The sauce should be made while the pasta is cooking. If pasta is ready before the sauce, toss the pasta with a little bit of olive oil to prevent it from sticking, then cover and let stand as you make the sauce.

2. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium-high heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the diced tomatoes and quickly bring to a simmer. Stir in capers, olives, anchovies and onion. Cook covered, until onions start to soften and the sauce becomes very fragrant, about 3-5 minutes. Add the pepper flakes and stir in basil and parsley. Lower the heat and add the pasta to the sauce in the pan, and toss well to coat. Remove from heat and serve.

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Caprese Salad

Monday, July 11, 2011

With summer in full swing, one craves colder dishes. Fresh mozzarella is a great ingredient if it's too hot for anything heavier than a salad. Or it can serve as a nourishing appetizer followed by a meatless entré. Below is our take on the Insalata Caprese (or salad in the Capri style, allegedly called so for having originated on the Capri island). Typically it is made with just fresh mozzarella, tomato slices and basil leaves. But we're always looking for that extra bite, and so we've added thin red onion slices, which we find complement the other ingredients.

We love this salad with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, however it can be served with just a sprinkle of sea salt to better savor the fresh mozzarella flavor.

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Caprese Salad
Serves 4

You will need:
1 medium vine-ripened tomato, thinly sliced
1/2 lb fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced into circles
6 or 7 leaves of fresh basil
A sprinkle of sea salt
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
Place onion, tomato, mozzarella and basil, around a serving plate in overlapping layers to form a circle, tucking the last piece behind the first. Sprinkle with sea salt. Mix together balsamic vinegar and olive oil and drizzle over the salad. Serve chilled.

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Soy Blueberry Pancakes

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

This recipe started out as an experiment. I wanted to make pancakes, but I also wanted a healthy breakfast. The recipe called for regular milk, which I almost never use. However, I had plenty of soy milk, and knowing that you can make a batter with simply flour and water - you just need a liquid, I knew that this substitution would probably work. To get rid of dairy entirely, I replaced butter with canola oil.

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These are not your grandmother's pancakes. Soy milk and canola oil, together with the added health benefits of fresh blueberries, make these pancakes much healthier for your heart. The changes do not detract from the taste; instead, the somewhat nutty taste of soy milk makes the pancakes more flavorful. Canola oil is rather tasteless and is often used in baking in place of butter. The only change I noticed was the color: instead of browned milk-fats on the surface of the cakes, the color is a gentler, creamier golden brown.

Adapted from Joy of Cooking pan (or griddle) cakes.

Soy Blueberry Pancakes
(Makes about 6 five-inch pancakes)

You will need:
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup soy milk
3 tbsp canola oil, plus more for cooking
1/2 tsp vanilla (optional)
Half a pint of fresh blueberries, plus more for garnish

Directions:
1. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together egg, soy milk, 3 tbsp canola oil, and vanilla until blended. Pour the soy milk mixture into the flour mixture, whisking rapidly until homogeneous and there are no lumps. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more soy milk. Stir in the blueberries.

2. Heat about 1 1/2 tsp canola oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. With a ladle, pour 3/4 ladleful of the batter into the pan, forming a 5-inch round pancake. Cook until the batter starts to bubble, the edges begin to solidify, and the bottom turns a light golden brown (peek under with a spatula), about 3-4 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side until it turns golden brown, about 2 minutes more. Repeat with remaining pancakes. Serve with fresh blueberries.
 

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