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EURASIAN COOKBOOK  / PELMENI
01.10.2010


This article was published as part of SRAS's free monthly newsletter. Want the newsletter?


  Pelmeni1
Pelmeni - hearty and tasty - are usually made
in bulk and frozen for future yumminess.

 Pelmeni
A Tasty History
By Josh Wilson
with
Andrei Nesterov

Пельмени (Pelmeni) are Russian dumplings: small portions of ground meat and onion wrapped in a thin, unleavened dough and boiled. 

While Russians prize пельмени as a Siberian dish, рецепт русских пельменей может на самом являться измененной версией китайских пельменей (the recipe may actually be an adaptation of Chinese pot-stickers). Other ancient foods such as manti, native to turkic peoples and also popular in Russia, differ from пельмени only in size and shape. Ukranian vareniki, Eastern European pirogies and even Italian ravioli also have much in common with this simple, tasty food.

     Почему они носят такое название?

Most historians agree that русские пельмени (Russian pelmeni) originated in Siberia and were probably named by the коми, коренной народностью Урала (Komi, a people indigenous to the Urals). In the Komi language, “pelnyan” means “bread-ear,” a reference to the food’s ear-like shape. When the word crossed into Russian, it changed a bit (as most words crossing language barriers do) to “пельмень,” whose proper plural in Russian is “пельмени.” In English they are almost always referred to in the plural, perhaps because почти невозможно съесть только лишь один из сочных маленьких кусочков (it is nearly impossible to eat just one of the juicy morsels).

 Darya1
Above: One of Russia's most ubiquitous brands of frozen pelmeni, Дарья. See our video section below for sordid details on this company!

Пельмени для ленивых!

Below: A pelmeni mold from RusClothing.com- for when you just can't wait to have dozens of juicy pelmeni... 
mold-pelmeni


 

Families with small children often make колдуны (kolduny) as well as regular пельмени. While пельмени are often about the size of silver dollar, колдуны are ussually not much larger than a nickel and have very thin shells. Thus, they are perfect for little mouths. Besides size, there is usually no other difference between them, but Russians will almost never call колдуны "пельмени;" they are separate dishes. Interestingly, "колдун" in Russian also means "sorcerer."

Как правильно есть пельмени?

Пельмени were originally пища охотников (hunters' food). Giant sacks of frozen пельмени would be carried by Siberian hunters when leaving on winter expeditions (where they would stay frozen, of course). They would be сварены в воде из растаявшего снега и часто их едят без всего или с мясным бульоном (boiled in melted snow and often eaten plain or with broth when meat was available).

Пельмени are traditionally made in very large batches in a long and tedious process. After so much work, preparation is followed by a large family meal of пельмени, cucumber and tomato salad, fresh greens, and perhaps vodka or kvass (what could be more Russian?). Пельмени can be приправлены сметаной, майонезом, маслом, перцем, уксусом, почти любой другой приправой (dressed with sour cream, mayonnaise, butter, pepper, vinegar, almost any other condiment). They can also сервировать плавающими в мясном бульоне или даже в воде, в которой их варили (be served floating in meat broth or even in the water in which they were boiled).

Пельмени, while not exactly "street food," can occasionally be found for sale in very simple cafes in Russian cities called simply "пельмени" or "пельменная." Many of these actually date from Soviet times. There are also more trendy cafes such as Пельмешка, a chain of art-house cafes in Moscow that combine cafeteria-style пельмени with movies and art displayed on the walls.

Пельмени are also available in the freezer section of any Russian supermarket. They are a hearty meal that cooks quickly and easily, and even the cheaper brands tend to be quite tasty (although higher-end options such as the "у Палыча" brand are not to be missed). Traditional Russian housewives, meanwhile, consider it a question of honor to cook пельмени from scratch. Thus, купленные в магазине пельмени имеют репутацию "холостяцкой еды" в популярной культуре (store-bought pelemni have a reputation as "bachelor food" in popular culture).

  pelmeshka1 Above: The trendy Pelmeshka tempts passersby with a happy pelmen ready to jump off the fork...

Below: The traditional Pelmeni tempts passersby with flat, bold Soviet lettering. It may not be so good, but it sure is cheap!
pelmeni2

Как правильно готовить пельмени?

There is a saying in Russian that "пельмешки не терпят спешки." Literally this means "pelmeni can't tolerate speed demons." The saying is used, however, in the general sense of "good things come to those who wait."

Пельмени are traditionally made in very large batches in a long and tedious process that can involve the entire family, including men, although the process is generally lead by the females. Preparation often involves не один час раскатывания, нарезки, наполнения фаршем, сворачивания и скрепления кончиков (hours of rolling, cutting, filling, folding, and pinching). This whole process is encompassed in Russian with the phrase "лепить пельмени" (to make/build/fashion/sculpt pelemeni). After cooking and eating many of them, many more are frozen for later use.

Of course, smaller batches can be made relatively quickly or one can "cheat" with a pelmeni mold. However, moving too fast will means that тесто будет рваться в середине или не будет должным образом скрепляться на краях (the dough will tear in the middle, or will not be properly sealed at the edges), leading to a sloppy and soggy dish.

Пельмени are best made with fresh, whole beef, pork and diced onions run twice through a meat grinder. For those without a grinder, ground beef and ground pork may be purchased and mixed together. This mixture is called "домашний фарш" ("home ground") in Russian and is available pre-made in most Russian supermarkets (and you are more likely to find this than plain ground beef). Домашний фарш, mixed with finally chopped onion, is considered the most definitively Russian element of пельмени. Don't get it wrong.

To get the dough to right consistency, нужно месить, пока оно не станет упругим и не перестанет быть липким (kneaded until elastic and no longer sticky). It should be rolled quite thin – which делает пельмени изящными (makes the pelmni delicate) and allows the meat to cook quickly. 

If you plan to store your pelmeni, freeze them uncooked. Especially when cooking frozen pelmeni, add a bit of vegetable oil to the water. Drop the pelmeni into warm water (not boiling) and stir them while they are still frozen until they all separate (and then stop stirring!). This will не даст пельменям слипаться и распадаться (keep the pelmeni from sticking together and tearing).

Пельмени вкусны, и их вкус – это истинный вкус России!  (Pelmeni are tasty and a true taste of Russia!) Try them for yourself by the following the recipe below!

     Давай приготовим!

 Русские пельмени

Ингредиенты:

- 1 1/2 чашки муки
- 2 яйца
- 1 1/2 чашки теплой воды
- 1 1/2 чайной ложки соли
- 1/2 фунта говяжьего фарша
- 1/2 фунта свиного фарша
- 2 средних по размеру луковицы, тщательно почищенных
- 1 1/2 чайной ложки черного перца

Просейте муку в большую горку на чистой поверхности. Сделайте углубление наверху и разбейте яйца в это углубление. Постепенно добавляя теплую воду, энергично замешивайте тесто. Прикройте тесто и дайте ему постоять30 минут.

В отдельной глубокой тарелке смешайте говядину, свинину, лук, перец, и ½ солей чайной ложки соли.

На посыпанной мукой поверхности, раскатайте тесто в длинную "змею" диаметром в один дюйм. Порежьте тесто кружками длиной в один дюйм и раскатайте части в кружки толщиной от 1/16 до 1/32 дюйма. Поместите столовую ложку мясного фарша в центр кружка и сверните кружок, залепив его по краям, чтобы полностью слепить пельмень в маленький пакетик, и скрепите углы вместе, чтобы образовать маленький круг.

Вскипятите большое количество воды, в которую добавлена 1 чайная ложка соли. Высыпьте пельмени в кипящую воду. Их можно есть, когда они всплывут на поверхность.

Russian Pelmeni

Ingredients:

- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 lb. ground beef
- 1/2 lb. ground pork
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper

Sift the flour into a large pile on a clean surface. Make an indentation in the top and crack the eggs into that indentation. Adding the warm water gradually, knead the dough vigorously. Cover the dough and let stand for 30 minutes.

In a separate bowl, mix the beef, pork, onions, pepper, and ½ tsp salt together.

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 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 and turn the corners to face each other, making a small circle.

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.

Our Favorite Pelmeni Commercials

While commercially produced pelmeni are popular in Russia, one does not often see advertisements for them. 

Some of the most notoriously scandalous commercials (yes, for pelmeni) in epically bad taste are those created for the brand Дарья. One of the earliest of these was a billboard campaign that featured a woman's flour-covered, naked buttocks with the words "Your Favorite Little Pelmeni!" Click here to see the ad halfway down the article in Russian on sex in advertising (click to enlarge; note that "pelmeni.ru" has since changed hands). The same company went on to do this sex-infused TV ad in 2004. These are definitely not your babushka's pelmeni!

One of the "normal" TV ads for pemeni in recent memory are those for Сам Cамыч, which feature a pelmen in the role of a stereotypical Soviet/Russian начальник (boss). 

Also of note is this group of amateur comedians below. All from the same university in the Urals, the group chose to call themselves "Уральские Пельмени" when they started performing on the popular Soviet/Russian TV show "КВН," on which such teams "compete" weekly. Many of these guys are now professional comedians on on other TV shows.


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