Introducing the Old World Tuesdays: Russian Pelmeni

February 9, 2010 § 9 Comments

I am starting a section where, life permitting, every Tuesday I am going to post about a dish from my cultural background, which, in my case, means drawing from Russian, Azerbaijani, and Bulgarian cuisines. These can be a challenge sometimes, as I often find myself without certain ingredients or sometimes even proper tools, so authenticity might suffer in the process. But hey! You can’t learn by not trying.

We are starting today!

Today’s post is about pelmeni – which, in case you don’t know, are Russian boiled dumplings stuffed with ground meat, served with melted butter, red wine vinegar, and sour cream. These are not to be confused with pierogi (or however you spell that) – those are, I believe, Polish fried dumplings, and that’s not the same thing. And I am not from Poland, either. And they don’t speak German in Azerbaijan. Just in case there was any question about that.

I’ve been told that the traditional filling is made up of three kinds of meat – beef, pork, and lamb. I can see how pork would add extra juiciness and lamb would add extra depth. However, since I only have beef and venison, and venison pelmeni somehow seem like an abomination, I’ll be making mine with beef. If you’ve never had these and wish to try them, you are certainly welcome to use any of the above combinations.

Just for the purposes of demonstration, I chose to make them in two different ways today:

1) by hand

2) with the help of a special pelmeni mold. If you are going to be making these a lot, and don’t have a small horde of slaves or little children to outsource this to, I suggest that you get yourself one of these.

What I like about pelmeni is that they are:

1) delicious

2) economical

3) one of Jacob’s most favorite things in my culinary repertoire

So let us start with the filling:

We start with about 3/4 lb ground beef (the beef in the smaller bowl was meant to be put away for some other use).

Then you gonna need about these many onions. Pardon my unsightly ones – I am way at the bottom of my onion stash for the year. Just didn’t have a good onion year last summer.

Now, this part is important – the onions have to be grated – not minced, or chopped, or anything like that, because you want them to release as much juice as possible into the meat, and not just sit there in irritating individual chunks.

I then chop a bit of garlic kind of fine (you can also mince it – but I wasn’t thinking too hard about it).

Add the grated onion, the minced garlic, some dried dill, salt, and pepper to the hamburger in the bowl.

Mix everything together, and you’ll get this.

Now let’s make our dough.

For that, you’re gonna need 3 C of flour, 1 t salt, 1 egg, and 1 C (or a little more) of water.

You can certainly mix up the dough by hand, but I prefer to use my Kitchen Aid.

First the paddle attachment,

so it looks like this,

This picture really reminds me of the whirling dervihes in Turkey.

then the dough hook.

After you take the dough out of the mixer bowl, turn it over on itself a couple of times, pressing down as you do that, and shape into a ball.

Cut it in half,

half each of the resulting halves,

shape each into a patty, and let rest for about 10 min.

Roll you dough out into a large sheet – you want it pretty thin. Then use any kind of suitable circular object with sharp edges (a round cookie cutter, a glass, etc) to cut out circles in the dough.

All while fostering the new generation of pelmeni-makers.

Josie is showing you how.

Next, place a small amount of filling into the center of each circle.

Now fold it over in half, with the filling encased inside, pinching all around the edge to seal.

Now pinch the corners of each pocket together and you’ll get this.

Next, line a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper, and flour the paper thoroughly.

Place your finished pelmeni onto the paper before you move on to the next batch.

Now, because we are modern people like that, and no longer have servants to make the pelmeni for us, we are going to use one of those handy molds instead. I bought this on ebay, and it was shipped directly from Ukraine or something like that. I loved it! I totally recommend it. I’ll betcha you can find one in the US, I just haven’t looked. Normally, if I make pelmeni, that’s what I use. The above amount of dough will be enough for three mold-fulls.

Be sure to flour the mold first, to prevent the sticking later.

Now roll one of your rounds of dough we’ve made above into a thin sheet and lay it over the mold.

Place a bit of filling into the center of each indentation,

roll out another sheet,

and place it over the first one, right on top of the filling.

Now roll your rolling pin directly over the mold.

Peel off the dough around the edges (it should come right off now), and you’ll get this.

Turn your mold upside down over the floured parchment paper, and use your finger to gently push each pelmeni out of its cell.

You can boil them immediately, or you can make them in advance and place the sheet in the freezer. Once the pelmenis are frozen firm, place them in a Ziploc bag if you are intending to use them some other day. They will store in the freezer for some time. Myself, however, I had about two hours between the making and the boiling, so mine went from the sheet directly into the pot.

To boil, bring a pot of salt water to a boil just like you were making pasta.

Once the water is boiling, add the pelmenis, stir, and bring the water back to a boil. Be sure to stir them frequently so they won’t stick to the bottom. By the time the water comes to a boil, all of the pelmenis will have floated to the surface, which means that they are done. You don’t cook them for very long at all. Note: If you are taking yours out of the freezer, do not thaw them out first. Place them, frozen, directly into the boiling water (which will also make them easier to handle).

Don’t drain them like noodles. Remove the pelmenis with a slotted spoon, and place into a bowl. Pour a small amount of melted butter on top, followed by some red wine vinegar, and stir carefully, without tearing the pelmeni if possible. Serve with sour cream or a garlic-yogurt sauce.

Siberian-Wisconsin Pelmeni

For the filling:

  • 3/4 lb ground beef, or a combination of equal parts beef and pork, or beef, pork, and lamb
  • 2 small or one medium onion, grated
  • a couple of garlic cloves, minced (optional)
  • a pinch of dried or 1-2 T minced fresh dill
  • salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything together and keep in the fridge until ready to use.

For the dough:

  • 3 C flour
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 C of water or a little more if you want softer, more pliable dough

For serving:

  • melted butter
  • red wine vinegar
  • sour cream

Mix up the dough, shape into a round, and cut it into four equal parts. Shape each round into a patty and let rest at room temperature for 10 min. This is done so the gluten in the flour, which is very much like a muscle, has the chance to relax, making it easier to roll. After it had the chance to rest, your dough will feel considerably softer. Or, if you are impatient, proceed straight to rolling, but the dough will put up more of a fight. Roll each patty into a large, round sheet. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper, and flour the paper thoroughly.

If shaping by hand: Use the mouth of a narrow glass to cut out circles in the dough. Place the filling into the center of each circle. Fold in half and pinch around the edges to seal. Now bring the ends of the pocket together, and pinch again. Transfer your pelmeni onto the floured parchment paper.

If using a mold: Flour the mold. Place your round sheet of dough directly over the mold. Place a bit of filling into the center of each indentation. Roll out another sheet and place it on top of the first one, directly over the filling. Roll your rolling pin over the mold. Remove the extra dough from around the edges (by now it will peel right off), turn the mold upside down over your floured paper, and use your index finger to gently push each one through its opening onto the paper. Arrange all of the pelmeni in neat rows, so they won’t stick to each other.

If you are not going to cook them right away, stick the sheet into the freezer, and leave it there until the pelmeni are frozen and firm. At this point you can transfer them into a Ziploc bag and keep them in the freezer until ready to use. Don’t them thaw out before boiling – place them, still frozen, directly into the boiling salt water.

If you are ready to cook them right away, bring salt water to a boil as if for pasta. Add the pelmeni, and cook until all of the pelmeni float to the surface. Remove from a pot with a slotted spoon and place into a serving bowl. Pour melted butter and red wine vinegar over them and stir well. Serve with sour cream or a yogurt-garlic sauce (1 clove of garlic, pressed, and mixed into 2 C of plain yogurt).

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§ 9 Responses to Introducing the Old World Tuesdays: Russian Pelmeni

  • Rebecca says:

    These look very tasty! Similar to tortellini, in the pinching-shut method, no? I may make them. Brendan keeps asking for pierogis, which is funny, since the basic principle of the pierogi appears to be incorporating milkfat into ever ounce of its being. These look more nutritional. And I ought to be able to get Dobbit to help me.

  • Sofya says:

    Yeah I betcha Dobbit would be amused helping you. Josie loves to make these.

    They are indeed similar to tortelini or any kind of dumpling from that family. The Azeris have what is called dushbara – same thing but smaller, the filling I believe is lamb, and they are boiled in a rich lamb broth (I believe) in which they are also served, so it’s more of a soup-dumpling dish. Dushbara is also sprinkled with mint, that to me is a distinct thing about it. No one says you can’t try those with beef, but they are usually smaller and more pain to make.

  • julia says:

    Thanks for sending me a link to your blog! Your recipes look incredible. It’s nice to see another food blog by a Wisconsinite that covers Russian food! I hope you keep blogging about Azeri cuisine–hingal looks delicious.

  • Sofya says:

    My pleasure. And welcome! I am glad you like it. I am hoping to blog about Azeri cuisine for sure. I wish I was more of an expert on that one.

  • Jillian says:


    I think you’re my new hero! It was nice to visit with you today. I’ll be a fan of your blog and will be sure to direct as many CSA-ers as I can to your domestic goddess website. You’ve got it goin’ on mama!

  • Sofya says:

    Welcome Jillian! I am glad we got to hang out and that you enjoyed the website… but please don’t lead people to believe that I am any kind of domestic goddess… not when my house is untidy as it is… (which might or might be a lifestyle choice).

    I am VERY happy about all the onions – I made some chicken salad today and having red onions in it made an amazing difference. And I can’t wait to do something cool with those cippolinis…

  • Liene says:

    Oh, you make me so hungry for pelmeni. I have made them once since I moved to US almost nine years ago. I might have to make pelmeni tonight. I have a feeling that I will be the only one eating them since my husband won’t eat anything he doesn’t recognize. I might be able to make my girls eat some pelmeni though.

  • chegarty says:

    This looks delicious; I’ll make it immediately!

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