Pelmeni, traditional dumplings that hold a near-sacred place in the hearts of the Siberian people inhabiting the Ural mountains, have made their way to convenience stores and the freezer sections of grocery stores all across Russia and Eastern Europe. But the modern convenience food and even homemade versions of pelmeni bear little resemblance to the traditional pelmeni recipe of the Urals which calls for a long, slow souring of dough. It’s slow food in the best of terms.
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History of Pelmeni
Pelmeni or “little ears of dough” in the native language of the Komi-Permyak people of the Kama River Basin in the Western Urals, satisfy on a cold evening. It’s perhaps of my own love of harsh and bleak climates, that I feel an affinity for the rugged mountain people of the Urals, for when I first happened upon pelmeni, I fell in love.
A subalpine people, the Komi-permyaks were hunters and the bounty of plentiful game filled their sacks and their pelmeni. Moose and other game, horse, beef, or lamb found their way into the rustic, sour dumplings which, thanks to the region’s severe climate, could be easily frozen outdoors and thus preserved for long trips. Brawny, rugged hunters would fill their packs with pelmeni before entering the rigors of the Taiga to search for more game.
In the years that pelmeni grew in favor, making their way from the pots and packs of Siberian hunters into freezer cases across Eastern Europe, the little dumplings lost a bit of their soul. No longer were they made from whole, soft winter wheat or soured over several days with fresh, bacteria-rich whey. No longer were they filled with wild meats. Instead, white flour took the place of whole wheat, and the tradition of fermenting the dough was lost completely. It’s time to bring the traditions of traditional foods, like pelmeni, back.