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 bare little resemblance to the traditional pelmeni recipe of the Urals which calls for a long, slow souring of dough. It’s a slow food in the best of terms, deeply ethnic, slowly tended over days and making the best use of foods native to the region: dill, cultured cream, fresh whey, wheat and an assortment of meats.
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 a traditional look at pelmeni through an article by Katherine Czapp of the Weston A Price Foundation, 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.
- 4 cups whole wheat flour divided
- 6 egg yolks beaten
- 1 cup whey
- 1 teaspoon finely ground real salt
- Prepare the Pelmeni Dough
- Begin with the dough, a slow and lingering process. Dump two cups of flour onto your counter, making a well in the flour’s center, and place six egg yolks into the well along with a dash unrefined sea salt.
- Mix the dough together by hand, adding whey and stirring until no clumps of flour remain.
- Place the dough in a covered bowl and allow it to rest at room temperature for two to three days.
- Take care, every day, to flour your hands, punch down the dough, add about ½ to ¾ cup of additional flour and knead the dough for about five to ten minutes.
- On the third day, after you’ve fed the pelmeni dough with flour and kneaded it well, flour counters and role the dough into a long snake about 1 ½ to 2 inches thick.
- Allow the dough to rest while you prepare the pelmeni filling.
- As the pelmeni dough rests, combine the ground meats together with one finely minced yellow onion and set aside.
- Pinch about one scant teaspoon dough from the pelmeni snake, flatten it into a circle and roll it out very thin – about 1/16th of an inch.
- Place the about one teaspoon pelmeni filling into the center of the rolled dough, fold in half, securing the edges of the pelmeni together so that it doesn’t open up when subjected to the rigors of boiling. Continue working the pelmeni dough and filling in this fashion until they’re both exhausted.
- Bring two quarts homemade beef stock or salted water to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and drop the filled and secured pelmeni into the pot to boil, working in batches of six to eight pelmeni so as not to overburden the pot.
- Allow pelmeni to simmer in the stock or salted water until they rise to the surface of their own accord, about three to four minutes, then remove them from the pot and set them aside as you continue working in batches until you’ve cooked all the pelmeni.
- Serve the pelmeni warm, topped with sour cream or crème fraïche, fresh snipped dill and seasoned to taste with a sprinkling of unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.