My Grandma’s Russian Dumplings
3 sets of 37 dumplings
This recipe originally appeared on The Nosher.
My grandmother’s kitchen was barely the size of a hot tub. Somehow, in that tiny, immaculate space she could cook enough food for a party of 20. The kitchen’s best features were an overhead skylight streaming it with light, and an eat-in kitchen counter that you could sit on the other side of while she cooked. Growing up, I sat and watched her make food as often as possible, and sometimes I had the fortune of licking spoons of batter, or trying the first freshly made latke.
Her kitchen was full of objects that she brought with her from Ukraine when she immigrated to the States in the late ’70s. On top of her fridge was an electric samovar, on her counters were sets of white enamelware, and sometimes she pulled out a pelmenitsa from the pantry. A pelmenitsa is a mold for making pelmeni, a type of dumpling that is common across the former Soviet Union.
Pelmenis are made with a simple dumpling dough that consists of flour, water, and sometimes egg, and are traditionally filled with ground meat. Typical fillings include chicken, beef, lamb, pork, or a combination of meats. A vegetarian option is made with a minced mushroom filling.
The filling is seasoned simply with the addition of salt, pepper, onion and garlic. Once the dumplings are made and formed, they are cooked quickly in simmering water. Each family has their preferred toppings for pelmeni. Some top them with sour cream, caramelized onion, fresh dill, or vinegar.
My personal favorite way to eat pelmeni is in a bowl of homemade chicken broth, with a good amount of fresh greens added to it — like kale or turnip tops. I always garnish the pelmeni with an excessive amount of fresh dill.
The pelmenitsa is a pleasing honeycomb-shaped mold that forms 37 dumplings at a time. They are available online, and eBay has some for just a few bucks.
These dumplings can also be made by hand with little more than a rolling pin and a water glass. You can roll out the dough thin, and cut out circles to form the pelmeni into tortellini-like shapes. If you have a potsticker mold, you can use that to shape the dumplings as well.
This recipe takes some time and effort, but it has a great return on investment of energy. It’s wise to make a big batch and stock up while you’re putting in the work. Many folks make double or triple batches at a time, because the dumplings can last for months in the freezer.
There is a unique satisfaction that comes from homemade dumplings. It feels like a culinary achievement of the highest order. If you’ve ever made pasta dough, this is a cousin to that process.
If you’ve made a filled pasta, then you’ve basically made pelmeni. The trickiest bit is rolling out the dough so thin that it is vellum-like, and then filling each pocket with just the right amount of mixture so that the edges can firmly seal shut, and get smooth and glossy once simmered.
After all the work, there is such satisfaction when the pelmeni finally come out of the pot, fully cooked and shining. That first bite is always a little too hot, but it is nearly impossible to wait any longer for them to cool down.