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My obsession for dumplings is well-documented. Whether it’s chicken and dumplings, or potstickers, or Indian Chakolya (called Dal Dhokli or Varan Phal; these are mildly spiced whole wheat and gram flour dumplings cooked in a spicy lentil stew) or wontons, or Dhokle Papdi (bite-sized gram flour patties stewed in flat beans and spices) my love for all things doughy knows no bounds. It’s what I crave on Sunday nights, cold evenings, or after a long tiring day.
I first made pelmeni and pierogis couple years ago, after my husband visited Russia and simply could not shut up about them. He brought me back some cookbooks from Moscow and I got right to it, I was blown away by how simple and scrumptious they were! Pelmeni are a type of Russian/Ukrainian rustic, savory dumpling filled with meat or mushrooms or potatoes or cheese. I made the pelmeni with a potato and mushroom filling similar to what I’ve shown here, and a handful of pierogis with diced apples. As someone living in the United States for so many years, I felt like I needed to alert the authorities – the apples were NOT tossed in cinnamon, nor were they dusted with it. The serving recommendation was to just serve them piping hot with some butter. I resisted the urge to add cinnamon and was rewarded. Something happens to the apples inside the pierogis that we cannot explain.
Cut to this year when we were watching The Americans and there was all this talk about Russian food and pots of Russian tea (of which I’m a fan as well). I can’t be the only one who makes something after watching someone talk about it on TV! There are worse reasons to make these delicious dumplings so let’s get right to it.
We first start with a filling that could not be simpler – boiled and lightly mashed potatoes, mixed with caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, salt, pepper and an egg to bind it all together.
Take your time to cook those onions, as half of them will end up on top of the cooked pelmeni at the time of serving (with butter and dill). Be sure to taste the filling before adding the egg!
The filling can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for a couple days. I wouldn’t freeze it as defrosting will make the potatoes leak, and the caramelization will come undone, but if that helps streamlining your pelmeni process, it will be okay.
Onto the dough for the pelmeni wrapper, which is also easy to make, especially if you have a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. But I have made this dough by hand and it’s not too difficult. The dough is pretty forgiving.
Either way, we start with the flour and salt, and add the eggs one at a time, beating well until fully incorporated. Then stream in the water to bring it all together. After that, switch to a dough hook to knead the dough for a minute or two until it comes together into a tight ball.
Dump the dough ball on to the counter generously dusted with all purpose flour and knead a few times, then form into a disk and let the dough rest for few minutes, covered.
Divide into 4 parts (each should be the size of a tennis ball when rolled up). Keeping the remaining dough covered at all times, start rolling out each part into a thin circle (about 10 inches wide), dusting as you go, moving the dough around the well dusted counter.
If using a pelmenitsa (a special mold for making pelmeni, 37 at a time), dust it generously and carefully transfer the rolled out dough onto it and spread evenly. Place 1/2 teaspoon size balls of the filling in the cavities and press down gently. Top with another sheet and using a rolling pin, seal the two layers together by rolling back and forth a few times.
Take off excess dough from the sides. and flip the mold over, the pop out each pelmeni and place on a dusted baking sheet or counter.
I have two different molds but I prefer this one as it is slightly taller and makes slightly bigger and rounder dumplings (in case you overfill).
Having a mold is not required at all, since these dumplings are very easy to shape by hand. Roll out dough as you would for the mold, and cut into rounds 2 inches in diameter using a cookie cutter or glass. Place a teaspoon or so of the filling in the center and fold the dough over and seal the edges by pressing together, pushing the air out as you go.
You can form these into crescents or leave them as half moons; I like to pull the edges together toward the center and and seal them, making them look like wee hats!
Repeat the process with remaining dough. Place pelmeni on a dusted sheet pan until ready to boil.
At this point, they can be frozen on the sheet pan, making sure they are not touching. Once frozen they can be transferred to a freezer safe container or zip top bag for up to 3 months, and cooked straight from the freezer (avoid defrosting as they’ll start to become sticky).
To cook the pelmeni, bring a large pot of water to a boil and drop the pelmeni 5-6 at a time and cook. The smaller pelmeni (made using the mold) usually take just 1-2 minutes; frozen make take an additional 1-2 minutes. The larger hand shaped pelmeni take 3 minutes or so (5 for frozen). Either way, all pelmeni are ready when they float to the top of the pot and stay there.
Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer cooked pelmeni to a warm, shallow bowl. Serve with a knob of good, salted butter, caramelized onions (saved from the filling), chopped dill, and eat immediately!
• Recipe •
Potato and Mushroom Pelmeni
Adapted from The Russian Cuisine Cookbook | Makes about 120 small or 80 medium pelmeni
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 medium yellow onions, diced
8 oz button mushrooms, scrubbed and thinly sliced
2 large russet potato, boiled, peeled and diced
1 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
1 large egg, beaten
3 cups all purpose flour plus 1/2 cup extra for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup lukewarm water
3-4 tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes or balled with a melon baller
Chopped fresh dill leaves
Make the filling
In a large heavy-bottom pan or Dutch oven, sauté onion in 1 1/2 tablespoons butter until evenly browned and fragrant. Do this on medium low heat for maximum flavor. Transfer browned onions to a bowl and set aside.
Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons butter to the same pan and sauté the mushrooms until cooked through and well browned all over.
Meanwhile, place the boiled and diced potatoes in a medium bowl and roughly mash with a fork. Add half the browned onions and all the sautéed mushrooms to the potatoes, along with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings. Mash to make sure there are no big chunks of potatoes or mushrooms that could tear through the dough.
Add the beaten egg and mix well. Filling can be left at room temperature for a few hours if using immediately, or in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. If freezing, its best to do so before adding the egg, but is not recommended as defrosting may make it watery.
Make the dough
In a stand mixer work bowl fitted with the beater attachment, add the flour and salt and mix well on Stir (or the lowest) setting for 30 seconds. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for a few seconds at a slow-medium speed after each addition, until mixed well.
Wipe down the beater attachment and replace it with a dough hook, and add water. Using a dough hook, process the dough for a 3-4 minutes until it comes together into a tight ball, leaving the walls of the work bowl.
If not using stand mixer, then mix everything using a wooden spoon, following the same steps, with some elbow grease!
Dough should be soft to the touch, pillowy and not sticky. Form a disc and keep the dough covered.
Form the pelmeni
Divide dough into 4 equal parts (each part, when rolled into a ball, should be the size of a tennis ball). Keep 3 parts covered in a cloth kitchen towel.
Roll out 1 part of the dough on a very well-dusted surface into roughly a 12 inch circle. Keep moving the dough around so that it doesn’t stick. Roll out the 2nd ball as well in a similar manner.
If using a pelmeni maker
Dust the pelmeni maker (hexagonal side up) generously with all purpose flour. Place the rolled out dough on the mold. Place a small (about 1/2 teaspoon) ball of filling (room temperature) on the dough into each cavity. Place the 2nd sheet of dough gently on top of the first and make sure it completely covers the mold.
Roll a heavy rolling pin over the 2nd sheet of dough and press down as you go; the hexagonal edges of the mold will start to show. Press down so that all the edges are clearly visible.
Remove excess dough from both sheets and flip the mold over, then press down each dumpling out of the mold. They should slide out easily. If you’ve overfilled them or if the dough is too lax or soft, you may have to push some of them out, but don’t fret, they will cook just fine. Check to make sure there are no openings in the dumplings; if you see any, close them shut so that they don’t open up when boiling.
Repeat steps with the remaining dough.
If not using pelmeni maker, that is, if shaping by hand
Using a biscuit cutter or glass, cut out 2 to 3 inch circles of dough. Place the filling (you can use a teaspoonful or more, depending on the size of the circle) in the center, and close the dumpling by folding over along the circumference, to make a semicircle or crescent shape. Make sure the dumpling is tightly shut.
You can leave the dumpling like this, or pinch the opposite ends of the crescent together to form a hat-like shape as shown above. These dumplings are meant to be rustic, unlike the Wontons or which are a lot more exacting, so feel free to leave them be!
Store or freeze pelmeni
Place formed dumplings on a well-dusted sheet pan. These can be frozen at this stage or cooked immediately. To freeze, make sure the dumplings are on a well dusted surface and not touching. Once frozen the dumplings can be transferred to an airtight container or zip top bag.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and drop the pelmeni 5-6 at a time and cook. The smaller pelmeni (made using the mold) usually take just 1-2 minutes; frozen make take an additional 1-2 minutes. The larger hand shaped pelmeni take 3 minutes or so (4-5 minutes for frozen). Either way, all pelmeni are ready when they float to the top of the pot and stay there.
Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer cooked pelmeni to a warm, shallow bowl. Serve with a knob of good, salted butter and chopped dill, and eat immediately!