Our first real EAT THE WORLD adventure! When our random co-ordinates picker dropped its pin onto the largest country in the world, my first thought was "What do they even eat there?" I had no idea about Russian cuisine other than a vague recollection that cabbage was a main feature. After googling, I started to worry about our second country. The Russian staple food is pelmeni - a type of beef and pork dumpling, often prepared in their hundreds. It is cooked in every home and restaurant across the massive country, and I quickly discovered that there is often a fiery debate about the best way to make, cook and serve them!
Needless to say I began to get very nervous about this dish, and repeatedly asked the Traveling Ninja if we shouldn't pick something else. Of course when he found out that the dish was actually dumplings, there was no way he was going to pick another country. I recently introduced him to pork gyoza at one of our favorite sushi restaurants, and now he is obsessed with dumplings. I love them too, don't get me wrong! But I didn't want to sit and make a hundred of them! And potentially 100 terrible pelmeni.
HISTORY OF PELMENI
The word 'pelmeni' comes from the word pel'nyan' which literally means "ear bread" in the native Finno-Ugric Komi and Mansi languages. It is usually filled with a combination of meats, such as ground beef and pork. Hunters and travelers preferred this dish, as it was relatively easy to prepare and cook when they took long trips in the Winter. Often, these dumplings were made en-masse and then frozen (usually outdoors!) and preserved through the winter. Because they can be kept frozen for a long period of time, and are easy to cook, they are a standard feature in Russian cuisine. It has a pretty interesting history given that it is made to last long and brutal Russian Winters! I find that quite fascinating!
The correct way to serve Pelmeni is also hotly debated. Families have their own recipes, and serving suggestions, and friends fight amongst each other on what is the best way to serve pelmeni. With so many options and differences of opinions I was a bit overwhelmed! It seems however, that most people serve pelmeni with either butter, sour cream, vinegar or tomato sauce. The Traveling Ninja rolls his eyes and says "KETCHUP" - what do they call it in Russia, I wonder? The ground beef and ground pork combination also seemed to be the most common form of the pelmeni.
So it was with much trepidation that I armed myself with the various equipment I needed to make these pelmeni. I had visions of the dough being awful (I've never made my own dough before) and was worried the meat would fall out of the dumpling before it could even cook! During one of my frets, I happened to find a Russian and International Food Market listing online, around the corner from the Traveling Ninja's apartment. I dragged him along to investigate. We found an entire freezer full of frozen, prepared pelmeni! I was sorely tempted to pick up one of these bags and be done with it. But, we both knew that this was not an option - we needed to make this ourselves! We reasoned if our attempts were a disaster we could also re-do the recipe the following weekend and pick up a bag of these instead. I did locate some pre-made dough though, and we decided to go with this to save ourselves hard work and my anxiety!
RECIPE FOR RUSSIAN PELMENI
I ended up doing a hodge-podge of a variety of recipes. There were just SO many different recipes and versions of pelmeni, that I ended up kind of gleaning what I thought seemed to be the most common versions from a variety of sources. We also halved the recipes because there was no way I was going to attempt to make 500 pelmeni for the first time! I'm not even sure how many we ended up with to be honest! I also don't have a recipe for the dough as we bought our own little pre-made circular dough sheets. These are what I assume you would make with won-tons - yep, we took the easy way out! Sorry, not sorry!
- 1/4 lb ground beef
- 1/4 lb ground pork
- half an onion (pureed in a food processor)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup beef stock
- sour cream (serving)
- butter (serving)
- vinegar (serving)
- Combine and mix meat and pork, pureed onion, salt, beef stock and pepper.
- Put small balls (about half a tablespoon) of meat onto each circular dough sheet.
- Fold one half of the circle over the meet, pick the circle up and using your thumb and index finger, press the edges together. This way didn't really work well for us, and The Traveling Ninja ended up using a spoon to "crimp" them together. This might not be the most authentic way to do it, but do whatever you need to to ensure the meat doesn't fall out! You are also supposed to twist the ends together.... we could not get this to work at all!
- When you are ready to cook the pelmeni, bring 4 cups of water to boil. Drop the pelmeni in the water and let them cook for 6-8 minutes. When they are ready they will rise to the surface. We recommend dropping only a few in the first time and see what works best for you.
- Serve with either butter, sour cream or vinegar.
EAT THE WORLD: RUSSIA VERDICT
These little guys were certainly interesting to make! I am very glad that the Traveling Ninja was around to help - I am fast learning that he is actually an AMAZING cook, and is pretty good in the kitchen! If he hadn't have done so good with all the "crimping", we may have ended up at McDonalds for dinner (ew). It pays to have help - just like all the recipes said. Apart from needing to make dough and getting the pelmeni in the right shapes, this recipe is pretty easy and low key. What's great is that you can make a whole bunch of them, cook what you want, and then just freeze the rest. The Traveling Ninja had them for lunch the following day.
RUSSIAN MOVIE PAIRING: LEVIATHAN
We selected Leviathan as our Russian movie of the evening. I had my heart set on Anna Karenina, either the old or new version. We started watching the new movie and I just didn't enjoy it. Luckily we had started this in the afternoon, before making the pelmeni. The Traveling Ninja located Leviathan and as it had won many awards this year, he was super excited to watch it.
Leviathan is set in a fictional town in Russia, where a mechanic is fighting the mayor of the town. The mayor is attempting to take the land upon which the mechanic has lived his whole life, and built his house on. It follows his story, as well as his second-wife and son. It is in Russian, so we watched the English subtitles. The movie is completely captivating, and quite intense - so it's not one of those light and fluffy films. We can understand why it won so many awards now! Definitely worth the watch!
The Traveling Ginger Verdict RATING: 6/10
I feel like its hard to be fair on this one. After taking photos of my food, I was dousing it in some vinegar. The vinegar then opted to pop out its little safety pouring mechanism and release half of it's contents onto my food. Now I like vinegar.... But not that much! I feel like this may have ruined my meal a little bit! I should have just stolen some of the TN's portion really. It was still really yummy, but I'm not sure I would eat it on a regular basis. I think it is best paired with the butter, not the sour cream or vinegar.
The Traveling Ninja Verdict RATING 7.1/10
A meal so delectable; I'm "Russian" to get another one!
That is a DIRECT quote by the way!
Have you been to Russia? Is it on your bucket list? Have you eaten any Russian food before? Let us know what you think in the comments below!