Making Cheese Vareniki and Meat Pelmeni (Russian Dumplings)

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When twitter friend Sabrina saw my plea for authentic recipes for Russian pelmeni she kindly offered to loan me her copy of a charming Russian cookery book called Please To The Table. Written by Anya Von Bremzen and John Welchman, the book includes 400 recipes from the former Soviet Union, “from the Baltics to Uzbekistan”.

PleaseToTheTable-Cover

Why the urge to make dumplings?

Because Pete and I had happily decided upon a voddie and dumplings evening with our good friends, Stephen and Chaundra. As part of her undergraduate studies Chaundra spent a happy six months living in St Petersburg and has been back again since then. Both she and Stephen are big fans of vodka and dumplings!

Chaundra took on the role of vodka master and Pete “volunteered” to make the dumplings. I’ll be posting the results of our blind vodka tasting in a later post, but for now here are the dumplings!

Both the cheese-filled vareniki and the meat pelmeni came out rather well indeed. We ate them with copious amounts of sour cream and hearty Russian salads. And vodka!

Vareniki excerpt
happiness is plenty of vareniki

Cheese Vareniki

Vareniki are dumplings made of a simple pasta dough, which in Please to the Table, is called a noodle dough. They can be filled with almost anything including cheese, fruit and vegetables.

We didn’t count how many dumplings Pete made but the dough and filling recipes state that these amounts should make 50 to 55 vareniki.

Ingredients

1 large egg white, lightly beaten
For the dough
2 cups plain flour, plus extra for rolling
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
7-8 tablespoons water
salt
For the filling
2 cups farmer’s cheese (see note, below)
1 large egg yolk
salt to taste (see note, below)

Note: A quick Google revealed that farmer’s cheese is a very simple, young and unripened curd cheese – it is like a firmer version of cottage cheese, with more of the liquids pressed out of it. We found a Devonshire-made soft curd cheese from Langage Farm that was perfect.

Note: for a sweet cheese filling, omit the salt and add 3 tablespoons sugar.

Method

  • To make the filling, simply combine the filling ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  • To make the dough: in a food processor blend the flour and salt, and with the motor running, add the egg yolks and oil through the feed tube, and then the water, in a slow steady stream until the dough forms a ball around the blade.
  • Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead until smooth, about 2 minutes. Then cover with a linen or cotton cloth and let stand for 30 minutes.
  • Divide the dough in half and shape into two balls. Keep one ball covered with the towel whilst working the other.

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  • On a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to a very thin sheet, about 1/16 inch thick, making sure it doesn’t tear. With a round cookie cutter, cut out circles about 3 inches in diameter. Gather the scraps into a ball and set aside, covered.

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  • Have a bowl with the egg white by you. Place a heaped teaspoon of the filling in the middle of each circle. Brush the edges with the egg white. Fold the dough over the filling to form a semi-circle and press the edges firmly together with the tines of a fork to seal. Place the vareniki as they are made onto a lightly floured baking sheet, about an inch apart and keep covered with a damp cloth.
  • When you have finished the first batch, roll out the second ball and make a second batch. Add the leftover scraps of dough to the scraps from the first batch, knead into a ball and roll out for a final batch of vareniki.
  • We made the dumplings at home and then transported them to our friends’ house where we cooked and served them.
  • In a large pot, bring lightly salted water to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium, so that the water simmers, and carefully lower a batch of vareniki into the water. (We cooked in batches of 8 as this is how many fitted comfortably inside our largest pan).
  • Boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking. When they rise to the surface, they are cooked through, in 6-7 minutes.
  • With a slotted spoon, carefully remove the vareniki to a colander, drain them thoroughly and serve, hot.

Note: The recipe suggests tossing the cooked vareniki in 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter before serving, which we omitted.

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(Meat) Pelmeni

Unlike vareniki which seem to be made with a wide range of fillings, pelmeni are most commonly filled with meat. Traditionally, they are made by the hundreds and stored outside (where the temperatures are below freezing) throughout the long Siberian winters.

Some Russians like to brag about how many they can eat in a single sitting!

Pelmeni can be served in beef or chicken broth or fried in butter. Traditional accompaniments are sour cream and white vinegar.

We didn’t count how many dumplings Pete made but the dough and filling recipes state that these amounts should make approximately 100. Pete halved the recipe amounts below.

Ingredients

1 large egg white, lightly beaten
Salt, to taste, for cooking the pelmeni
For the dough
3 cups sifted unbleached plain flour
1 scant teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 cup cold water
For the filling
3/4 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
2 medium-size onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup crushed ice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Method

  • To make the filling, simply combine the filling ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  • To make the dough: in a food processor blend the flour and salt, and with the motor running, add the egg through the feed tube, and then the water, in a slow steady stream until the dough forms a ball around the blade.
  • Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead until smooth, about 2 minutes. Then cover with a linen or cotton cloth and let stand for 30 minutes.
  • Divide the dough in half and shape into two balls. Keep one ball covered with the towel whilst working the other.

Pelmeni-6758 Pelmeni-6760

  • On a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to a very thin sheet, about 1/16 inch thick, making sure it doesn’t tear. With a round cookie cutter, cut out circles about 2 inches in diameter. Gather the scraps into a ball and set aside, covered.

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  • Have a bowl with the egg white by you. Place a scant teaspoon of the filling in the middle of each circle. Brush the edges with the egg white.

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  • The original recipe suggests folding the dough over the filling to form a semi-circle, as for the vareniki, however as you can see from the photos, Pete opted not to fold the circles but instead topped them with a second circle of dough, and pressed the edges firmly together with the tines of a fork to seal. This shape better matches the wonderful pelmeni we’ve enjoyed at Bob Bob Ricard over the last couple of years.
  • The original instructions suggest making one dumpling and cooking it in boiling water, to check for seasoning, before going on to make the rest, but Pete didn’t bother with this.
  • Place the pelmeni as they are made onto a lightly floured baking sheet, about an inch apart.
  • At this point, pelmeni are usually frozen. To freeze, cover the baking sheet with aluminium foil or plastic wrap and place in the freezer until they are completely frozen and then transfer the pelmeni to a plastic bag or box.
  • To cook: in a large pot, bring lightly salted water to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium, so that the water simmers, and carefully lower a batch of pelmeni into the water. (We cooked in batches of 8 as this is how many fitted comfortably inside our largest pan).
  • Boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking. When they rise to the surface, they are cooked through, in about 8 minutes.
  • With a slotted spoon, carefully remove the pelmeni to a colander, drain them thoroughly and serve, hot.

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Note: We served them straight away, with lots of sour cream and a little white vinegar. However, the recipe suggests tossing the cooked pelmeni in 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter before serving. It is also traditional to fry them in butter after they’ve been boiled, which Stephen and Chaundra did with the leftovers, the next day.


Please to the Table is no longer in print, but second hand copies can be found in the Amazon marketplace.

Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!
12 Comments to "Making Cheese Vareniki and Meat Pelmeni (Russian Dumplings)"

  1. celia

    A Voddie and Dumplings night? Bugger me if that doesn't sound like the perfect way to spend an evening with friends. It would even top the Champers and Bhajis we had here last night. 🙂

    Your Pete has a deft touch with a rolling pin – the pastry looks absolutely perfect! Bookmarking this one, thanks Kavey!

  2. Nicola

    Inspiring! I'm half Polish, and have always wanted to make pierogi. I imagine I can pretend these are they…? Will definitely give them a try. They look super.

  3. The Grubworm

    These do look tasty – i wonder if the tinned mild sheeps cheese you get in turkish grocers would make for a good filling?

    I love dumplings of all sorts so this should be right up my street. If only I can get that pastry right.

  4. miss south

    These look like the next step up from my pierogi for sure. Much neater too. Can I borrow Pete?

    I cannot get enough dumplings in my life. I'm bookmarking this for sure!

Comments are closed.