Last weekend I asked my husband and son to help me prepare a Russian dish for dinner. After I told them that the process was going to take about four hours, the genuine desire to help they might have had up to that point went right out the window. Nevertheless, I persevered; I proceeded to explain that the upside of such a lengthy process is the fact that you end up with enough food for 4 meals. I also added a few beers to the experience, let my son have his favorite snacks and before you know it, the lengthiest dinner in the history of the Banks family was complete!
The experience of making пельмени (pel’meni) and вареники (vareniki), stand by for description, brought back a flood of memories from my childhood. I too used to be subjected to the pelemeni/vareniki making experience with my grandparents and other relatives. Generally, if you are going to make this type of pasta, you make enough to cover at least 2 meals, preferably 3 to 4. It is a long, tedious process, but with the right ingredients, such as positive attitude and patience, it sure pays off
When it comes to Russian pasta dishes, there are five that immediately come to mind: пельмени, вареники, манты, лапша, and клёцки . To say that these dishes are authentically Russian is simply a bad idea. It definitely seems that many countries have similar versions of certain pasta dishes; in many cases, it has become pretty challenging to discern where a particular dish originated and who borrowed it from who. For that reason we will focus on look and taste rather than origin.
1. Пельмени (pel‘meni) – if I had to describe pel’meni to an American person, I would say pot stickers would bear the closest resemblance. In many cases they are both shaped the same and stuffed with ground meat. Traditionally pelemeni are filled with ground beef/pork/sometimes lamb mix and boiled in salted water, some people prefer to pan fry them after. Pelemeni is served with sour cream, mayo, horseradish sauce, occasionally with broth that they were cooked in. The great thing about pelemeni is that they freeze well. You can make a bunch in one sitting and split them up in multiple meals.
2. Вареники (vareniki) – most people agree that vareniki came to Russia from Ukraine. It seems as though Ukraine, in turn, borrowed the dish from Turkish lands and after a few minor adjustments, made it their own. The only difference between pel’meni and vareniki is that pel’meni are made with meat filling and vareniki are dumplings with any filling other than meat. Vareniki are essentially the same as Polish pierogi, with the exception of the fact that they come with more filling variations: potato, cabbage, onion, mushroom, berries, etc. Preparation and serving methods are essentially the same as pel’meni; berry filled vareniki, however, are often served with sugar.
3. Лапша (lapsha) or homemade noodles hardly need any explanation. My grandma never had a pasta maker and always cut her noodles with a knife. Delicious is all I can say :-).
4. Манты (manty) is another pasta dish that came to Russia from Central Asia. It is typically filled with finely chopped lamb, onion, and fat, it is then cooked in a multilayered steamer (big pot with 3-4 perforated layers that rest on top of each other). Despite what Wikipedia says, boiling manty is not the right way to cook them. Manty is a very hearty, fatty dish. One should not drink any cold water while eating manty to avoid hardening of the fat; if you prefer to wash down your food, follow it with something hot.
5. Клёцки (kletski) is something my family used to make once we ran out of the filling for pel’meni or vareniki. It is essentially the same dough (water, flour, egg, salt) minus the filling. You shape the dough into small to medium balls or lumps and then add them to soups or just boil them plain. Either way, they are super easy to make. The closest comparison available in your local supermarket would be gnocchi :-).
If you are planning a trip to Russia any time soon, this post might make the task of sorting through the menus a little less intimidating. As for my family’s experiment with pel’meni and vareniki, they may not have turned out as pretty as they can be, but we surely made enough of this deliciousness to last us at least four meals.
P.S. Apparently, you can also buy most of these items in bulk, quality not guaranteed :-).