Russian Language Blog

How to Make the Best Pelmeni Posted by on Feb 8, 2011 in Culture

Do you know that 95% of Russian households have at least one pack of «пельмени» [pel’meni – dumplings] in their freezers?  Ok, I just totally made it up.

But I can’t be too far off since, according to «статья в Российской газете» [an article in the Rossiyskaya newspaper] an average «россиянин» [citizen of the Russian Federation] buys and consumes 3.98 lbs of «пельмени». This includes «младенцы, вегетарианцы и жители сельских районов, традиционно употребляющие только пельмени домашнего изготовления» [infants, vegetarians and village residents who, traditionally, consume only home-made pelmeni].

An average Russian family buys at least a pack of pelmeni «раз в месяц» [once a month]. But the heaviest «едоки пельменей» [pelmeni eaters] – «пенсионеры, проживающие в больших городах» [retired people living in large cities] and «студенты» [college students] – buy 5-6 times as many.

But I’m not here to talk about «состояние российского рынка пельменей» [the status of the Russian pelmeni market]. I’m quoting all this «статистика» [statistics] in hope of persuading you that, in order to further your understanding of «загадочная русская душа» [the mysterious Russian soul], you must try at least one «пельмень» [a singular form of pelmeni].

But don’t you be running to your nearest Russian store! Unless, of course, your nearest store sales fresh «домашние пельмени», meaning their pelmeni are hand-made. It’s not that I’m against workplace automation. It’s just that it’s a long way from one of Russia’s 500 «производители пельменей» [pelmeni producers] to your store. What I’m trying to say is what you pick up in the freezer at your local «русский магазин» [Russian store] is by no means fresh. Good in a pinch, but not the real thing.

Instead, try making your own pelmeni. It’s not hard at all, just kind of «нудно» [tedious]. But there’s simply no point in setting out to make pelmeni if you are not making at least «сотня» [a hundred] of them. So turn on some music or call friends over for a pelmeni-making party and let’s roll!

The recipe my mother has followed for years (and that never fails) calls for the following ingredients:

«Для теста» [for the dough]

  • «3 стакана муки» [3 cups of flour]
  • «1 стакан холодной воды» [1 cup of cold water]
  • «1,5 яйца» [an egg and a half] – I have no idea how to measure an egg and a half, so I just take one large egg.
  • «1 неполная столовая ложка соли» [1 scan tablespoon of salt] – I just eyeball it.

«Для начинки» [for the filling]

  • «500 г. мяса» [500 grams or meat] – you can use beef, mutton or pork or a combination of beef and pork.
  •  «1 луковица» [1 onion]
  • «соль и перец по вкусу» [salt and pepper to taste]

Here’s what to do:

Combine dough ingredients in a bowl and mix until the dough is «однородное» [of uniform consistency]. Then cover with a towel and let rest for about half an hour.

While the dough is resting, mix the filling. Grind beef in «мясорубка» [meat grinder] with an onion. If you don’t have a meat grinder buy ground beef or whatever meat you’re using and grate the onion on «мелкая тёрка» [fine grater]. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Next get the dough and «раскатать в тонкий пласт» [roll it into a thin sheet]. Thin is «относительное понятие» [a relative term]. Russian recipes rarely tell you how thin to roll pelmeni dough, but some specify «тонко-тонко» [very thin].

Note: this is a very useful construction, especially in «разговорная речь» [colloquial speech] – repeating an adjective or an adverb twice to emphasize it, as in «быстро-быстро» [very fast], «сладкий-сладкий» [very sweet], «тёмная-тёмная» [very dark], etc.

I don’t believe in “very thin”. As a great Russian saying goes, «где тонко, там и рвётся», meaning literally “(the cloth) gets torn where it’s thinnest”. It’s the Russian equivalent of “the chain is only as strong as its weakest link”.

All this is to say that I personally don’t roll my dough “thin-thin”. I do use a small «стакан» [glass] to cut out the rounds of dough. But don’t cut too many «сразу» [at once] or they’ll dry out. Take the remnants of the dough, roll into a ball, then roll into a thin sheet and repeat (I promised you – tedious).

As to the size of the pelmeni… The size does matter – «чем меньше, тем лучше» [the smaller, the better]. Now put small portions of filling in the middle of each round and pinch the edges close.

Cover the finished pelmeni with a towel while working on the rest of the dough. If you are following my advice and making a few hundreds of them, start freezing them.

Finally, cook fresh pelmeni «в кипящей подсоленной воде» [in boiling salted water] for 5-7 minutes. I also love adding some bay leaves and a few whole peppercorns to the water. The pot must be big enough so all the pelmeni float and non stick together.

Just as you are about to «упасть в обморок» [pass out] from the mouth-watering smell, your pelmeni are ready. Serve them in their broth with some chopped «укроп» [dill] and «сметана» [sour cream]. Or drain and serve with «сметана» or a mix of broth and «уксус» [vinegar] or «сливочное масло» [butter] or «кетчуп» [ketchup] or «аджика» [adjika sauce] or other sauces (I’d stay away from BBQ sauce, but that’s my personal preference). «Приятного аппетита!» [Bon appetite!]

Have you tried making pelmeni? How many did you make? How long did they last? Share your pelmeni cooking or eating tips here or on our Facebook page.

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  1. Arkadiy B:

    a couple of observations and suggestions:
    -add a tiny bit of oil to the boiling water to make pelmeni non-stick…just like with other pasta products
    -i love eating pelmeni ‘mexican’ 🙂 style with salsa and sour cream
    -if you are too lazy to make your own dough, the frozen Chinese dumpling sheets in any supermarket would do for a great cheap substitution

    oh, and I hope you saved some for me, when you were making hundreds of them!!!

    “and that is all i have to say about pelmeni” – Forrest Gump

    • yelena:

      @Arkadiy B Arkadiy, no more pelmeni in our freezer. We’ve made about 150 or so and froze most, but alas they were gone in 2 weeks. You should come by more often, lol. But if you decide to make the drive, we’ll make some fresh pelmeni just for you (and get a jar of salsa).

  2. Elizavyeta:

    There are also pelmeni molds available that look like little honeycombs. They make the work go by much more quickly and yield great results everytime.

    Basically you lay the dough over the top, place the filling in each of the holes and another thin sheet of dough over the top. Then you use a rolling pin to pop them out.

    I had to import mine but if you’re serious about making pelmeni, it’s a very handy tool! I can do about 9 dozen pelmeni in an hour.

    • yelena:

      @Elizavyeta Elizavyeta, thanks for the reminder! A friend of mine has the mold and swears by it. Next time I go to Brighton Beach, I’ll look for the mold. I hope they make ones for the really tiny pelmeni (I never have enough patience to make those).

  3. Jaio:

    Good article about pelmeni. No italians here to say that pelmeni are looking like tortellini and that russian fredges are looking inside like italians?
    No chinese people to say that this specialities are probably coming from China?
    No one frenche to say, like usually, that french do it better?
    No belgians to say that french cuisine is the best in the world if it is made in Belgium?:-)
    No turkish to say that this is a turkish speciality?
    In any case, it was nice to know what many people doesn’t know:-)

  4. Jaio:

    Maybe something to add about the recepy: The potatoes. Many russians pelmeny are made with a pasta made with potatoes which are not bad if mixed with some flour.
    Another point to join is about the sweet pelmeny which I think are called varenky or something like that and are looking like the cjarsons of the north Friuli.

    • yelena:

      @Jaio Jaio, great that you mentioned vareniki as I LOVE them. I even wrote a post about cherry vareniki a while ago.

  5. Liz:

    Супер вкустно, огромное спасибо!!

    • yelena:

      @Liz Здорово, что получилось. Я вот на выходные опять собираюсь налепить пару сотен. Ням-ням!

  6. Bob:

    Wow these look really good I’ll have to somehow convince my Russian friends to make this for me! I’m trying to learn a bit of Russian and the Eton Institute Russian phrasebook has been a great help so far.

    Great blog!

  7. lkalyuzhnyy:

    thank you!! just like my mom and grandma make them. i moved and with no russian store around, i had to make them on my own.

    • yelena:

      @lkalyuzhnyy As much as I crave pelmeni, I never make them myself. It’s just too much work for me. I only make them with friends or with my Mom.

  8. Anastasia:

    Awsome, as usual! I’m russian and I watched my mom make these forever. I moved a couple of years ago and started to perfect them to the perfect taste (which I love!!) YOUR dough recipe is VERY accurate, I don’t see how one can mess it up – unless you had a couple of shots of vodka before LOL :)Also, for the filling, I grind the onion and garlic and add some fresh grinded salt and pepper. When it’s done cooking, I make myself a bowl of broth and pelmeni and I add a bit of butter and sour cream and chopped green shallots and parsley. I think my fiance asked me to marry him just so I can this for him once a month for him. AGAIN great recipe!! 🙂

    • yelena:

      @Anastasia Thank you, Anastasia! I do not make pelmeni all that often. But when I do, that’s exactly how I like to eat them – in a broth with some sour cream and chopped herbs!

  9. Anna:

    Prikolnij recept v plani teksta, na vkus jesho neprobovala 🙂

  10. Mike Dubin:

    These are a pain to make!! I can never seem to get the dough thin enough and then it take very chewey. I will try this version of the recipe and see if it makes a difference. I will also see if I can get my hands on a pelmini maker as described in an earlier post. I actually have a Russian grocery here in Houston (Golden Grain) that carries frozen pelmini (homemade and commercially made) but I crave them all the time. I just dread making them!

    As far as how I prepare them:

    1 box beef stock (not broth)
    1 box chicken stock (not broth)
    1/2 cup water

    Bring to a boil and add:
    Pinch of onion powder
    Pinch of garlic powder
    Pinch of red pepper flakes

    Add frozen or fresh pelmini and cook until ready

    Add chopped scallion, prepared hot mustard or Chinese dumpling sauce to the boil when served. And, of course, a glass of Vodka!

    • yelena:

      @Mike Dubin Mike, good luck with the recipe. Yep, pelmeni are a pain to make – lots of work to make them just right and when you do, they are so delicious, that they just don’t last. I gotta tell you, your recipe of the “broth” sounds soooo good, especially the part about adding hot mustard. Makes me want pelmeni!

  11. Rob:

    If you’re making pelmeni for the first time — and especially if you have no prior experience with homemade dumplings or ravioli — I would strongly recommend buying commercially-made, frozen Chinese wonton wrappers for your first experiment. (In the States, you can get these at most large supermarkets — no need to go to a speciality Asian grocery.)

    By using the pre-rolled, pre-cut wonton wrappers, you can skip the hassle with the dough and instead concentrate on perfecting your filling recipe and practicing the shaping/rolling method.

    After you’ve experimented with a couple batches of the wonton-pelmeni, however, it’s certainly well worth the effort to make the dough from scratch!

    P.S. If you happen to have one of those special rollers/presses for homemade ravioli, that might also be worth trying. As with wonton wrappers, the results won’t be totally authentic, but it can simplify things for “pelmeni novices.”

  12. Rob:

    I often make the filling for my pelmeni using some stale bread crumbs and a beaten egg in addition to the mix of ground meats — in other words, as one would do when making Russian котлеты or American meatloaf.

    “Stretching” the meat with bread changes the texture of the filling (it’s nearer to a meatball than a hamburger), but honestly I think it’s closer to the pelmeni that I remember eating all the time in Moscow.

    • yelena:

      @Rob Rob, if you post your bread crumbs and egg pelmeni version to one of the Russian cooking forums, you might just get banned from it 🙂 It’s funny that most of these “traditional” dishes, like pelmeni, do not have set recipes, but vary from region to region and from family to family. So there are hundreds of versions of recipes and many lead to heated discussions on cooking sites.

  13. Ryan:

    In our family we always add some tea to the meat mixture, I don’t know why but it always tastes better.

    • yelena:

      @Ryan I’ve never tried adding tea. Sounds interesting and I wonder how does that change the taste. Do you mean you add loose tea leaves or a bit of the brewed tea? And what kind of tea?

  14. Sasha:

    My Russian born dad would always say that the ONLY proper way to eat pelmeni is to put a little mustard on a plate and mix it with a few drops of vinegar and then dab the pelmen in it. Prijatnogo apetita!

  15. Sasha:

    The real Siberian way to roll the dough for pelmeni is to pinch or cut of about half a cup of dough, roll it into a roll about 2/3 of an inch thick, while pinching this roll slightly on the sides, cut it into 2/3 of inch long pieces – “pillow” “podushechki”, then roll each one into a 3-4 cm circle of thin, thin dough.
    Never has my Siberian born and raised grandmother cut out circles out of stretched or rolled dough at once. This is a faster and more efficient way to do it, once you got your skill perfected, which means making about a thousand pelmeni. And while you are learning this exiting authentic way to roll the dough for pelmeni, your family will thank you for the results of your effort, however lopsided and funky looking they come out to be at first.

  16. Alicia:

    The pelmeni are fantastic! My husband and I enjoy making different foods from other cultures frequently. For his past birthday he asked for pelmeni, medovik, and Okroshka. Talk about being in the kitchen all day, but it was certainly worth it!