I often get asked by my friends to make Pierogi for them while we are at school. My usual response is to tell them to visit their local grocer and pick up a package of the Polish variety of such dumplings, which are readily available most places in the US. Pelmeni, on the other hand, can be hard to find commercially in locations without large Russian immigrant populations, and making them from scratch in quantity can be a pain. It is a process best suited for industrial manufacturing where large sheets of dough can be rolled out continuously and the shell patterns stamped out. I remember my family preparing them from scratch only once when I was little, and I remember it consuming most of the day.
Now the problem with terminology stems from the fact that this variety of dumplings are prepared in a vast region of Eastern Europe, Near East, and Asia. Each region tends to have its own spin on the dish and the fillings, dough, size, and shape tend to vary from place to place. In Russia, the term Pelemni refers to dumplings made exclusively with meat as their filling. They can either be found with pork, beef, or if they’re of the “Siberian” variety it will be a mix of pork, beef, and lamb. They are generally the smallest of the dumpling species, the dough is the thinnest, and the meat filling is not pre-cooked. They can be stored frozen for prolonged periods of time, and are extremely easy to prepare.
- Boil water – add salt
- Drop the Pelmeni in
- Once they float to the top, lower heat a little to prevent boil over
- Cook for an additional 5 minutes and fish them out with a slotted spoon
- Serve hot with a little vinegar, butter, or sour cream
Alternatively, pelmeni can be fried quickly on a little vegetable oil in a pan. Key is to keep them moving to prevent the dough from burning and using a lid to make sure the meat is cooked through. These can too be served with vinegar and sour cream, though my favorite in the past few years has been to eat them with a little Louisiana or Tabasco hot sauce.
I want to clarify something else. What I have described are Pelmeni as they are eaten in Russia and a few other former Soviet states. There are regions that use the term Pelmeni to also describe dumplings with mushroom, potato, and cabbage fillings. In Russia, all such dumplings, including the Polish Pierogi, containing anything else but meat, are called “vareniki.” Most often than not, it is a term used to describe dumplings with jam or berry fillings, but also mushrooms and potatoes. They tend to be larger in size and use thicker dough. Something else more importantly, the term Pierogi in Russian actually refers to an entirely different dish and if you ask a native for Pierogi, they might not understand what you’re asking for.