Pelmeni

When asked if I have a favorite food, I usually blank. There’s so much delicious food in the world, and I’m so fickle: How can I possibly choose a single favorite food? And then I made pelmeni from scratch. And when I was describing them to a friend, I realized that they are, indeed, my all-time favorite food. Any time, any place, they are the perfect comfort food, beacons of sustenance and home. I’ve never realized that they are my favorite food because they are such a staple of growing up in a Russian-speaking household: always stocked in our freezer by the 100-count, always ready when we needed a quick meal, always soul-satisfyingly delicious.

Pelmeni are Russian meat dumplings. They can be filled with any combination of meats: beef, pork, lamb, veal, chicken. They are boiled, and can be served various ways: in chicken soup (similar to tortellini en brodo) or on their own tossed in sour cream. The way I grew up eating pelmeni — the only legitimate way, in my view — was tossed in butter, white distilled vinegar, and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper. I didn’t even know that other people ate pelmeni with sour cream until I was an adult. For me, sour cream was strictly reserved for vareniki (what most Americans know as pierogi). The addition of cayenne pepper, however, might be distinctly my father’s invention (thanks, Dad!).

I was too impatient to call up relatives for their pelmeni recipes (my mom has always bought them from Russian food stores in Brighton Beach. Side Note: Cafe Glechik on Coney Island Avenue probably has the best pelmeni and vareniki in the tri-state area). I had to know how to make them right away, so I did a Google search and came up with the recipe below based on an amalgam of dozens of recipes I found online.

The process is time consuming and a bit labor intensive. Instead of rolling out the dough, however, I made use of my pasta machine. Ironically, this is the first time I’ve used this machine, despite having owned it for over a year. One of the perks of making your own pelmeni is total control over the ingredients. This means, I used all pasture-raised eggs and meats for the dough and filling. I made a special trip to the Union Square Greenmarket to pick up pork from Flying Pigs Farm and beef from Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse. Some traditionalists will say that the filling for these dumplings ought to be only ground meat and onions. I firmly believe that garlic makes everything better, and so I added it. My pelmeni, my rules! So, without further ado…

PELMENI (пельме́ни)
Makes about 100 dumplings

Ingredients
Filling:
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion (6-8 oz.), finely chopped in a food processor or grated on a box grater
2 large garlic cloves, grated on a microplane grater
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dough:
3 cups all-purpose white flour
2-3 fat pinches kosher salt
2 eggs
cold water (up to 1/2 cup)

Procedure

Start by mixing up all the filling ingredients in a large bowl.  Season the mixture generously with salt and pepper. I used a KitchenAid on low with the paddle attachment to give the filling a quick and thorough mix. You can definitely do it by hand. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

I found that mixing the dough in a food processor was the easiest way. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Give it a quick pulse to combine. Add the eggs and pulse a few times to incorporate. Now, with the processor running, slowly stream in water until the dough just comes together. Don’t overwork the dough. Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead until smooth (about 5 minutes). Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate to let dough rest, at least one hour.

To make dough by hand: Whisk together flour and salt in a bowl, then mound the flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the middle of the flour, add the eggs. Using a fork, beat together the eggs and begin to incorporate the flour starting with the inner rim of the well. Gradually add the water as you mix the dough with your hands. As you incorporate the eggs, keep pushing the flour up to retain the well shape (do not worry if it looks messy). The dough will come together in a shaggy mass when about half of the flour is incorporated.

Start kneading the dough with both hands, primarily using the palms of your hands. Add more flour, in 1/2-cup increments, if the dough is too sticky. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up any left over dry bits. Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for 3 more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Continue to knead for another 3 minutes, remembering to dust your board with flour when necessary.

It’s easiest to roll out the dough in sections, so I recommend cutting the dumpling dough in four pieces. On a lightly-floured surface, roll out one section to about 1/16″ inch thickness. If you’re rolling the dough in a pasta machine, I suggest rolling it to setting 5 (second to last thinnest setting). I used a biscuit cutter (about 1 7/8″ diameter) to cut out circles in the dough. Traditionally, Russian home cooks have been known to use drinking glasses to cut out the circles.

Place one level teaspoon of filling at the center of each circle, fold the dough over to make a half-circle, and pinch the edges closed. (Your seam won’t hold if there is too much flour on the dough or if you accidentally get it wet. If the dough is floury, moisten the edges very lightly with a drop of water; if it is wet, add a tiny bit of flour.) Now bring the ends of the half-circle together until they overlap a little and pinch them closed to form a tortellini-like shape.

 

Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, placing the finished pelmeni or vareniki on a lightly floured surface and making sure they aren’t touching each other. At this point, you can either cook them or freeze them for later use.

To cook the dumplings, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add pelmeni and stir so they don’t stick to the bottom. Technically, they are ready once they float to the surface, but I usually cook them for 2 more minutes to make sure the meat is cooked through. If you cook them too long, though, the meat can dry out and the dough fall apart.

To freeze the dumplings, place them in a single layer (not touching each other) on a metal cookie sheet and put in the freezer until the dough is frozen (at least an hour). Once the exterior of the dumplings is frozen, you can bag them without worrying about them sticking together.

As mentioned above, I serve pelmeni tossed in butter, white distilled vinegar, and cayenne. But, really, your imagination is your limitation on how to serve these deeply satisfying, perfect meat dumplings.

Note: You can use a special pelmeni mold to make things a bit faster. However, the foldover method I described above produces much prettier dumplings (dumplings, incidentally, that provide a little channel all the way around to hold onto butter, sourcream, vinegar, soup, etc.).

It’s been a little while since I’ve updated menus. Here is a selection of dishes from the past few weeks.

Real Menu: Baby Shower!

I had the privilege of catering my good friend’s baby shower last weekend. Forty-five guests! Here are the highlights of the menu I prepared:

Pink Lemonade with Lavender-Thyme Infused Vodka

Three Kinds of Finger Sandwiches: Minted Radish, Moroccan Carrot with Goat Cheese and Green Olive Tapenade, Curried Chicken Salad on Gluten-Free Bread

Salad of Mixed Greens, Fennel, Red Onions, Shaved Pecorino Romano with Orange-Sherry Vinaigrette and White Truffle Oil

Butternut Squash Lasagna with Mushrooms, Spinach, and Sage Béchamel

Gluten-Free Pasta with Caramelized Onions, Lentils and Kale

Pumpkin Tea Cake

Meyer Lemon and Poppyseed Almond Tea Cake

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Sample Menus!

I’ve been taking lots of photos of actual food I’ve been preparing for my clients. I’m going to feature some of these (illustrated!) menus every week. All the illustrated menus can be found under the Real Menus Category for easy reference.

Here’s what I cooked up today. The entrées are “plated” in glass food containers, to be reheated and eaten later.


Bacon-Wrapped Quails Stuffed with Goat Cheese on a Bed of Haricots Verts


Braised Chicken and Fennel with Russian Fingerling Potatoes

Lamb Stew with Chick Peas, Olives and Lemon


Quiche with Brussels Sprouts, Shallots and Dill

Roasted Cornish Hens with Garlic and Dill

Fresh dill is quite a common seasoning in Eastern European cooking. Growing up, I generally hated it, but have warmed up to its distinctively aromatic grassy flavor. As with most things edible, I find that garlic is a great compliment to this robust herb. Since dill loses some of its flavor in the cooking process, I generously garnished the bird with fresh chopped dill and barely-cooked garlic in butter.

You can certainly cook the hens whole, but I find that spatchcocking them (removing the spine and flattening them) both speeds up the cooking process and makes them a little easier to dig into.

Ingredients
1/2 cup tightly packed fresh dill sprigs, minced
8 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Cornish Game Hens
salt and pepper, to taste

Garnish:
1/2 cup tightly packed fresh dill sprigs, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic, minced

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. In a small bowl, combine dill, garlic and olive oil.
  3. To spatchcock the Cornish hen, get some strong, sharp scissors (or poultry shears) and cut down either side of the spine, take out the spine, then press down on the breast to open it out flat. Generously season all sides of each hen with salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Lay the hens out, breast side up, on a baking sheet lined with a baking rack.
  4. Smother all sides of each hen with the dill and garlic mixture. Roast until the Cornish hens are reddish-gold on top, and cooked through, about 30 to 40 minutes.
  5. To serve: Place hens on their serving dish and top with fresh chopped dill. Place butter and minced garlic in a small frying pan over medium heat. Allow butter to melt and garlic to sizzle for about a minute (garlic should not brown), and pour over the chopped dill on the hens.

marinaberger

October 25, 2011

Autumn Giles of Autumn Makes & Does has started a new podcast called Alphabet Soup, a podcast about food and words. Autumn graciously asked to interview me for the third episode, and it was so much fun! We covered a lot of ground: Salt Salon, short stories, J.D. Salinger, neuroscience, Proust, blackberries, tea parties, etc, etc.

I really enjoyed our chat. Listening to the episode just now, I realized that I haven’t actually heard the poem Blackberry Eating read in a really long time (not counting the times I read it aloud). It’s a delightful-sounding poem.

Autumn writes a great summary of the episode here.

You can listen to the interview here: Alphabet Soup Podcast — OR  you can just subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. In fact, you should do just that.

a podcast about food & words

a podcast about food & words

Apple Crumble

I’ve been getting a lot of apples and pears in my CSA. A LOT. A friend of mine invited me over to her house to break the Yom Kippur fast, so I decided to bring an Apple Crumble Pie. This recipe is for a very large (13 x 9 inches) tray of Apple Crumble, but I decided to divide the filling between a 9-inch (alas, store-bought) piecrust and a 10-x-7-inch baking dish.

I think that this recipe is an amalgamation of a few different apple pie and apple crisp recipes I had looked up last year. It’s really easy to play around with it and figure out your ideal combination of flavors. I, predictably, decided to sweeten the filling with sucanat, as it has become one of my favorite natural sweeteners because of its rich molasses flavor. You can, of course, substitute sugar. Our CSA bag has included a variety of apples, so I used whatever was in the bag: Cortland, Macintosh, Golden Delicious, Empire. I like the variety of flavors and textures that result from combining different varieties of apples, making each bite a bit of a surprise.

Apple Crumble or Apple Crumble Pie

Ingredients

Topping:

  • 2 ½ cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

Filling:

  • 4 pounds mixed apples
  • 2/3 cup sucanat
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Vanilla ice cream

Procedure

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Lightly grease a 13-x-9-x-2-inch glass baking dish.

Mix oats, brown sugar, and flour in a bowl.  Add butter and rub in with fingertips until topping comes together in moist clumps. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.)

Mix all filling ingredients in large bowl to coat apples.  Transfer to baking dish.  Sprinkle topping over.

Bake crumble until apples are tender and topping is brown and crisp, about 55 minutes.  Cool slightly.  Spoon warm crumble into bowls.  Serve with ice cream.

Note: If you’re baking this recipe in a pie or 2 smaller baking dishes, check on it after about 40 minutes. You don’t want the crumble to burn.

Ready for the oven.