This traditional chebureki recipe makes deliciously-crunchy fried pastries filled with savoury minced beef and onions that are so big you need to hold them in two hands. A beloved Black Sea beach holiday snack of Crimean Tatar cuisine, chebureki (чебуреки) are a popular street food in Russia, Ukraine, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Crimean Tartar diaspora.
My chebureki recipe makes the traditional Crimean Tatar crispy fried pastries filled with spiced ground beef and sautéed onions, which went from being a beloved Black Sea beach holiday snack to becoming a popular street food in Russia, Ukraine, former Soviet countries, and Central Asia.
They’re so big you need to hold the crispy crescent-shaped savoury turnovers in two hands to bite into their crunchy exteriors. I can’t help but imagine the cheeky grin and glint in the eyes of the little girl who became my baboushka, as she munched into these fried treats on the seaside holidays she so fondly recalled.
If you make these and enjoy them, try my mini chebureki recipe, which makes smaller, more manageable and spicier versions of these ground beef turnovers.
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Now let me tell you about this traditional chebureki recipe for the crunchy fried pastries filled with savoury ground beef and onion.
Chebureki Recipe for a Crimean Beach Holiday Treat That Became a Popular Russian Street Food Snack
My classic chebureki recipe will make you a hugely popular street food snack that you’ll come across in your travels in Russia, Ukraine, former Soviet countries, Turkey, and Central Asia, sold from street food stalls at markets, fast food joints, greasy spoon-style eateries, and beach vendors at Black Sea holiday towns.
I spotted chebureki – the plural of cheburek – at fast food outlets in Moscow a couple of decades ago. We were on a summer holiday in Russia that Terence and I took my mum on after my dad died.
I have to confess that I was tempted to try the fast food iteration, as oily as they looked, but there was so much other wonderful food to sample on a trip that was all too short, and it was impossible to eat everything.
It was also a trip upon which I was determined to achieve some goals, starting with experiencing the cuisine of my ancestors in the country that it came from, to see if it was as delicious as the food that I grew up with that my Russian grandmother and mum cooked.
We also wanted to get a taste of ‘new Russian cuisine’, the modern and contemporary takes on traditional food served up in fancy restaurants, and chebureki didn’t fit into either plan unfortunately.
They just didn’t look as delicious as I remembered them. I know if I was to go in the future, I’d approach a return trip rather differently, with the goal of sampling the depth and variety of cuisines that exist in a country as large and as multicultural as Russia.
As a child growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney, Australia, in the 1970s, there were few things I loved more than the long lunches that turned into dinners at my Russian grandparents’ home with my baboushka and papa, mum and dad, my two young uncles and their girlfriends, and whoever else dropped in or we dragged along for what would always turn into yet another memorable meal.
I will always treasure those memories of quality family time around the dining table, sharing stories as much as food. And I have to confess that that’s one of the reasons I continue to cook the food of Russia and Ukraine, and dig deep into my memory as much as the history of the food that my family cooked, and the history of my grandparents’ homeland.
I loved those family meals as much for the mouthwatering food as for the vivid tales that my grandparents told that transported us from their red-brick home in suburban Blacktown to the sparkling Black Sea and shimmering silver birch groves, taking us back in time to my baba and papa’s own childhoods in the early 20th century.
Although the story of the time that my younger grandmother came across an enormous brown bear in the forest is hard to forget, I most relished baba’s recollections of Crimean summer holidays. For her young self, life was carefree and full of sunshine and ice cream in the cosmopolitan Odessa she called home, despite the fact that she was born on the eve of the Bolshevik revolution.
I don’t think I ever saw baba as happy as she was when she retold tales from her childhood, from the balmy summers of the sub-tropical coast and the abundance of delicious food, which provided a stark contrast to the upheaval of the war when her memories were mostly of being hungry and having sore feet from long walks across Europe to safety.
A summer of eating my way through Odessa is high on my list of things to do one day, if we’re ever able to travel safely again, something I could never have imagined thinking during the last two years of the pandemic.
Now let me share a few tips to making this traditional chebureki recipe for crunchy fried pastries filled with savoury ground beef and onion.
Tips to Making this Chebureki Recipe for the Crimean Beach Holiday Snack That Became a Popular Russian Street Food
As usual, only a few tips to making this traditional chebureki recipe as it’s really very easy.
While I’ve tested this chebureki recipe multiple times and it’s worked out perfectly every time, I do know that different types of flour can result in different consistencies, so I recommend adding the water to the flour in stages. If it’s a little too wet you can always add more flour, however, be prepared to adjust other amounts accordingly.
Don’t leave the dough to rest for longer than an hour as it can become too supple, yet, by the same token, don’t try to knead it and roll it out sooner than that as it won’t be as stretchy as you want it.
Our chebureki recipe calls for the onion to be fried first until translucent. Most don’t, and as much as I like the crunch and bite of raw onion (many don’t), it makes for a more delicious filling if you fry the onion until soft.
Don’t over-stuff the pastries. A tablespoon of filling spread out is plenty. If you over-fill it with the minced meat mixture, the pastry will not only be unbalanced, but it won’t hold shape or maintain its crunchiness.
The chebureki will also lose their crispiness the longer they sit around after frying, so don’t make these ahead. Prepare them when you plan on eating them and serve them immediately so they are crunchy and piping hot.
Chebureki Recipe for a Popular Crimean Beach Holiday Snack
- 2 cups plain flour
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ cup water
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 300 g brown onion - finely diced
- 300 g fatty ground beef
- 1 tsp quality sea salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 4 tsp garlic powder
- ½ cup fresh dill - roughly chopped
- Oil for frying
- In a large mixing bowl, use a clean wet hand to combine the flour, salt, water, and one tablespoon of vegetable oil until you have a ball of dough.
- Sprinkle your kitchen bench with flour and knead for a few minutes until you have a smooth ball of dough; if the dough is too sticky, add a bit more flour, or if too dry, add a little more water, but it should be just right. Return the dough to the bowl, cover, and leave to rest for an hour.
- Meanwhile, begin to make the savoury minced beef filling by frying the chopped onion in a tablespoon of vegetable oil until soft and translucent, then transfer to a cold dish and set aside to cool down.
- Once the onions are cool, transfer them to a clean mixing bowl, and combine well with the fatty ground beef, salt, peppers, cumin, garlic powder, and fresh dill, to ensure all the ingredients are evenly distributed.
- When the dough is ready – it should be very smooth, soft and stretchy – divide into four pieces, shape each piece into a ball, and check the weight on scales – they should be around 76-78g (2.7oz) per ball of dough.
- Sprinkle the kitchen surface liberally with more flour and rub a rolling pin with flour, then use the rolling pin to roll out each ball of dough quite thinly into the shape of a large circle.
- Spread the savoury beef minced mixture evenly on one side of the circle, ensuring there’s a border of 15mm around the rim of the circle.
- Carefully fold the empty half circle over the minced meat to form a half-moon shape, but before pressing the edges to seal, use a ruler to check the size: they should be around 15-16cm (6") long and around 8-10cm (4")wide.
- Press the edges down with your fingers until completely sealed. You shouldn’t need water to seal due to the texture of the dough, but if you find you do, just add a little water to a small dish and dip a finger in and rub it along the rim on one side of the circle only.
- Once sealed, press a fork onto the rim of the cheburek to form a continuous pattern, but take care not to press too hard so as not to create holes in the pastries.
- In a medium-sized frying pan or skillet that’s large enough to hold a single pastry and turn it over with ease, pour in about 1cm-deep vegetable oil to shallow-fry your pastries, so that the oil reaches halfway up the side of the pastry when it’s touching the pan.
- Heat the oil until hot – test it by dropping a tiny ball of dough into the oil; if it starts to spit and take on a golden colour, it’s ready – then use a fish slice to carefully transfer a cheburek to the pan; fry for a few minutes or so, lifting it slightly to check when it’s golden, then turn it over to fry the other side for a minute or two. Note: the second side cooks faster.
- Remove the cheburek and transfer it to a rack covered with absorbent kitchen paper, taking the pan off the heat at the same time so the oil doesn’t smoke and burn. If needed, turn the heat down a little, then fry the next cheburek and repeat.
- Note: if you need to add more oil to the frying pan, ensure it gets hot before sliding the cheburek in, otherwise your pastries will absorb the oil and be greasy.
- When the last of the chebureki are done, serve immediately while piping hot, garnished with a little fresh fragrant dill and a dish of sour cream on the side.
Please do let us know if you make this traditional chebureki recipe for crunchy fried pastries filled with savoury ground beef and onion in the comments below, as we’d love to know how they turn out for you.