This Russian pelmeni recipe makes the Russian dumplings stuffed with savoury pork and beef mince that are boiled and served with sour cream and fresh fragrant dill. This is hearty home-cooked Russian comfort food at its best. Made in big batches these Russian dumplings are typically shared as a family meal, especially for Russian Christmas, Easter, Sunday lunches and dinners.
My Russian pelmeni recipe makes Russian dumplings just like my baboushka, my mum, and her baboushka made. I grew up eating Russian food, which I learnt to make as a child by watching my Russian grandmother and mother. After I left home for university, my mum, dad and little sister continued making these comforting Russian dumplings at home, and we’d gorge ourselves on them whenever we got together.
When Terence and I left Australia in 1998 to move to the Middle East, we created our own tradition of making a Russian feast every excuse we had, from Russian Christmas and Russian Easter to whenever the weather turned even a little bit cold for our stupidly short ‘winters’, when I’d don my apron and get the rolling pin out and channel my Russian baboushka.
Every Christmas and Russian Christmas, it doesn’t matter where we are in the world, I dig out this traditional Russian pelmeni recipe and Terence and I make these classic Russian dumplings stuffed with savoury pork and beef mince, which we boil and serve with sour cream and fresh fragrant dill.
We also make a handful of other old-school Russian recipes, which I’ll tell you about in the posts I’ll be sharing over coming days, that include Russian-Ukrainian varenyky (dumplings stuffed with mashed potato), my baboushka’s hearty borscht, stuffed cabbage rolls, her pink potato and beetroot salad, and a simple garden salad that my papa loved, among other Russian specialties.
I’ll tell you more about this Russian pelmeni recipe in a moment. If you’ve made and liked our recipes, please consider supporting Grantourismo so we can keep creating recipes and other food and travel content, by clicking through our links when you need to book accommodation, hire a car or motorhome or campervan, purchase travel insurance, or book a tour on Klook or Get Your Guide; and browsing our Grantourismo store (we have everything from reusable face masks to gifts for food lovers).
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Russian Pelmeni Recipe for Russian Dumplings Just Like My Baboushka Made
Before I tell you more about this Russian pelmeni recipe, I wanted to share some of the fascinating history of Russian pelmeni, which is thought to have come from Siberia, which means ‘sleeping land’ in the Siberian Tatar language.
Home to a fifth of Russia’s population, Siberia is Russia’s largest region, a vast area of 13.1 million square kilometres that sprawls from the Ural Mountains in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east, the Arctic in the north and Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China in the south.
Before refrigerators and freezers Siberians buried their dumplings in the snow, carried them in their saddlebags to boil over an open fire, or simply hung them in a bag from the wall during the coldest time of year, when temperatures could plummet as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius.
The Russian Cossacks’ captured the Siberian Tatar’s capital, Qashliq, in 1581, on an expedition ordered by Ivan the Terrible and funded by the Stroganov family (of beef Stroganoff fame), although their conquest was thwarted when their leader was killed by the Tatars. Could returning Cossacks have carried the frozen dumplings with them on the long journey home? Perhaps.
But there are recipes and mentions of dumplings in menus for specific feast days and occasions in the book Domostroi: Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible, published in 1552, during the medieval Novgorod Republic. Part of Kievan Rus for a time, and one of the earliest Russian republics, its citizens were Slavic, Baltic and Finnic peoples, influenced by Viking-Varangian and Byzantine cultures.
Could pelmeni have come from across the Black Sea from the Byzantine capital Constantinople, present-day Istanbul, where cooks make Turkish manti? Maybe. The earliest Ottoman manti recipe, in a 15th century cookbook by Muhammed bin Mahmud Shirvani, consists of lamb-stuffed dumplings that more closely resemble pelmeni than other dumplings, except they’re doused in yoghurt rather than sour cream.
However, the word mantou, which described small dainty dumplings made from flour and water, dates to the Chinese Jin Dynasty (266-420 AD) and manta appears in the 1330 book Yin Shan Zheng Yao, a classic of Chinese medicine and Chinese cuisine by Hu Sihui, a Muslim court doctor and dietician to the Chinese Yuan Dynasty Emperor, Buyantu Khan.
The eighth Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, Buyantu Khan was the great-grandson of Kublai Khan, who was the grandson of Genghis Khan, who established the largest empire in world history after conquering Asia and Europe in the 13th and 14th century.
It is therefore no surprise that the recipes in Yin Shan Zheng Yao reveal Mongolian, Chinese, Turkic and Persian influences. It’s essentially a description of medieval food in Asia and Europe, with recipes for breads, noodles, and soups, including chicken noodle soup… and dumplings.
There are four mantou recipes in Yin Shan Zheng Yao, two with thin unleavened dough skins stuffed with lamb and onion that resemble the Uyghur manti and Turkish manti, which are not all that far removed from Russian pelmeni.
Just a few quick tips for making my Russian pelmeni recipe as I’ve provided detailed instructions in the recipe for making baboushka’s Russian dumplings.
Tips to Making this Russian Pelmeni Recipe for Russian Dumplings
Please don’t be intimidated by the detail of this Russian pelmeni recipe, as pelmeni are actually very easy to make once you get the hang out of it. The task only needs to take hours if you’re making hundreds of dumplings for a big family gathering. I made a small batch of 24 pelmeni this afternoon in 30 minutes.
Most Russian cooks don’t make small batches, however, they make enough to feed a big gathering of family and friends. Or a family expecting leftover pelmeni to fry for breakfast the next morning, or to take home…
And that’s because pelmeni are usually made with family or friends and is a social activity as much as anything. My baboushka’s Ukrainian and Polish neighbours would often join her for a day of dumpling-making.
If you want to do as I did this afternoon and make just enough for a plate of pelmeni in 30 minutes, just halve or quarter the ingredients, which is probably a good idea if you’re making them for the first time. You can always put the dough in the fridge and use it the next day.
A quick couple of tips re the dough. Firstly, don’t add all the water at once. Sometimes I find, depending on the flour I’m using, that I don’t need as much water, and sometimes I find that I need more. Gradually add the water and only add as much as you need.
If you’ve done any pelmeni-making research you may have noticed that some recipes call for an egg. I don’t add an egg, although I have tested this dough with an egg, but an egg doesn’t give me the texture of baboushka’s pelmeni.
Make sure to let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes. That’s super-important to get the smooth texture and elasticity you want so that you can stretch the dough around the mixture without it tearing.
If you decide you don’t want to make all the pelmeni in one go, you can keep the balls of dough wrapped in cling-wrap in the fridge overnight and make more batches the next day. You can also freeze finished batches of pelmeni on their trays, then, when frozen transfer them to zip-lock bags.
We always served pelmeni in big lidded casserole dishes at the centre of the table with a big bowl of sour cream sprinkled with fresh dill and a selection of other Russian dishes to be shared family-style.
But you could also portion them out on individual plates, plopping a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of dill on each plate. Any leftover pelmeni can be re-fried the next day.
I’ll leave you to don your apron and get out the rolling pin and make my Russian pelmeni recipe, while we return to the kitchen to put another batch of dumplings on to boil and sit down for our own Russian Christmas Eve dinner.
Russian Pelmeni Recipe
- 500 g All Purpose Flour
- 350 ml water
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp neutral cooking oil
- 1 large white onion - finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves - finely chopped
- 250 g pork mince
- 250 g beef mince
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp paprika
- Make the dough first (as it can rest while you make your fillings) by pouring the flour onto your kitchen workspace into a mound. Poke a hole in the centre and add the salt, then pour one-third of the water into the hole, and using your hands, start to combine.
- Add a little more water and knead, but don’t over-knead. Once it’s combined, form the dough into a ball and set it aside to rest. (If you prefer, you could combine it in a big mixing bowl instead of on the bench, bring it out of the bowl for a knead, then return it to the bowl to let it rest.)
- Make your filling by frying the onion and garlic in a pan in cooking oil until the onion is translucent. Combine the onion and garlic in a mixing bowl with the raw pork mince and beef mince, salt, pepper, and paprika. Pop the bowl in the fridge while you’re preparing your pelmeni casings.
- To prepare your pelmeni casings, sprinkle your kitchen workspace with a little flour so that the dough doesn’t stick to the surface. Split your ball of dough into quarters and put a clean tea towel or cloth over the dough you’re not using. Use a rolling pin, roll a ball of dough out into a large oval shape to around 3mm thickness. Do not turn it over – the exterior can be dusted in flour, but not the interior.
- Use the rim of a glass (7cm diameter) or a cookie cutter, to create the dumpling rounds. Begin at the top edge and work your way around and then into the centre, leaving little space between rounds. Twist the glass back and forth a few times to cut through the dough.
- Once you’re done, pull the leftover dough away, and roll it into a ball and pop it under the cloth with the rest of the dough. If they feel dry you can dampen the tea towel, or wrap each ball in cling wrap or aluminium foil.
- To fill your pelmeni casings, scoop out some savoury meat mince mixture with a teaspoon, aiming for around 8gms per teaspoon. Place the mixture on the centre of the casing, and do this for each casing, as this helps to ensure they’re of equal sized. Work quickly, though, so they don’t dry out.
- Holding one filled casing in your left hand, fold half over with your right hand, then starting at one end, pinch the sides together, working your way down to the other side until it’s completely sealed. If your dough rested and is nice and soft and smooth, it should seal easily. If it isn’t, pour some water in a small dish, dip your pointer finger into the dish, and rub a little water (not too much) along the interior edge and that should do the trick. Then bring the two ends together, press them together, and pop them on a tray lightly dusted with flour.
- Bring a big pot of water to a boil, throw in a pinch of salt, turn the heat down a little to a gentle boil (so it doesn’t tear the casings apart), then carefully slide the dumplings into the water and turn up the heat a little.
- After the dumplings rise to the surface, give them a couple of minutes, then scoop them out and pop them into a casserole dish with a tablespoon of quality butter. When they’re all in the dish, gently move it from side to side to ensure the pelmeni are all covered in butter.
- Take another ball of dough and repeat that process to make another batch. Any leftovers can be fried the next day. Alternatively, you can keep balls of dough wrapped in cling wrap in the fridge overnight and make more batches the next day. You can also freeze finished batches by freezing them on their tray first, then when frozen put them into ziplock bags.
- Serve pelmeni in a casserole dish at the centre of the table with a big bowl of sour cream sprinkled with fresh dill and a selection of other Russian dishes to be shared family-style, or portion out on individual plates, plopping a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of dill on each plate.
Do let us know if you tried my Russian pelmeni recipe in the comments below, by email or on social media as I’d love to know how they turned out for you.