If you don’t live near a Russian grocery, you may not know what pelmeni are. But if you’ve eaten tortellini, you do. They’re the same thing – the difference is that pelmeni are better.
A staple food of Russia and Siberia, these little meat dumplings are served in vast abundance at bars, restaurants, birthday parties, solo meals in lonely cabins, and everywhere else Russians eat. I once went to a dinner party thrown by some Russian scientists when I was a graduate student at Notre Dame, and was astounded to find that the entire menu consisted of endless bowls of pelmeni, accompanied by endless shots of cold vodka. It was, it goes without saying, the greatest dinner party of all time.
One story from that party stuck with me all these years. In Siberia, families sit around the table as winter sets in, making thousands of pelmeni, which they then store outside in the giant freezer that their country has become, bringing inside a few dozen at a time to boil and eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Maybe it’s in my blood. I am a Russian Jew by birth, after all. I can’t think of a time when I don’t want pelmeni. They have a coarse, fatty ground-veal filling – at least the ones I buy – and they cook up in approximately 40 seconds in boiling water. I throw a little butter and a few drops of pelmeni water in a rocks glass along with them, and I’m good to go. Until ten minutes later, when I want more pelmeni. They’re also unconscionably good fried. That is to say, deep-fried; I boil them in oil until they turn into crunchy little won-tons, then sprinkle fresh dill or parsley on them, and coarse salt. You can saute them, too, in bacon fat or butter or lard or olive oil. In fact, short of using them for industrial caulking, there’s almost no application that pelmeni don’t work for.
They’re always at hand, and they’re always good. What else can you ask from a food?