Dumplings are a paradoxical dish. Although originally Siberian dumplings most likely come from China – from the famous Jiaozi New Year’s dumplings – their name – pelmeni – comes from the Finno-Ugric language group. They are considered a “national Russian dish”, although until the middle of the 19th century and even later, dumplings were a truly Siberian dish.
With all due respect to Russian and Siberian cuisine, we must admit that pelmeni probably originated in China. Of course, if the culinary tradition is 5000 years old, it is likely that you can find analogues of almost all modern dishes.
On the other hand, after China, dumplings are the most popular in Russia. After all, it’s complicated. If dumplings came from China, it was a long time ago. And they got to our country in a very complicated, circuitous way.
In the history of dumplings, it is believed that they came to Russian cuisine from the peoples of the Urals. Russian pioneers began to arrive in this area in the 13th-15th centuries. Once upon a time there was a Komi people, with their own faith, language, and customs. The first contacts of the Slavic population with the Komi people probably took place in the 10th century. By the 12th century, the Komi tribes were near Novgorod, but the long arm of the Moscow princes came here only in the middle of the 15th century. It was here that they made small dumplings with a filling that resembled an ear. Their name comes from the Perm words “pel” (cob) and “nyan” (bread).
Today, dumplings are one of the most typical dishes of Russian cuisine. How long has that been true? Have they always been this popular?
Let’s start with the fact that until the 1820s and 1830s, there is no mention of dumplings in any Russian cookbook. We believe that pelmeni remained a Ural-Siberian regional dish for a long time, and only at the beginning, or even in the middle of the 19th century, they became known throughout Russia.
In 1837, Ekaterina Avdeeva (a well-known culinary author of the beginning of the 19th century) mentions pelmeni in a context that sounds strange today. The cook included the word in the “Dictionary of words and expressions used in Siberia (provincialisms)” section. “Pelmeni,” she writes, “are what are called ears in Russia.”
In a review of the magazine “Otechestvennye zapiski” (1830), another author feels obliged to explain to the reader what pelmeni are. He compares them with Ukrainian dumplings, writing: “This is a type of Little Russian dumplings, only they are stuffed with beef, not cheese.”
If you look a little further, at the beginning of the century dumplings were described as something exotic. Take this description in the 1817 book “Newest Tales from Eastern Siberia” by the college counselor Nikolai Siamiuski: “Pelmeni are small dumplings made of minced meat, similar to Chinese pastries.” Can you imagine, two hundred years ago this “traditional Russian dish” should have been called “like a Chinese pastry!”
It is clear that for educated Russian people of the beginning of the 19th century, dumplings were an exotic, regional dish. People heard about them, but did not think about the fact that they will eat every day.
We don’t know exactly how pelmeni came to Russia, but it seems unlikely that it happened solely through the Komi people. Only by chance “Pelnyani” remained in the language and memory. There were many varieties of Asian dumplings: Uzbek manti, Mongolian buuz, Dungan boza, not to mention the Chinese version, and there were many contacts between the Russians and Asian peoples in the 11th-14th centuries. centuries. Russians traded with Asia, with Krymchaks (Turkic Jews), had rich contacts with Byzantium. And, of course, the Tatar-Mongol invaders also brought their own food to Russia.
Did you notice that Avdeeva called dumplings “ears”? In Europe and the south of Russia in the 19th century, “ushki” was a fairly common dish. I met him on the Don and in Astrakhan, so he is clearly not from the Ural hinterland. Local Cossacks called them “screwdrivers”. And if you remember that there is a dish “dushbara” (soup with small dumplings) in neighboring Azerbaijan, then a mosaic begins to form. Ears-screwdrivers-showers… everywhere the root is “ush-shu”.
Most likely, it seems that dishes similar to pelmeni came to Russia in different centuries from different places: from the Crimean Tatars, from Dagestan, from Central Asia – after all, the Moscow tsars traded with Bukhara for a long time. Finally, when the Russians traveled en masse to Siberia, they learned about pelmeni from the local people. It’s just that these dishes had different names. Only in the middle of the 19th century, one name was established: pelmeni.
What happened to the fact that this dish became so widespread and popular in Russia? In the 1860s, several events happened at once. Rapidly developed transport (railway network, active passenger river traffic), which led to the influx of population to cities and various regions of the country. At the same time, book publishing and marketing began to develop. All this led to the establishment of a single national cuisine. Population migration led to the fact that local dishes appeared in large cities and “mixed” with local culinary traditions. Meanwhile, successes in the culinary arts in the capitals – however comical and even grotesque they may be at times – quickly spread even to the most remote corners of the country.
Dumplings appeared at the right time. The dish was very traditional and at the same time very modern, suitable for both home cooking and restaurants. It was cheap, which was important during the period of rapid growth of public catering for a large part of the urban population – workers, artisans, lower officials, students. Finally, it was easy to prepare and serve: it required no special cooking skills and was easily portioned. It was a perfect dish!
And today it is a hit among Russian diners. Dumpling festivals are held regularly across the country, and chefs are coming up with new, amazing variations.
But you don’t need to invent new versions of dumplings all the time. A couple of years ago in Perm, we discovered an excellent version of dumplings with radish. In the past, it was probably made from Russian black radish. But today it is easier and tastier with green or lobo radish, which is also called Margilanskaya. This brings us back to the Asian roots of this dish – Margilan is a city in Uzbekistan. These dumplings are a wonderful discovery.
Green radish dumplings
For the dough
- 500 g (4 c) flour
- 225 g (1 tbsp. and 1 tbsp.) of water
- 10 g (1¾ teaspoon) of salt
For the filling
- 500-600g (1.1-1.3lb) radish greens
- 100 g (3.5 oz) onion
- 30 ml (2 tablespoons) of vegetable oil
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
We prepare the dough
- Pour the sifted flour in a heap and make an indentation in the middle.
- Dissolve the salt in a glass of water and pour it into the flour.
- First, use the blade of a knife, then knead the dough with your hands. Do not try to knead the dough until it is smooth; enough to moisten all the flour.
- Wrap in cling film and leave for 40-60 minutes. During this time, knead it twice. The dough will be smooth and elastic.
Make the filling
- Dice the onion. Heat oil in a pan, add onion and fry until golden. Leave to cool.
- Grate the radish on a coarse grater and lightly salt. Let stand for 2-3 minutes.
- Squeeze the juice from the grated radish and mix with the sauteed onion. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Roll out the dough thinly and cut out circles with a diameter of 10 cm.
- Put a tablespoon of filling on each circle and form dumplings.
- If you want to make pelmeni the traditional regional way, they look more like dumplings, but are still considered dumplings.
- Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot.
- Add dumplings, mix and boil for 2 minutes after boiling.
- If the pan is not very large, cook in portions.
- Serve with a splash of vegetable oil.
- Part of the radish can be replaced with grated carrots, but passerovatis it’s with onions.
- If desired, you can add a pot of cheese to the radish (proportions 50-50). Serve with sour cream.
- Onions can be replaced with green ones, and then you don’t need to sauté them.