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Today I'm homeless. Well, my apartment in Paris is rented out on airbnb and I'm unexpectedly back in town. I'm being taken in by Svetlana, new mother of tiny Boris, and whose mother in turn is staying with her to help things along. So it's a full house. I was expecting to go out to dinner à deux and leave the baby at home with his babushka, but Svet suggested the tempting challenge of making home-made pelmeni. The Russian take on ravioli, that is.

While Svet performed her evening motherly duties I was left with mama Pogodina, a whole load of flour and meat, and a big ol' language barrier. Mama went to work on the dough immediately and pointed suggestively at the meat. A few shouted instructions from Svet from the inner sanctum of bath-time set me on to chopping the onion and garlic and making the stuffing. Simple enough.

I was looking over the shoulder of mama Pogodina to figure out the basics of the dough. Flour, egg, salt, water and elbow grease. Two sessions of heavy kneading later and it was ready. It was feather-light and springy to the touch.

Then the rolling out and the making of tiny parcels began in earnest. I had to wait at least half an hour before Svet offered me a glass of delicious Borgogne (ALWAYS take care of your chefs) which helped the process along no end. My first few attempts were clumsy and a little on the slow side, but I was soon churning them out as well as any good little devushka.

Having thought we'd made enough to feed the whole of Siberia, we managed to finish nearly the whole lot in one sitting. All served on vintage GDR chinaware, which is pretty cool.



Should serve four. Unless you're incredibly greedy. Takes about an hour and a half.

main / show off / perennial / dairy free

The main difference between Italian ravioli and pelmeni, a far as I can make out, is the way they are served. A generous dollop of creme fraiche and fresh herbs transforms the dish into an eastern delicacy. This is a meat filled version, but Russians also make their pelmeni filled with mixed mushrooms or salmon.

* Plain flour - about 500g

* Salt

* Egg - 1

* Water - half a glass

* Onion - 1, peeled and very finely diced

* Garlic - 1 clove, peeled and finely sliced

* Beef mince - 500g

* Pork mince - 250g

* Butter

* Creme fraiche

* Fresh parsley, chopped

Place the flour in a large bowl and add a generous pinch of salt. Make a well in the flour with your hands and add the egg. Start to mix the egg into the dough with your hands. Slowly add the water, incorporating as much flour as you can as you go. When you have added all the water the dough should come together in a ball.

Now for the kneading. Take the dough out of the bowl and work it against the counter top, turning it constantly. Do this for about five minutes. Think how good it is for your debts. Rest the dough for about 10 minutes (mama Pogodina just put hers on the counter top with the bowl covering it). Repeat the kneading process. Your biceps will be getting a good workout too. The dough is ready when it feels light and fluffy. If you press your finger into it the dough will pop right out again.

To make the stuffing, mix the onion, garlic and meats in a large bowl. Season well with salt and pepper.

Now for the rolling. Tear off about a quarter of the dough and roll it into a long sausage shape with your hands - about 2cm in diameter. Then, using a knife, cut the sausage into 2cm wide slices. Lightly flour the counter top and roll each one of the pieces out to a couple of mm thickness, which should leave you with a flat, oval shaped disk.

Using a teaspoon, place a little stuffing in the centre of a disk. Using one forefinger to press the stuffing down, use the other hand to close the parcel into a half moon shape around the stuffing. Start at one edge and press the two sides of the dough tightly together with your thumb and forefinger. It should stick. Go all the way around the semi-circle till the parcel is closed. Then bring together the two corners and stick them, making a round ravioli shape. Tada! You only have to repeat to infinity. Hence why a glass of wine is so important.

Lay out the ravioli on a floured tray, ready for cooking. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add some salt. Boil the pelmeni for about 5 minutes, or until tender. Drain and place back in the pan with a little butter. Serve with a spoonful of thick creme fraiche, parsley and freshly ground pepper. Vkusno. (That's yummy, in Russian).


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