Friday, 8 July 2011


"Patsuk opened his mouth, stared at the vareniki, and opened his mouth wider still."
From  Christmas Eve by Nickolai Gogol

Dumplings can be found right across Russia. They come in all shapes, sizes and fillings, as well as a variety of names: Vareniki in the Ukraine, Pelmeni in Siberia or Manti in Uzbekistan.  They are stuff of legend: tough men boast of the numbers consumed in one sitting. Easy freezer food, bags of Pelmeni are commonly found hanging on pegs outside Siberian houses in the sub-zero temperatures that exist there for much of the year... alongside the -18 degrees vodka that has to be drunk with them. 
We first stumbled across these Soviet-style dim sum in Bob Bob Richard ( in Soho, which offers wild mushroom and truffle vareniki and meat (lamb and beef) pelmeni. For a quick tutorial on the etiquette for eating dumplings, check out this YouTube site:

With cherries festooning every stall in the market, Pelmeni Nachinka z Vishni (sour cherry dumplings) have to be on the menu.  
In fact, we construct a complete meal on the theme of Vareneki: "Uzbek steamed dumplings" and "Ukrainian tiny dumplings filled with wild mushrooms" are followed  by cherry (you've guessed it) dumplings.  Although a bit fiddly at times, in fact vareniki are quick and easy to make and just as quick to cook. Serve the savoury ones with yoghurt (stir in salt, garlic and finely chopped coriander) and a salad made of grated raw beetroot mixed with a spoonful of creme fraiche, to taste. 
However, it is the sweet/sour cherry dumplings that are the star of the show, especially with poached cherries and sauce poured over the soft dough bulging with fruit. Just add a spray of icing sugar and a dollop of creme fraiche.

Recipe for Sour Cherry Dumplings 
(based on Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen)
Dough (makes about 30 dumplings):
300 g     unbleached all purpose flour
2            large egg yolks
2 tsp      salt
1 tbs      vegetable oil
7-8 tbs   water

Blend the flour and salt in a food processor. With the motor running pour the oil and egg yolks through the feeder tube; then pour in the water in a steady stream until the dough collects in a ball round the blade. Knead on a floured surface until smooth (2 mins), then cover with a damp cloth and leave to rest for 30 mins.
Divide the dough into half, covering one piece again.  On a well floured surface, roll out the other piece to approx 1/16 inch (a pasta machine is ideal for this). Use a wine glass to press out circles or a knife to cut rectangles (2 ins by 1.5 ins).Collect the scrapsof dough,add to the second piece, roll out and repeat.
Fill the dumplings with your choice of filling.  Moisten the edges with water, fold in half around the filling and seal tightly.

Sour Cherry Filling (for about 25 - 30 dumplings)
500 g   fresh cherries
6 tbs    sugar
1 tbs    cherry brandy or similar
1          lemon juiced

Cut each cherry in half and remove the stone.  Mix the cherry halves with sugar and lemon juice, cover and leave for three hours for the juice to run.
Save the juice.  Fill each dumpling skin with three of four cherry halves and seal as above.  Complete the remaining dumplings.  Steam (20 mins) or cook gently in simmering water (10 minutes).  
While the dumplings are cooking, add the remaining cherries and the cherry brandy (or equivalent - I used Madeira) to the saved juice. Place in a saucepan and simmer gently until the dumplings are ready.

To serve: place two or three dumplings in each bowl and pour over the poached cherries.  A spoonful of creme fraiche and a dusting of icing sugar goes well; so would vanilla ice cream. And very, very cold vodka.

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