Monday, February 5, 2007

You Say Potato, I Say Pel-meni

I'd like to introduce everyone to the little-known love of my life: potato dumplings. If you find it odd that such a plain, unattractive little lump could cause my pulse to race, then you've obviously never had a true Russian potato dumpling. You can find dumplings in some form or another in most cultures: the Chinese have wontons or potstickers, the Jews have kreplach, the Indians have samosas and the Polish of pierogis. But my absolute favorite are Russian dumplings called vareniky. You may have heard of pel-meni, which are technically dumplings filled with meat, but the word is often used to refer to both types.

Ironically, it was not my Russian boyfriend who introduced me to these pockets of potato. Instead, I stumbled upon them while attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison for undergrad. The glorious State Street, which runs through the center of the downtown area, contains a vast array of ethnic and not so ethnic cuisines. And among them all is a tiny hole in the wall called Pel-meni. Tucked in among the chain restaurants and other local eateries, Pel-meni's tiny store-front window (often completed fogged up due to the steamy heat inside and the frigid Madison weather outside) boasts its name in Russian and English letters. Though admittedly sketchy-looking from the outside, I don't think I ever passed by around 2 a.m. when there wasn't a line out the door (and rarely was I not waiting in line as well). Serving up large plates (or to-go boxes) of meat- or potato-stuffed dumplings with your choice of hot sauce, this foreign staple has become a favorite haunt for many.

Sadly, with my college days behind me, I was at a loss for my potato dumpling cravings until my boyfriend's mother found the cure for my hunger pains. She found a women who makes dumplings in her house and sells them in bags of 100 for the obscenely cheap price of $10 per bag. The homemade dough wraps around perfectly seasoned potatoes and with just a few minutes in boiling water, they're ready to eat! After coming out of the water, all they really need is a bit of butter to keep them from sticking. Pel-meni serves their dumplings with a side of sour cream and a slice of dark rye bread and that's just how I like mine! Some people also like to add hot sauce.

I haven't found a Russian woman yet who is willing to give up her secret vareniky recipe, so alas, I cannot share one here. The best I can do is point you in the direction of Madison, Wisconsin (or Juneau, Alaska - they have a restaurant there too. Really.) and tell you to get in line.

While Recipe4Living isn't lucky enough to have stolen any pel-meni or vareniky recipes yet, we do have recipes for some interesting dumplings from other cultures. Want to share you dumpling recipe? Click here.

Cantonese-Style Pork and Shrimp Dumplings
Michaelangelo's Potato Gnocchi
Polish Lazy Dumplings
Canedereli Tirolesi (Italian Bread Dumplings)


Faye said...

I have a cookbook with downhome Verenki (Vereniki) recipes in it.

Max said...

Faye, I would love to see those recipes! What's the name of the cookbook? Also, you can send the recipes to us at here: