Though they come in all shapes and sizes, dumplings are a near-universal culinary constant as almost every culture has one. So naturally, dumpling recipes are incredibly versatile, coming with a wide array of fillings, wrappers, shapes and sizes. Eaten as an appetizer, dessert, side dish or for the main meal, they might just be the ultimate comfort food.
Chicken and shrimp go together surprisingly well, and this dish is no exception. In March of this year (2021), I posted a blog about Russian Pelmeni. Since then, Brion & I have had ‘pelmeni’ numerous times in which I’ve experimented with various fillings. In case you’re not familiar with these dumplings, traditional Russian pelmeni consist of a filling wrapped in thin, unleavened dough. The word “pelmeni” describes the ear-shaped appearance of these dumplings.
When I made them for the March blog, I used a different technique for preparing them. Instead of making them into the traditional ear shape, I rolled the dough out into a large rectangle. I then spread the raw meat filling over it very thinly and rolled it up in a jelly roll fashion. After slicing the roll into 2-inch pieces, they were steam cooked in broth in a skillet. It’s a quick and easy take on authentic pelmeni.
Since Brion & I eat a lot of chicken and shrimp, I could see no reason to ‘develop’ a new version with an almost oriental twist on it.
Shrimp & Chicken Pelmeni
Broth for Steaming Pelmeni
Broth for Steaming Pelmeni
In a bowl, combine all dough ingredients & knead until a smooth dough ball forms, about 10 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap & set aside to rest until your filling is prepared.
Chop mushrooms & mince garlic. In a skillet, heat butter & add garlic. When aromatic & light golden, add mushrooms & a light sprinkle of salt. Cook for about 2 minutes, until fragrant, soft & roughly a third of the original volume. Set aside in a bowl to cool.
Chop shrimp into pieces the size of large peas. Add to the mushrooms with the chicken, green onion, water chestnuts & ginger. Combine with a fork.
Stir together salt & white pepper, sugar, soy sauce & water. Pour over the filling; stir to mix & firm up. Cover & set aside to rest for 30 minutes.
Once dough has rested, transfer to a floured surface. Roll out the dough into a large, THIN rectangle. Spread filling over the dough, leaving a 1/4-inch at the far side of the dough.
Tightly roll dough up, starting from the wider side, forming a log. Put seam side down to seal the edges. Seal ends of the dough as well. Using a very sharp knife, cut the dough log into 2-inch sections.
In a large skillet that will accommodate all pelmeni, heat oil & cook onion until translucent. Add garlic & continue cooking until fragrant. Add grated carrot; cook about 1-2 minutes more.
Place pelmeni rolls on top of veggies, add vegetable broth, salt & pepper. Cover with a lid & simmer for 30 minutes on a low heat. Check pelmeni from time to time, to make sure there is still some broth in the skillet. Add more broth if it evaporates too fast. Garnish with extra sliced green onions if desired. Serve.
- A nice condiment for these dumplings would be a sweet chili sauce.
Whether you prefer a sweet or spicy variety, there’s no denying the delicious versatility of Italian sausage.
The predominant flavor in ‘mild’ Italian sausage is fennel, or actual anise, a licorice like flavor with a little more earthiness. This emulates the style of sausages in Northern Italy, known for milder flavors with a noticeable presence of both fennel and garlic. It will also typically have a small amount of red pepper flakes to open up the flavors.
The ‘hot’ designation means a higher content of pepper flakes, or the addition of cayenne, giving you that spicier flavor that is more common in the southern regions of Italy.
‘Sweet’ is pretty straightforward, little bit of sugar, milder flavors around that, sometimes some mild herbs, typically a lot of basil and such to round it out.
In this meal, the layers of lasagna noodles blanket a creamy béchamel sauce and a filling with a savory ‘Italian sausage’ flavor and tender artichokes. Truly a comfort food meal.
Italian Sausage Lasagna
Drain artichokes (reserving oil) & slice in halves; set aside. In a heavy skillet, heat artichoke marinade oil; sauté garlic, onions & mushrooms for a few minutes.
Add ground pork, sun-dried tomatoes & spices. Cook over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; add artichokes. Remove from skillet & set aside until ready to assemble lasagna.
In the skillet, melt butter over low heat. Once the butter is completely melted and bubbling, add the flour & mix well. Cook for a couple of minutes until flour just begins to take on some color.
Slowly start adding the milk, whisking continuously to prevent lumps from forming. Continue to simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, stirring often. Season with a pinch of salt, white pepper & nutmeg.
Set aside until you are ready to use, by pouring the sauce into a glass bowl & covering with a buttered sheet of plastic wrap.
Cook lasagna noodles. Grate cheeses.
In a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish, spread 1/2 cup of the béchamel sauce on the bottom. (Set aside 1 cup of the béchamel sauce for the top.) Arrange a single layer of lasagna noodles over sauce; spread some of the filling over noodles, top with a sprinkling of the grated cheeses. (Make sure to reserve a bit of cheese for the topping.) Repeat layers, ending with noodles.
Spread the reserved 1 cup of béchamel sauce over the noodles & top withy the remaining grated cheese. Cover with foil, bake for 35 minutes, remove foil & bake until bubbly & lightly browned on top, about another 15-20 minutes.
Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.
My love for noodles, dumplings, etc. probably could be accredited to my German heritage. This recipe for Russian pelmeni has been hovering in my ‘must try’ file for quite some time, so today’s the day.
It seems most food historians agree that these Russian dumplings originated in Siberia. Although pelmeni forms the heart of Russian cuisine and culture, it does have numerous look-a-likes in particular the Ukrainian vareniki and the Polish pierogi. The easiest way to spot the difference is to look at the shape and size; a typical pelmeni is almost circular and about two inches in diameter. The other forms are usually more elongated and larger in size. Also, the fillings in pelmeni are usually raw, while the fillings of vareniki and pierogi are typically precooked. Pelmeni will never have a sweet filling , unlike its Ukrainian counterpart. The recipe may actually be an adaptation of Chinese pot stickers.
Fillings differ but essentially they are ground meat (pork, beef or sometimes lamb), fish or mushrooms as well as being quite spicy.
The word pelmeni comes from ‘pelnyan’ which means ‘bread ear’, a reference to the food’s ear-like shape.
Although this meal was favored by hunters who were looking for light, easy to prepare, nourishing food to take with them on long trips in the winter, its also seen as Russian fast food among students or bachelors.
This recipe gives you the option of making traditional pelmeni or using an alternate method called ‘lazy’ pelmeni. Both equally as good.
For Cooking 'Lazy' Pelmeni
In a bowl, combine all dough ingredients & knead until a smooth dough ball forms, about 10 minutes. Cover, set aside & allow dough to rest until your filling is prepared.
In a bowl, combine ground meats, onion, garlic, salt & pepper. Mix well.
FOR THE TRADITIONAL PELMENI:
Divide the dough in half & roll each portion out into 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 2-inch diameter circles & place about a teaspoon of the filling on each circle. Fold the circle in half & crimp edges well, then bring the ends together & crimp. Repeat to use remaining dough & filling. It is best to refrigerate or freeze finished pelmeni before you are ready to boil them.
To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Place pelmeni in the boiling water & cook until they float to the top then cook for about 5 minutes more. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add butter & mix to coat. Serve with sour cream & fresh parsley.
FOR 'LAZY' PELMENI VERSION:
Once dough has rested, transfer to a floured surface. Roll out the dough into a large thin rectangle. Spread meat filling over the dough, leaving a 1/4-inch at the far side of the dough.
Tightly roll the dough up, starting from the wider side, forming a log. Put seam side down to seal the edges. Seal ends of the dough as well. Using a very sharp knife, cut the dough log into 2-inch sections.
In a large skillet that will accommodate all pelmeni, heat oil & cook onion until translucent. Add garlic & continue cooking until fragrant. Add carrot & 1 bay leaf; cook until the carrot is tender, about 1-2 minutes.
Place pelmeni rolls into the skillet with veggies, add the vegetable broth, salt, pepper & the other bay leaf. Cover with the lid & cook for 30 minutes on low heat. Check pelmeni from time to time, to make sure there is liquid in the skillet. Add more if it evaporates too fast. Garnish with fresh parsley. Serve immediately with sour cream if you wish.
The art of stuffing shouldn’t be reserved just for holidays. Stuffed foods let you combine different textures and flavors in every bite. They offer a unique presentation with one food acting as the dish for serving the other ingredients.
Stuffed mushrooms or peppers are probably some of the most common along with a basic sandwich or burger. One of my favorites is clam chowder being served in a bread bowl.
Stuffed foods appear in almost every culture. The options of ‘food inside of food’ is virtually limitless. Any food that can be wrapped around other foods such as large leaves, pasta or pizza dough can also make amazing delicacies.
Basic rice isn’t quite so basic when its shaped and stuffed. These rice and potato balls are a meal all in one …. rice, potatoes, chicken & cheese.
Rice & Potato Balls
In a food processor, place cooked potatoes & (cooked) rice; process for a few seconds then add salt & pepper to taste. Add parmesan & beaten egg; process a few more seconds. Do NOT over process or the mixture will turn into paste. This can also be done with a mixer if you wish. Set aside.
To a large saucepan, add ground chicken & cook for 5 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Add onions & garlic; cook for 5-8 minutes or until onions are soft. Add spices & cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off heat, add the cilantro & set meat aside to cool.
Have a bowl of cold water nearby. Handling with moistened hands, take a small amount of potato/rice mixture & shape it into a round ball. Hold the ball in one hand & hollow it with the thumb of the other hand. Fill with some chicken filling & close opening. Lay filled balls on a large tray as they are made & flatten slightly.
Place flour in a dish, beaten egg in another & the panko crumbs on a flat plate.
Preheat oven to 350 F. & line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roll each ball into the flour then dip into the egg & finally coat with panko bread crumbs. Place on baking tray, lightly spray with cooking oil & bake until golden, about 20 minutes.
If you prefer, heat a combo of oil & butter in a skillet & pan fry balls instead. Alternately they could be deep fried as well.
Meatballs don’t have to be boring. Tender, juicy meatballs, wrapped in puff pastry and served with a zesty sauce makes an easy, inexpensive version of the classic beef wellington.
Economical and versatile, cooking with ground meat opens up plenty of avenues for experimenting. Beyond reliable beef, almost all meats can be ground, but each kind of meat should be treated differently to fully enjoy the benefits.
Consider the fat content of ground meat before you buy. Some fat content is desirable as it adds flavor and helps to keep meat moist during cooking. Choose different types of ground meat for specific dishes. For example …. fatty beef makes juicier burgers but leaner ground turkey or chicken works better served as smaller meatballs or in a sauce. Ground pork makes for a cheaper burger than beef, plus it is unlikely to dry out. Flavor pork with spices like mace, or herbs like sage, thyme and fennel seeds and of course always ensure its cooked through. Ground meat is one of those things that generally ‘you get what you pay for’.
These meatballs make a tasty meal that can be ‘dressed up or down’, depending on what it is served with.
In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Saute mushrooms, onion & garlic until onions & garlic are soft & most of the moisture has been released from the mushrooms, about 3-5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine cooled veg mixture, pork, breadcrumbs & seasonings; mix all ingredients until incorporated. Shape mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs.
Cut thawed puff pastry into thin strips. Wrap each meatball with a few strips of the pastry & place on the baking sheet. Brush pastry with egg wash.
Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden & meat is cooked through. Remove from oven & place on serving platter. These are nice to serve with steamed broccoli, mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy.
Rice has always been a staple at our house. I think Brion could eat rice almost everyday without problem. Although the steamed long grain would be his favorite, I can’t resist making a risotto periodically.
A properly cooked risotto should form a soft, creamy mound on a dinner plate. It shouldn’t run across the plate, nor should it be stiff and gluey.
Risotto’s signature tenderness is traditionally achieved by slowly adding spoonfuls of liquid while the rice cooks. This shortcut version eliminates most of the stove top stirring, but produces equally silky results.
Chicken & Mushroom Risotto
Heat 1 tsp oil in a LARGE POT or DEEP SKILLET over high heat. Add bacon & cook until golden. Transfer to a small microwave-proof bowl.
Leave about 1 Tbsp bacon drippings in pot & discard the rest. Add chicken & cook until browned through. Transfer to a separate bowl. Add mushrooms & cook until light golden. Add to bowl with chicken.
Turn heat down to medium & return pot to the stove. Add butter & melt; then add garlic & onion. Saute for 3 minutes or until softened. Turn up heat, add rice & stir until grains become partially translucent, about 1 minute (do NOT overcook).
Add wine & cook, scraping the bottom of the pot to get any brown bits, about 2 minutes. Turn down heat to medium-low; add about 3 cups of chicken stock. Leave, uncovered, stirring just once or twice, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
Check firmness of rice & add 1/2 cup of broth at a time, stirring in between until absorbed & rice is cooked to YOUR taste. Add the chicken & mushrooms back into the risotto towards the end, just to heat through. Right at the end when the risotto is ready, add a 'splash' more chicken broth to make the risotto slightly soupy, then take it off the stove.
Add butter & Parmesan cheese, then stir vigorously (this will activate the starch & make it super creamy). Serve immediately. Garnish with reheated bacon & extra Parmesan if you wish.
- Risotto is best made with Arborio rice which is starchier than other types of rice, making it essential to achieve a creamy risotto.
- In order to use this 'no stir' method of cooking risotto, you MUST use a large pot or deep skillet so the rice & liquid is spread out & not too deep.
This pairing of pork, corn tortillas and guava brings me back to some of the flavors we tasted on our adventures in both Cuba and Mexico.
Pulled pork sounds like a lot of work but it simply comes down to a gentle, slow cooking process so it can be literally ‘pulled apart’ when finished. Pork shoulder is the most commonly used joint. The long cooking could dry out some cuts but shoulder is quite a fatty joint, therefore providing a natural baste. During the cooking period, most of the fat will dissolve but most importantly its this long cooking process that breaks down the tough fibrous connective tissue called collagen that tenderizes the meat making it so easy to pull apart. Although smokers are very often used, slow cookers or even traditional ovens will do the job nicely.
When the pork is finally done, it needs to rest for 10 minutes and then it should be ready for pulling apart. Use two forks to shred the meat and you’ve got it! This meal not only has great eye appeal, but the taste is wonderful!
Spiced Pulled Pork Tortillas w/ Orange Guava Sauce
Dry Rub for Pork Shoulder
Dry Rub for Pork Shoulder
Drizzle pork with 2 Tbsp of oil; sprinkle with spices & orange zest & rub into meat. Season with salt & pepper. Place in a plastic bag & refrigerate overnight (about 24 hours).
Bring meat to room temperature. Preheat oven to 275 F. Place meat in a roasting pan & bake until thickest part registers 170 F. on a meat thermometer. Basically, roast until it's falling apart. Remove roast from oven & transfer to a large platter. Allow the meat to rest for about 10 minutes. While still warm, take 2 forks & 'pull' the meat to form shreds. Keep warm until ready to assemble tortillas.
Orange Guava Sauce
In a saucepan, saute onion in 1 Tbsp olive oil until tender. Add water (or wine), frozen orange juice concentrate, soy sauce, spices & cubed guava paste. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat slightly & continue to boil gently until mixture reduces slightly. In a cup, combine cornstarch & water & add to sauce continuing to cook about 2-3 minutes more. Taste to see if any spice adjustments are needed.
During the roasting time of the meat, prepare avocados, red onion, cilantro leaves, lime wedges. Drain canned black beans (if using) so they are ready to warm at serving time.
When everything is ready, lay out warm tortillas, top with pulled pork, avocado slices, black beans, red onion, cilantro & drizzle with warm orange guava sauce. Fold or roll tortilla & enjoy!
- If you would rather not have the corn tortillas, cook some rice to serve with pulled pork. Spoon sauce over the meat & serve it with the sliced avocados, red onion & black beans.
Mushroom Wellington is a vegetarian spin on the French classic ‘beef wellington’. The original is an elegant meal, using a beef tenderloin covered with liver pate’, wrapped in pastry and baked. The key to preparing items in this fashion, is that however long it takes to bake the pastry to a golden brown is how long it will be in the oven. In other words, the filling needs to require less time to cook.
A plant based filling makes that even easier to achieve than its meat filled cousin. The use of different types of mushrooms cut into varying sizes gives the dish texture and heartiness along with an earthy flavor. The secret to a deliciously juicy yet flaky mushroom wellington is to drain everything dry and make sure it is completely cold before wrapping it in the puff pastry. Skip this step and your pastry is not only going to be soggy, it will tear when you try to wrap up your wellington. Believe me — ‘bin there, done that’!
Although this would probably be the center piece of a vegan meal, it works beautifully as an accompaniment to meat and roast veggies as well.
In a skillet, fry diced bacon until crispy. Remove bacon to paper towels & blot dry, leaving drippings in skillet. Chop mushrooms, onion & garlic. Saute veggies with spices in bacon drippings until moisture has evaporated. Remove from heat, add bacon & drain or blot off any excess moisture. Cool mixture completely then add cold, cooked Basmati rice, stirring to blend. While the mixture cools prepare vegetable gravy if you are using it.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line your choice of preferred baking pan mold with thawed puff pastry. You should have excess enough to fold over the 'top' of filling. This will form the bottom of your wellington when baked. In each wellington, place 1/4 of the filling, topping each with 50 gms of the cheese. Divide remaining filling between the two wellingtons & fold the excess pastry over it.
If you choose to make a decoration for your baked wellingtons, cut it from some of the excess before closing them. Bake the decorations on a separate pan. Place molds on a baking sheet & bake for about 35 minutes or until pastry is cooked. Remove from oven. I like to flip them onto paper towel at this point just to blot off any excess butter from pastry. Do what you prefer in this case.
In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add bouillon powder, garlic, carrot, celery & onion. Cover & simmer until veggies are very soft. Remove from heat & cool slightly. Puree in food processor or blender. Combine cornstarch & water in a small dish. Stir into puree; return to heat & stir until boiling & slightly thickened. Stir in sour cream IF USING. Serve over mushroom wellingtons.
- If you prefer, omit bacon & use butter to saute your veggies in making it a more vegetarian friendly entree.
Creating interesting, flavorful meals with the smallest number of ingredients and the least fuss, lets you explore new avenues. Using roasted red pepper puree can do just that. To give an example, spoon some puree on a plate, lay a piece of grilled chicken or fish on top. Next sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs and you’ve got it — stunning and delicious!
Roasting red peppers not only makes them easy to peel but incredibly sweet and flavorful. When pureed, they give an amazing boost of flavor to whatever you choose to use them in.
I’ve always loved stuffed pasta shells, Brion probably not so much, but once in a while it works. Instead of using a pasta sauce in this version, I decided to go with the puree. Since a jar of roasted red peppers is a staple in my pantry, I’m doing a short cut idea. It actually worked out quite well.
Pasta Shells with Beef, Artichokes & Roasted Red Pepper
In a large stockpot, boil jumbo shells in salted water for about 15 minutes; drain & rinse under under cold water. While pasta is cooking, stir-fry ground beef & drain on a paper towels; set aside. Add oil & butter to saucepan & saute garlic, onions, mushrooms for about 2-3 minutes. Add chopped red peppers & sun-dried tomatoes; cook another 2-3 minutes.
Cool slightly, transfer to a food processor & process mixture ( you should still have some texture in the peppers when finished). Pour puree back into the skillet; add broth, spices & Roasted Garlic Alfredo Sauce, combine well. Add a small amount of sauce to ground beef; mix well.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread some sauce mixture over bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Inside of each pasta shell place a piece of drained artichoke; divide beef mixture between the shells.
Stand filled pasta shells, single file on top of sauce. Pour remaining sauce over all & top with grated parmigano-reggiano cheese. Cover with foil & bake about 35-40 minutes.
I’m sure the appeal of mushrooms isn’t for everyone. For me, I love that earthy taste. There is hardly anything you can’t use mushrooms in from appetizers to main course.
I remember when I was growing up on the farm we would sometimes find edible mushrooms especially on humid days. My father had an area where hay bales where kept for feeding the cattle in the winter. It seemed this was where these mushrooms would pop up. There was never any great amount — just enough so we each had a taste. Mom would fry them in butter and they were so good.
For company barbecues, I used to make a stuffed mushroom that everyone really enjoyed. The recipe used a frozen souffle product from the Stouffer company. The only problem was every time I needed it I couldn’t seem to find any to buy. Since there are endless kinds of stuffed mushrooms, why not just make a different kind? That would have been too easy! In this recipe I tried to achieve the same kind of spinach souffle.
Mushroom Caps with Spinach Souffle
Nice light, tasty little morsels, great as hors d' oeuvres or part of the main meal
In food processor, combine eggs, soup, onion, garlic powder, & salt; pulse for 30 seconds. Add spinach, bread crumbs, thyme, nutmeg & Parmesan. Blend for another 30 seconds. Set prepared souffle mixture aside.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Remove stems from mushrooms. Wipe mushrooms with a towel as opposed to rinsing them with water. Dip outside of 'cap' in bottled, Zesty Italian dressing. Place in a shallow baking dish; stuff caps with souffle mixture & sprinkle with a few more seasoned crumbs. Bake 15 minutes or until souffle mixture is set.
- This recipe is easily halved or make the amount of mushrooms you need then bake the rest of the souffle mixture in a casserole dish.
- Mushrooms can be made earlier in the day & placed in refrigerator until ready to bake & serve.
- If you prefer, use an extra topping such as grated cheddar or bacon bits.