Pel'Mini Sourdough Egg Noodles

By Katherine Czapp

In the case of many mothers of young children who are in various stages of transforming their families diets to one wise in traditional nutrition, often the last vestiges of modern, convenience meals to bite the dust are macaroni and cheese, either in the dry boxed form or frozen. Why one doesnít make this simple dish from macaroni boiled at home and baked with milk and cheese of known origin is best understood by mothers of young children, I suppose, but the appeal of noodles needs no explanation. Yet of the wide variety of pastas available commercially--with or without egg, organic, whole grain and so forth--unfortunately none have been soaked or fermented to properly process the anti-nutrients in the flour. This is true also for the many recipes for pasta made by hand or machine commonly found in modern cookbooks. Imagine my complete surprise, then, to discover a recipe for pasta dough that requires a 2 to 3 day lacto-fermentation! Even more amazing, the recipe calls for whey!

The source of this recipe is from a recent compilation of ethnic dishes called simply ďRussian CuisineĒ, published in 1998 and edited by V. Mikhailov and M. Riurikova. The first chapter, entitled "Siberia: Motherland of Pelímeni," begins with the history of this well-known and universally loved dish.

Pelímeni are delectable meat-filled dumplings (forerunners of ravioli) associated with the ancient tribal culinary tradition of native Siberian peoples, in particular the Komi-Permyaks, inhabiting the Kama River basin along the Ural Mountains. In the Komi-Permyak language, this dish is called pelí nyaní: pelí means "ear" and nyaní means "bread" so literally these are "bread ears," and in Russian cuisine a variety of pelímeni is also called ushki, or little ears.

Ritual surrounded the preparation of pelímeni, which was a communal event. Only women who had borne children were permitted to prepare them, and they wore particular garments with ornamentation propitious to the success of their endeavor. The women sang special songs to provide rhythm and gentle encouragement to the careful task of preparing hundreds of pelímeni at a time; the dough had to be strong and elastic and sealed properly so that the dumplings would not open during boiling. The meat filling was usually reindeer, moose and horsemeat, chopped finely in a wooden trough, and although most modern pelímeni are made with ground meats, aficionados maintain that the best taste is still obtained from hand-chopping in a wooden vessel.

The Komi-Permyaks were hunters of the forests of the taiga (the moist, subarctic coniferous forest), and took sacks of frozen pelímeni with them on hunting expeditions. Since temperatures were below freezing for many months of the year, this was the perfect "convenience" meal. When the hunters reached their winter shelters it only remained to melt snow over a fire, drop the pelímeni into the boiling water and in a short time dinner was ready. Indeed, the editors of Russian Cuisine implore their readers to make a winter picnic of their own; to go to the forest and build their own fire and boil and eat pelímeni outside; it is an experience to remember all oneís life, they say.


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