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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Popkoff's pelmeni

My husband is Russian. Actually, he’s from the former Soviet Union, hailing from what’s now called Ukraine. Since I met him, just a month out of college, his mother has been cooking us handmade, authentic pelmeni (pronounced pel-MEN-ee), Russian dumplings stuffed with flavorful minced meat. As tradition dictates, she serves them steaming hot with a slice of butter and a dollop of sour cream. It hits home every time—an Eastern European comfort food that rivals treasured American classics like Campbell’s chicken soup or grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s usually followed by a good heaping of cabbage-laden borscht, also adorned with a healthy dose of sour cream. By the end of the meal, you realize a sublime appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.
Popkoff's Frozen Foods offers authentic pelmeni and vareniki in 10-ounce packages.
Imagine my skepticism, then, when Popkoff’s Frozen Foods challenged me—and my husband—to test its pelmeni (similar to Italian tortellini) and vareniki (like a crescent-shaped ravioli) after being packed in dry ice and shipped from its facility in San Francisco to my office in Chicago. We were quick to rebuke the notion that a frozen pelmeni could even compare with Babushka’s, but we were willing to give it a try, of course.
After bringing them home for dinner, one thing was certainly obvious: They were fast and simple to cook. The frozen morsels only took five minutes until done, giving me barely enough time to get the cabbage salad ready. That’s a vast improvement on time since it takes my mother-in-law a tedious and grueling two or three hours just to get a few batches prepped for the week.
Once topped with the necessary garnishes, the moment of truth was upon us. Michael, my husband, was the true taste-tester here, as his Russian palate is more sophisticated than mine. And the verdict:
“For a frozen pelmeni, it’s pretty authentic.” That’s a direct quote from a very direct Russian, believe me. Ultimately, he gave it the “Michael stamp of approval,” although he refused to give me a comparison breakdown with his mom’s version. He did, however, discuss his reasoning.
For one, there is no funny aftertaste like with many frozen foods. I realized this to be due to its plethora of natural ingredients: non-GMO King Arthur Flour; Mary's Free Range Chicken, which is air-chilled and free from antibiotics and steroids; and Meyer Natural Angus Beef, also free from antibiotics and steroids. They’re also completely free of preservatives, artificial flavors or colors, soy or fillers.
The beef pelmeni is the most traditional, and Michael said Popkoff’s flavor profile is spot-on authentic. Again, no unfamiliar ingredients here: all-natural beef, wheat flour, water, onions, egg, sour cream, pepper, salt and sugar. In fact, Michael’s mother’s recipe is not far from it. The Popkoff Pelmeni are also available with chicken and farmer's cheese. The Vareniki are filled with either potato and onion or cabbage and carrot.
What we both noticed is that the hearty doughy shells didn’t break when I drained them from the pot, which is sometimes an issue with the homemade version. Traditionally, pelmeni and vareniki are boiled, sautéed with butter and then topped with dill, sage, rosemary or caramelized onions and a dollop of sour cream. But I was pleasantly surprised to read on about the many recipes in which pelmeni can star: Asian dumpling soup, Chinese chicken salad, Mexican sope and even creamy Italian pasta dishes. They can easily be added to any soup or salad, although I don’t think anything beats eating them plain with humble preparations.
"Not only do we pride ourselves on keeping these traditional recipes of Eastern Europe alive, but we have gone to great lengths to make them with only the best ingredients," says Popkoff's President Alex Meseonznik. To learn more about the 10-ounce packages of Popkoff’s Pelmeni and Vareniki, visit