I’m an Eastern European mutt, descended from grandparents and great grandparents who were born in the tiny, border shifting villages of Romania, Russia, and Poland. At some point, my ancestors may have been Ukranian, or Hungarian, or Bulgarian. We have no records that far back, but considering the politics and the fluid borders of that part of the world, anything’s possible.
I do know that I’m at least half Polish, by virtue of a grandmother born in Warsaw and great grandparents who emigrated from elsewhere in Poland. But, in spite of all that Polish influence, I don’t remember a single pierogi from my childhood. I somehow associate them with gentile Polish cuisine, even though they are just a whisper away from kreplach, the Jewish dumpling that so keenly resembles the periogi (or, for that matter, Asian dumplings and Italian ravioli). Or is it vice versa?
No matter. They all amount to a thin skin of dough wrapped around a precious dollop of flavor. Often a small amount of ground meat mixed with spices, but just as commonly a vegetable mixture, or fruit, or sweetened cheese.
I chose Poland as January’s destination for My Kitchen, My World because I really wanted to learn how to make (and eat) pierogi. It turns out, as with any of these dumplings, the fun (and the real work) is in the fillings. You can stick to the traditional (potato and cheese are popular), or be more exotic. Blueberries, Indian spices, sauteed tofu, spiced apples, chipotle-cheese and salsa, Thai peanut sauce with chicken are just a few of the ideas I came across when researching recipies. In the end, I chose wild mushroom, Moroccan lamb, and sweet ricotta.
Pierogi making is a multi-step process that you can spread out over a few days, or make all in one intensive session (I picture Polish grandmothers, mothers, and daughters congregated in kitchens for pierogi-making afternoons).
Once formed, however, you can defer the cooking and eating part until later by freezing the pierogi until you’re ready for them. The final thawing and cooking makes for an easy week-night dinner accompanied by some kielbasa and roasted brussels sprouts.
I loved all of the pierogi I made, but my favorite were the ones filled with sweet ricotta cheese, and drizzled with a caramel-cabernet reduction sauce that a friend sent us for the holidays. I don’t have the recipe for that sauce yet, but maybe I can trade some pierogi for it.
Yield: 20-40 pierogi, depending on the size you make
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 large egg
Sweet ricotta filling
(enough to fill about 1/4 of the above dough recipe)
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract
- Make the fillings and allow to cool. For our pierogi, I made this wild mushroom filling, this Moroccan lamb tagine recipe (note: I used only a portion of the recipe for the pierogi; the rest we ate with rice for another meal), and a sweet ricotta filling by whipping together the second set of ingredients above.
- To make the dough, put the flour and salt in a bowl and whisk to blend. Make a well in the center. In a separate bowl, beat together the water, egg, and oil with a fork, then pour into the well. Stir with a wooden spoon, gradually incorporating the flour into the liquids until all the ingredients are combined and you have a soft dough. Knead a few times, round up into a ball, put in a lightly greased bowl, and cover to rest at room temperature for an hour.
- When the dough has rested and the fillings are ready, divide the dough into two pieces and, leaving one piece covered in the bowl, roll the other piece out on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 1/8 of an inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter or a glass to cut circles of the size you want. I used a small biscuit cutter to make circles about an inch-and-a-half in diameter.
- Put a small amount of filling in the center of a dough circle (the amount of fillingdepends on the size of the circle, but you want to leave a nice margin around the edge for crimping), then fold the circle in half and crimp the edges to seal them.
- Put the formed pierogi on a parchment lined pan to wait as you form the rest, moving on to the second piece of dough as necessary. Once they are all formed, you can either cook them immediately, or freeze them for storage (see below).
- To cook the pierogi, boil a large pot of lightly salted water. Once the water is boiling, slip the pierogies into the pot. They’ll settle to the bottom at first, so give them a little stir to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot or each other. In a few minutes, they’ll begin to float to the top. Once they are floating, boil them a further 5 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon.
- You can eat the pierogi boiled, or you can finish them by pan frying them in bit of butter or oil until they are brown and a bit crispy, a few minutes per side.
- To freeze uncooked pierogi for later, put the tray of pierogi in the freezer until they are completely frozen, then transfer them to plastic bags until you’re ready to use them. On the morning of cooking day, spread the frozen pierogi on trays again and leave in the refrigerator to thaw. When they are thawed follow the steps above to boil and pan fry them.
To see the round up of the group’s Polish recipes, visit the My Kitchen My World (MKMW) site. (You can also see where the group has already traveled.) To join in, just make a dish (or more) for the month’s country, blog about it, and put a link to your post in the comments on the MKMW page.
In February, we travel to the Czech Republic.