I recently asked Linda Mappes and Lorraine Graney, two good friends of Capital Region Living Magazine and book club buddies, who have Polish lineage, to teach me about making pierogi. I also wanted “the color.” I wanted them to tell of their memories of preparing pierogi for the holidays. When we all gathered at Linda’s house, we jumped right in and revived ourselves from a long work day with rich ingredients and even richer memories.
The house smelled delicious quickly into the evening. It was like a flashback to a time when food cooked slowly and ingredients were the freshest. Linda had prepared the dough and a couple of the traditional fillings from her family while Lorraine came in with prepared pierogi. She had dutifully spent her Sunday making them to tweak her skills before sharing the following day.
While rolling dough, Linda shared a funny story about a night before Christmas when she and her mom had a late start to their annual labors of love, making the holiday pierogi. It was 10pm and they had a couple glasses of wine, as we were doing and as we recommend to everyone when they can. By 1 am, they were struggling in trying to get the dough rolled out; they decided to start throwing it back and forth and were laughing hysterically. Linda’s dad came in shaking his head and thinking, these girls are crazy, and probably hoping the pierogi would still be as fantastic as usual.
It is always fond memories like these that add an essential element to cooking. I love to cook but especially when stories are shared and friendship is taken to a new level by the sharing. I felt I was in that kitchen with Linda and her mom that Christmas Eve and was certain that those tipsy pierogi were great!
In doing some research, I learned from TastingPoland.com that the Polish word pierogi is plural. Its singular equivalent, pieróg is not used. It is so because of a size of the dumpling—pierogi are always served two or usually more. An English word “pierogies” is supposed to underline the “plurality” but such a form is rather inappropriate, so I decided not to use it in this article even though many of us have been saying in incorrectly (but we know now).
Again, TastingPoland.com states that pierogi are made of thinly rolled dough with various fillings. A large number of filling types makes this Polish food a snack, spicy first course or even a dessert.
The most traditional fillings we know are: potatoes, cheese, sauerkraut and mushrooms. A vegetarian variant of pierogi made from mushrooms and a cabbage is dished up during the Christmas Eve dinner (according to the Polish tradition, food must be meatless that day). Other kinds of pierogi particularly popular during the summer are sweet pierogi. Seasonal fruits are used as a filling—mainly blueberries or strawberries. Pierogi filled with a specially prepared sweetened Polish curd cheese (called a white cheese by the Poles) also is very delicious and popular.
Honestly, pierogi is one of those foods that you really can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen. There are just so many steps to the recipes. First is the dough, which is not complicated but does need to rest before rolling. After rolling you then cut, fill and seal. Next the little scrumptious pillows need to be boiled and/or fried. Many hands and chatter in the kitchen make for short work of it all.
As I know, this seems very time consuming but the end product is so worth your time, even after a long day at work. Getting together with friends to laugh, cook and reminisce could be the master ingredient to a great slice of life!
Lorraine’s Family Pierogi Recipe
Makes about 1 1/2 dozen
• 2 cups flour
• 1/2 cup warm milk
• 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk
• 2 tbls sour cream
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1tsp butter
• Mix ingredients and knead into soft pliable dough. Let rest for 10 min. covered with a warm bowl.
• Divide dough in half and roll thin.
• Cut circles with large biscuit cutter
• Put a small spoonful of the filling a little to one side. Moisten the edge with water, fold it over and press/crimp the edge together. Seal it well or the filling will seep out during cooking.
• Drop the pierogi into salted, boiling water for about 5 minutes.
• Take out with slotted spoon. At this point you can serve warm with butter. ( I like to fry some onions in butter or bacon grease and pop the pierogi in until lightly browned – adds additional layer of yummy flavor; also a great way to reheat)
Sauerkraut and mushroom filling
• 2 cups of sauerkraut
• 1 cup chopped mushrooms
• 1 small onion, chopped fine
• Salt and pepper
• 1 tbls sour cream
• tbs apple cider vinegar
• Cook the sauerkraut about 15 minutes, drain it and chop it up fine. Fry the onion and mushrooms in butter, add sauerkraut and fry until the flavors are blended. Let it cool before filling.
Linda’s Pierogi Fillings
(Start the day before you plan to serve.)
• 1 lb sauerkraut
• 1 cup dried split peas
• 1 small head cabbage, shredded
• 2 cups diced mushrooms
• Bacon or pork belly
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Soak split peas in water for several hours. Drain, return peas to pot and cover with water and simmer until tender.
• Drain and add salt and pepper to taste.
• Sauté mushrooms in 2 tbls butter until nicely brown.
• Cook cabbage in salt water until tender. Drain.
• In a large dutch oven melt 1 tbls butter; add ¼ pound bacon or pork belly and sauté to release the fat. Drain meat on paper towel and discard all but 1 tbls. fat.
• Over low heat, add cabbage, kraut, drained peas and mushrooms. Cover with 1 cup water and simmer until everything is tender and flavors are blended.
• Thicken with roux, if desired.
• 1 pkg dried apricots cut into chunks
• 1 cup water
• 2 tbls brown sugar
• ¼ cup brandy
• 1 tbls orange marmalade
• In a heavy duty sauce pan mix all ingredients and simmer until apricots are tender.
• Cool slightly.
• Add cinnamon or ginger if desired.