Tuesday, February 18, 2014


I tend to have a fairly predictable reaction to the food stories I cover, especially those with an emotional component. Namely, they make me hungry. When I recorded elderly women talking about their memories of Jewish food, I immediately went home and baked up a tearful batch of rugelach. And last week, when I recorded a family making a long-cooked, hearty Eastern European meal (more on that soon), and not too long after finishing a story on Russian drinking snacks, I went home, browned some onions, and made some pierogies.

Pierogies are one of those dishes that I generally buy rather than make (usually from the kind ladies at the local Ukrainian church). They were also one of my cheap post-collegiate meals, usually found at the Polish butchers (or corner bodegas) in my old Brooklyn neighborhood. But there's something lovely about taking the time to caramelize up some onions (and it does take time), and turn the cheapest of pantry staples into the same comforting dish that people have made for generations. These are dishes you want to keep alive, whether on the radio, or in the kitchen.


adapted from Oma & Bella — speaking of keeping stories alive....
yields ~30 pierogies (I used a smaller cutter, so I had more), ~4 servings

1/2 cup vegetable or other neutral oil
2 large yellow onions, finely diced
1 1/2 pounds starchy potatoes (~3 medium-sized ones)
salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup water
2 large eggs
hefty pinch salt
3 cups (380 grams) flour

scallions or chives, thinly sliced
sour cream

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over a medium-low heat. Add the onions and fry, stirring and adjusting the heat as needed, until they color evenly a rich, dark brown, ~1 hour.

While the onions are caramelizing, peel the potatoes and simmer them in salted water until quite tender, ~25 minutes. Drain, then return to the pot and mash (the residual heat in the pot will help dry them out). When the onions are caramelized, transfer them to the potato pot with a slotted spoon, and mash them in as well (you can add enough of the fry oil as needed to make a smooth mixture, reserving any additional oil for frying the finished pierogies). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make the dough, mix together the water, eggs, salt and flour, and knead until a smooth dough forms (like pasta dough, this is fairly stiff, and easiest done in a mixer with a dough hook, of which our Eastern European matriarchs would approve).  Let sit covered at room temperature for 30 minutes to relax.

When the dough is relaxed, lightly flour a countertop, and gather up a biscuit cutter (or glass with a 3-inch diameter), lightly floured cookie sheet, and small dish of water.

Roll out to the dough make a nice, thin sheet — you don't need it as thin as a sheet of pasta, but a thin dough makes for a deliciously delicate pierogie. If it fights you and shrinks back, let it sit covered for another few minutes to relax further. Take a biscuit cutter, or a glass with about  3-inch diameter, and cut out circles. Dip your finger in the water and moisten the edges of the circles, then fill them with a spoonful of filling (as you work, you'll get a sense of how much filling each pierogie can take). Fold the dough around the filling to form a half-circle, and pinch shut the moistened edges. Transfer the filled dumpling to your floured cookie sheet, and repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Scraps of dough can be mushed back together into a ball, and, after relaxing, re-rolled.

When all of the pierogies are shaped, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Transfer the pierogies to the water, stirring once or twice at first to make sure they don't stick, and simmer until they float to the surface (this should just take a few minutes). Drain in a colander, giving a shake now and then so that they don't stick to each other.

Heat the reserved onion oil (or, if you don't have enough, additional oil) in a skillet over a medium-high heat. Fry the cooked pierogies until they brown, just a minute or two per side. Serve warm, with scallions/chives and sour cream.


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