A few months ago, when we made lefse, I shared the story of how I made my husband’s entire family stop and stare with silence when I admitted I had never eaten nor even heard of lefse. And so it was with him when I first said the word pierogi in our marriage. I think it went like this…
Eric: So…my first Easter at your parents’ house. What kind of food will your Mom make?
Me: Well…probably ham, mashed potatoes, corn and bread…and polish sausage and pierogies.
Eric: (incredulously) First…pierogies? That sounds like a community of small dwarves. And sausage with ham? Double pork?
And so I explained to him the goodness that is pierogies: an Eastern European fried dough pocket wrapped around a cheesy-mashed-potato filling…often served, at least at my house, with grilled onions. His skeptical eyebrows began to lower at the words “cheesy-mashed-potato-filling.” (You can also fill them with lots of other things like meat or prunes, but let’s face it, I grew up in Wisconsin, and no one in my family was ever going to choose prunes over cheese.)
Over time, as we had more marital conversations about lutefisk and lefse, pierogis and galumpkis, I began to realize just how “ethnic” some of these foods that we’d grown up with really are. So, I began to scheme about an ethnic birthday party potluck…in which all the party-goers had to bring a food that represented something from their heritage.
I invited a group of our closest friends, all of whom are foodies in their own right – and the ideas for what people planned on bringing began filling my inbox. It was only when a few different people mentioned bringing haggis, a Scottish sheep stomach dish, that I began to second guess the genius of my idea, but the planning went on. And the day after I turned 29, our nearest and dearest packed our table to the gills with a delicious ancestral hodgepodgery.
1. Haggis: It actually happened. A Scottish dish of minced meat and organs cooked within a sheep’s stomach. Our conclusion: wasn’t so bad.
2. Egg Noodles with Beef: A solid German dish with !homemade! noodles. Impressive!
3. Pluma Moos: Mennonite cold fruit soup. Appetizer? Dessert? Winner either way.
4. Modro Kapusta (“Purple Cabbage”): A full-of-flavor sweet and sour Polish cabbage dish from a full-of-flavor Polish girl.
5. Layered Bean Dip: Mexican chip dip that I could have eaten for hours.
6. Chicken Divan: A classic Scandinavian-Midwestern favorite in its creamy, cheesy, croutony goodness.
7. Bubbles & Squeak Patties: A Scottish mixture of fried potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and cheese. Extra points for being in season!
8. Galumpkis / Stuffed Cabbages: Czech cabbage rolls filled with ground beef and rice, simmered in tomato soup.
9. Apple Sharlotka: Russian apple cake that could totally be eaten for breakfast or dessert.
10. Swedish Kringle: A simply delicious pastry from a fair-haired Viking descendant.
Sadly, sadly unpictured:
*Sausage Chowder: A very savory German sausage soup complete with swiss cheese, carrots, cabbage, and potatoes.
*Butterhorn Cookies: Hungarian crescent-roll-shaped mini cookies filled with brown sugar and walnuts. Warning: you will eat 20 of these if put in front of you.
I was so, so impressed at the ability of my friends to recreate foods that their great grandparents would have eaten…and how incredibly seasonal it all ended up being…coming from cold climates, there must have been a lot of cabbage and potatoes in the picture for our ancestors. It was such a fun birthday for me, full of food and friends and multiple table extensions.
Of the few dishes that I attempted, I had the most fun making the pierogies. Having only ever watched my mom and older sisters make them, I was a little nervous to attempt them on my own, and I’ll admit that I probably called my mom about 8 times in the process. But they turned out…well…like pierogies should, and I was pretty pleased with myself.
Just a mixture of dough and filling, their simple taste is what I think makes them taste so homey. I’ve traditionally eaten them filled with sharp-cheddar mashed potatoes, but I’m excited to try variations (chives? feta?) in the future, now that I’ve had some success. While the dough and filling are easy enough to make, the steps that follow – rolling, cutting, filling, sealing, boiling, and frying – make pierogis a little labor-intensive and probably more enjoyable with a friend. Try topping them with grilled onions or sour cream…or some bippity boppity bacon bits!
What crazy ethnic food did you grow up eating?
(recipe from the Czech/Russian side of my family)
(yields about 20 pierogis)
The recipe listed here is how I grew up eating pierogis - filled with cheesy mashed potatoes and fried, but there are endless variations of this classic out there.
3 c. flour (plus more for rolling)
1 tsp. salt
3/4 c. cold water (I put mine in the fridge for 20 minutes prior to using)
Cheesy Mashed Potato Filling:
2-3 large potatoes
1 - 1 1/2 c. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
3 tbsp. milk ( or more to reach desired consistency)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 c. butter, melted
4-5 tbsp. butter more (for frying)
Topping options: grilled onions, sour cream, bits of fried bacon
Make your cheesy mashed potatoes first: Peel potatoes, then cut into about 1 1/2 -inch wedges. Place wedges in a pot and cover (by about an inch) with water. Cover, bring to a boil, and boil on high for about 15 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork. Drain potatoes and beat together (using masher or electric mixer) with the cheese, milk, and salt and pepper, until desired taste and consistency is reached. Set aside.
Mix the flour, eggs, salt, and cold water together in a bowl and stir until thoroughly combined. Don't be afraid to use your hands if you find kneading easier than stirring.
(I had to do the following in 3 cycles, because of counter space, but do as much dough at a time as possible. )
Roll out your dough to about 1/4-inch thick on a floured surface. Add as much flour as you need to the counter or dough to keep it from sticking.
Cut the dough into 4-inch squares (or try using a drinking glass to cut out circles, which I want to try next time).
Place the squares/circles onto a piece of wax paper (adding more flour as needed to keep it from sticking).
Fill each square/circle with about 2 tbsp. of filling. Use your judgment about what will fit well.
Fold the dough over the filling and seal the edges with the prongs of a fork, making sure that no filling is spilling out of what is now a closed dough pocket.
Bring a large pot (I used a dutch oven-sized pot) of water to boil.
Place about 6 or 7 pierogies in the boiling water at a time. Don't worry: they won't fall apart even though they look so fragile!
Keeping the lid off, watch for the pierogies as they begin to surface (after about 3-4 minutes).
As they surface, scoop them out with a slotted spoon, and dip them in the melted butter.
Set to the side on clean wax paper, not touching one another.
Melt a tablespoon of butter in a frying pan over medium heat.
After it's melted, add about 2-3 tbsp. of water (to make sure the pierogies get heated through before browning too much).
Place the pierogies in the frying pan and fry until browned on one side, then flip and brown on the other side.
Eat immediately with one of the topping options listed above.
**Pierogies, for all their effort, are totally easy to freeze. After boiling and dipping in melted butter, place them in a tupperware container. After lining the bottom of the container with pierogies, place a layer of plastic wrap, then continue to add alternating layers of pierogies and plastic wrap. The plastic wrap is super important to keep them from sticking to each other. When you want to make your froze pierogies, let them thaw in the refrigerator for 2 days prior and then make as instructed above.