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This Polish recipe for pierogi makes wonderfully soft and pillowy dumplings filled with a savory, vegan mushroom and cabbage stuffing. Serve them up with fried onions, and maybe even a dollop of sour cream (for us non-vegans), for a deliciously crowd-pleasing comfort food.
Article & recipe contributed by Jules Bukovsky
During my second trip through Central Europe, I found myself celebrating Christmas together with my Polish friends.The Polish are known for their hospitality and when I mentioned that I’ll be traveling through the country during the Christmas holidays, I instantly got invited to a couple of family parties.
You see, the Polish believe that nobody should be on their own during these holidays. And thanks to the timing of my trip, I got to learn the secrets of Polish homemade pierogi.
In the traditional Polish cuisine, pierogi are simply dumplings made of wheat pasta and filled with either sweet or salty stuffing. The dumplings can be cooked, baked or fried – but most people simply cook them in boiling water.
The interesting thing about the Polish pierogi is that they come in various shapes and sizes. I’ve seen tiny pierogi that are served in the red Christmas borscht soup. Once I spotted a giant piece of pierogi that is sliced before serving.
The Polish eat salty pierogi for lunch or dinner. These are usually served hot. But pierogi also come in sweet varieties that are often consumed cold as dessert. After I moved to Poland last year, a friend of mine served me blueberry-filled pierogi with fresh cream – I can’t get the taste of out my mind to this day.
But if you ask anyone, pierogi are actually more of an Eastern delicacy. They traveled to Poland together with a Polish monk who found them quite delightful during his trip to Kiev, and brought back the recipe for pierogi to be implemented in the Polish culinary tradition.
I was lucky enough to participate in the Christmas dinner preparations where my friend’s grandmother was busy preparing pierogi for the entire family.
Here’s the recipe for homemade Polish pierogi I got from my first trip, and have used successfully several times since.
- 4 cups flour, plus additional for rolling
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- About 2 cups warm water
- 2 pounds sauerkraut
- Salt and pepper
- 3 ounces dried mushrooms, rinsed to remove any debris, covered in cold water, and set aside for 6 hours or overnight
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped
- 1 bunch parsley, roughly chopped
- 6 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
- 6 onions, finely chopped, divided
- Start by making the dough for your pierogi. Sift the flour into a pile on your work surface, and make a well in the middle.
- Add 2 teaspoons salt and 1 tablespoon cooking oil to the well.
- Start to gradually add warm water to the well as you make your dough, mixing the flour toward the center. You may not need all of the water - you are looking for a pliable, kneadable dough - not too sticky and not too dry.
- Continue kneading your dough until it’s smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes. Once done, cover your dough with a cloth until you are ready to put together your pierogi.
- Now it’s time to cook your sauerkraut. In a medium saucepan, combine the sauerkraut with 1 cup water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 45 to 60 minutes, or until quite soft.
- Once your sauerkraut is cooked, remove from the heat, allow to cool to the touch, and carefully squeeze it to remove all moisture.
- Meanwhile, bring the mushrooms, their soaking liquid, the chopped carrot, and chopped parsley, along with enough additional water to cover, to a simmer. Cook until any tough bits on your mushrooms become soft. Add a pinch of salt and pepper as you finish cooking them. The smell is simply divine!
- Drain the mushrooms, carrot, and parsley, but don’t throw the water away – you can use it as a base for a delicious mushroom soup. You need to squeeze any excess water out of the veggies, as well.
- Transfer the cooked sauerkraut, mushrooms, carrot and parsley to a food processor, and pulse several times until everything is finely chopped and well combined. If you don’t have a food processor, simply chop finely on a cutting board. Alternately, you can use a meat grinder on its largest grind setting (about 1 cm in diameter), and grind everything together (see note).
- Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large pan, and add half the chopped onions. Cook the onions until soft and beginning to turn translucent. Remove from the heat.
- In a large bowl, combine the onions with the mushroom mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- It’s time to put your pierogi together. Divide your dough into four parts for ease of rolling.
- On a floured work surface, roll one part of the dough into a very thin disk (see note). Use a small glass to cut circular shapes in your dough. Keep the unused dough and cut rounds covered with a kitchen towel as you work to prevent drying. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- Place a small spoonful of stuffing in the center of each round, fold in half, and press the edges of your pierogi together, making a dumpling.
- Fill a large pot with water, add a heavy pinch of salt, and bring to a full boil.
- Drop the pierogi into the boiling water and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the dough feels soft and cooked through. You can check whether the dumplings are soft by picking one up with a slotted spoon and giving it a gentle poke. Once cooked, use a slotted spoon to remove from the boiling water.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons cooking oil in a large pan. Once hot, add the remaining chopped onions, and fry until golden brown.
- Your Polish pierogi are ready! Serve them along with the fried onion.
- If you’ve made too many pierogi, don't worry - they keep well for a few days. Just heat them up in a pan the next day, and they’ll be even more delicious.
When I first made this recipe, I ended up with far more filling than dough. It turns out that skilled pierogi makers are quite adept at rolling their dough very thinly (a heck of a lot thinner than me), ending up with the proper proportion of filling to dough. When you make your pierogi, try to get your dough as thin as possible - not only will you get lots of tasty dumplings, but the finished texture will more tender and delicate.
If it turns out your rolling skills are on par with mine, you may end up with extra stuffing. Don’t throw it away! It will be tasty added to pasta sauces, used as a soup base, or layered into grilled sandwiches.
Regarding using a meat grinder to make the stuffing - I thought it was an unusual suggestion, so I inquired to Jules about it. The story goes that when she was learning to make pierogi, she received a “super old-school” meat grinder from a friend to use in the preparation. She says it may not be the easiest method, but it is a fun way to do it!
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