Exploring Pierogi: The Polish Dumplings
Does Every Country Have a Dumpling Recipe?
It seems that every country and culture has in their repertoire at least one envelope of dough stuffed with savory meats and vegetables. Here's a short list:
- dumplings (China)
- empanadas (Central and South America)
- gyoza (Japan)
- pasties (England)
- ravioli (Italy)
- samosas (India)
- tamales (Mexico)
And then, there are Polish pierogi—peasant food for sure, but a happy peasant food. There is a flavor for the observance of every holiday and special family event. According to polskafoods.com:
Part of this tradition is still followed today. For example, most Polish families still enjoy the traditional Cabbage, Sauerkraut, and Mushroom pierogi flavor on Christmas Eve as part of their “Wigilia Dinner.”
Even the word, pierogi (which has half a dozen variant spellings, all considered acceptable), comes from the Slavic word pir meaning “festivity,” hence the association of holidays with this treat.
What's Their Story?
We have been told that many culinary wonders of the world originated in China. You probably think that sushi is a Japanese dish, but the Chinese did it first. Ketchup? It might be an American condiment now, but guess who made it first? The word pasta might lead you to daydreams of Rome, but it began in China (thanks to Marco Polo for moving it westward). And because it was the Chinese who created pasta dough, many point to the East as the birthplace of pierogi.
But there are several more colorful stories.
Other Potential Origins of Pierogi
On July 13, 1238, Friar Hyacinth Konski visited the town of Kościelec. A storm raged, destroying all of the crops, dooming the populace to starvation. Hyacinth knelt with the villagers and prayed with them for divine intervention. The next day the crops rose back from the dead. In a show of gratitude, the people of the town created for him a meal of pierogi from those miracle crops.
Another tale states that the Tartars invaded Kiev in 1241. Hyacinth fed pierogi to the populace after the famine created by that siege.
Yet another legend states that it was the Tartars who introduced pierogi to the West from the Russian Empire.
Why Are They So Popular?
Pierogi are the epitome of comfort food. They can be baked, boiled, or fried; they can be eaten hot or cold; and they can be filled with just about whatever you have on hand.
While potato, cheese, and/or sauerkraut are common fillings now, the first recorded recipe for pierogi featured chopped kidneys, veal fat, greens, and nutmeg. We can thank the renowned cook Stanisław Czerniecki ("Compendium Ferculorum", 1682) for that amazing creation. (And I'm even more thankful that Stanislaw's cookbook is out of print.)
Let's start making pierogi.
The Perfect Pierogi Dough
- 2 1/2 cups bread flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup sour cream
- Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
- Mix for 8 minutes with a dough hook.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 20 minutes.
How to Shape Pierogi
- Divide dough into two equal pieces. Roll each piece to 1/8-inch thickness on lightly floured board. Cut into 3-inch circles.
- Place a tablespoon of chosen filling onto each round. Fold into a half-moon shape, enclosing the filling in dough. Pinch the edges to seal.
How to Cook Pierogi
- Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Carefully lower 8 of the pierogi into the boiling water. Cook until they come up to the surface of the water and float (about 2 minutes).
- Gently remove and set on a rack to drain. Continue to cook in batches until all are cooked.
- Saute the pierogi in butter in a large shallow pan over medium heat until golden, about 2 minutes per side.
- 3 cups sauerkraut
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- Rinse the sauerkraut water, squeeze dry, and chop very fine.
- Saute the onion in the cooking oil over medium heat until softened, about 2 minutes.
- Stir in the sauerkraut and sour cream and cook to meld flavors, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Chill thoroughly before using to fill pierogi.
Mashed Potato and Cheese (From Cook's Country)
- 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
- Salt and pepper
- 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (1 cup)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Combine potatoes and 1 tablespoon salt in large saucepan and cover with water by 1 inch.
- Bring to boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat to medium and cook at a vigorous simmer until potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes.
- Drain potatoes in a colander. While still hot, combine potatoes, cheddar, butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Fit the mixer with paddle and mix on medium speed until potatoes are smooth and all ingredients are fully combined, about 1 minute.
- Transfer filling to an 8-inch square baking dish and refrigerate until fully chilled, about 30 minutes, or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
Kim Laidlaw (on Chowhound), creates a vegetarian filling with mushrooms, onion, and garlic minced fine in a food processor, and then sauteed to savory wonderfulness with thyme and sweet/nutty sherry.
But That's Not All
Don't you feel empowered? You now know how to make pierogi, and you have three simple filling recipes from which to choose. You can stuff these cute gems with whatever your little heart desires, or use your new-found skill to try one of these recipes:
Pierogi With Kielbasa and Cabbage
Mary Ellen uses a 1-pound package of frozen premade pierogi for this dish, but you can use your own homemade beauties. You'll need one dozen. Dumplings plus kielbasa and cabbage are a wonderful dish you can have ready for your hungry family in under 30 minutes.
Ham and Cheese Pierogi
KevinAndAmanda prepare a meal-in-a-dish in this simple recipe that utilizes one dozen frozen pierogi (or your homemade ones). Ham, broccoli, and cheese make it salty, creamy, and cheesy, and you can tell mom that you ate your vegetables too.
Crack Chicken Pierogi Casserole
PlainChicken creates an easy weeknight meal using two 1-pound packages of frozen pierogi (that's 24 pieces). This makes a huge 9x13-inch casserole, so it would be good for a crowd (church potluck?) or one hungry family.
- Pierogi is plural; the singular form of the word is pierog.
- October 8 is National Pierogi Day in America.
- Pierogi have their own patron saint (St. Hyacinth).
- There are numerous accepted spellings. Most use 'pierogi', but perogi, perogy, pirohi, piroghi, pirogi, pirogen, pierogy, pirohy, and pyrohy also appear in print.
- The largest edible pierogi was made during Indiana’s Pierogi Fest in Whiting. It weighed 92 pounds!
- Ten students from a catering school in Wroclaw, Poland were entered into the Guinness World Records Book for making 1,663 pierogi (90 pounds) in 100 minutes. They donated the pierogi to children’s homes.
- Poland has pierogi restaurants called “Pierogarnia.” (They are almost as common as a Starbucks in America).
- At the 2007 Pierogi Festival in Kraków, 30,000 pierogi were consumed each day of the celebration.
- The town of Glendon in Alberta, Canada unveiled its roadside tribute to pierogi in 1991—a huge statue of one pierog on a fork. The fiberglass and steel statue is 25 feet high and weighs 3 tons.
- Sixty-eight percent of the pierogi consumed in the United States are sold in the "pierogi pocket", a geographic area covering New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Chicago, Detroit, parts of the northern Midwest and southern New England.
- Tappan, New York hosts an annual Polish Festival in June with a pierogi eating contest.
© 2018 Linda Lum