27 March, 2009

The Ultimate Comfort Food

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm a good Ukrainian girl.  If you are from anywhere but Western Canada this elicits a questioning, "So?"  But out here that takes pride to admit. Ukrainians are the butt of many a joke about stupidity, frugality, and general country bumpkiness.  Not to mention the ability to consume alcohol and vast quantities of starchy food. My drinking and eating habits aside, I am proud to say that I thinks I gots me some good book learnin', I certainly know how to spend money, and my farm experiences revolve around being shipped to rural Saskatchewan for a few weeks every summer only or investigating potential greenhouse gas reduction projects in my professional life.

As a Ukrainian I can proudly say that I know how to make borscht, blood sausage, cabbage rolls (holubsti) and pyrohy.  Okay, maybe I'm not proud of making blood sausage  - that stuff is vile! But oh, those pyrohy, or pierogies, to the rest of you.

Pyrohy are a go to food in this house.  No energy to cook? Throw some pyrohy in boiling water and dinner is served.  Meeting the potential (at the time) grandson-in-law? Keep water on a low boil until the moment he walks in the door and cook him pyrohy. Shitty, cold day?  Fill up on pyrohy. Pregnant?  Eat them every day your husband, a.k.a. the Diet Nazi, allows.

Although Hubby is only Ukrainian by marriage, he knows the love you get from a heaped plate filled with dumplings, fried onions, and a ridiculously large scoop of sour cream.  When his father was struggling with cancer years back we took a break from the hospital and joined my family at the church pyrohy supper. Concerned family friends asked us how we and his family were managing.  Between bites he simply replied, "Fuck cancer, I'm going to die of a heart attack!" And then he went back for seconds.

It isn't just the tender dough wrapped around creamy, salty potatoes (usually) that fills your gut with a heavy hug, it is the process of making pyrohy. They are time consuming to make. Repetitive and rather boring, it can be meditative. Or you can invite a whole bunch of friends or family over, chat, sip tea (or rye) to stir, roll, and pinch. Trays of frozen dumplings and a lot of laughs later you may not even need to eat them. Okay, you will need to eat them, but maybe a few less.

If you don't have the time or some interested friends, find a Ukrainian church with a pyrohy supper or a European deli that sells homemade. Do. Not. Ever. Buy a supermarket offering. No matter how much bacon, fried onions, or sour cream you slather on, they will not be good. The dough will be tough and the filling gluey.

This is my mom's recipe for pyrohy dough. Find any church cookbook and you will see a million different ways to make the dough. This one, in my handwritten recipe book, makes no sense on paper. No, you are not making glue. Actually, it is damn confusing when you make it too.  Trust me, like the pyrohy process as a whole, take it gentle and it will all come together into your little pillows of goodness.  

Yesterday I invited Julie over and we made a couple of batches between dog adventures, baby snacks, and interviews. She couldn't stop gushing (at least it seemed that way to me) about the tender dough and got me thinking about all sorts of filling options and even frying them before boiling. Bad, Julie!

Baba's Pyrohy Dough

5 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 egg, room temperature
2 cups recently boiled water

1.  In a large bowl mix together the flour and salt.
2. Combine the oil and the egg, beat together lightly.  Stir in to the flour and salt.  It will not combine well, but keep stirring and working at it until you have a coarse meal, like biscuit dough would be before you added the liquid.
3.  Pour your hot water in to the flour and egg mixture, all at once.  Immediately start stirring. It won't look like it is coming together, but keep stirring it.  Don't beat the crap out of it, but stir for a minute or two and it will come together into a somewhat lumpy, ugly dough. The next three photos show this.  Cover with a damp tea towel or loosely cover with plastic wrap.  Let it rest for at least 15 minutes, if not 30.

While your dough is resting you can get your fillings together.  Purists will insist upon mashed potatoes, perhaps with some cottage cheese or maybe cheddar.  Some of us love a good sauerkraut filling (the only ones I would eat as a kid).  The classic filling in this house is cheesy mashed potatoes with a crumble of bacon smack in the middle.  Don't mix it in with the potatoes because the sharp bits of bacon will pierce the dough.  Regardless of your filling choice, make sure it is cool or cold, not hot.  Julie brought over two very yummy fillings - mashed potatoes with cheese and carmelized onions and mashed potatoes with leftover chicken and gravy.

You can also make dessert pyrohy.  My sister-in-law loves them simply filled with saskatoon berries.  Recently I made some with blueberries and ricotta.  And yesterday I used the pear left from Smilosaurus' snack, carmelized them with a bit of butter and a sprinkling of brown sugar mixed with ricotta.  Julie's suggestion was mascarpone, but I had none.  The dessert pyrohy is best served browned in butter with a bit of sugar, like a good blintz should be.  And perhaps some lightly sweetened sour cream on the side.

Let's get to the process of filling that dough now.

First I cut a good hunk from the resting dough, recovering the remainder.  Then roll it out into a log, like we do with playdough.  Make it about an inch around.  Then cut off 1/2 inch chunks. Take those chunks and roll them into balls.  You will have about 1 inch balls.  Of course you can make them any size you want, this is just how I do it.

The next thing you want to do is to roll those balls flat with a rolling pin.  Not too flat or your dumpling won't stay together.  Not too thick or you will have very thick pyrohy and the dough may not cook all the way through.  I would say it's about 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch.

Take a heaping teaspoonful of your filling and place it in the middle of your dough.  Again, not too much, not too little.  After you've made a few you will be able to eyeball the perfect ratio for you.  
Fold over one side to create a semi-circle.  I do this all in my hand, but Julie favoured doing it right on the counter - or with her fancy contraption that made them all too perfect for my liking.

Finally, pinch the sides together.  This is where personal style takes over.  My mom, for example, does a solid pinch all the way around, once.  I do a soft pinch for an initial seal, then a firmer crimp.  It doesn't matter how as long as it is sealed and preferably without a big flange of thin dough.
Et voila!  (I don't know how to say that in Ukrainian).

Unless you live in a large family, or an average Ukrainian family, one batch of dough makes more than one meal or two.  The best way to store pyrohy is frozen.  You need to freeze them individually first.  I lay out tea towels, sprinkle them generously with flour, and place the pyrohy on them as I finish each one.  Freeze, then store in plastic bags, containers, or even ice cream pails in the freezer until ready to use.  Just remember to label them if you made more than one kind! 
Last but not least, you need to cook your pyrohy.  Whether you cook them fresh or frozen., the technique is the same.  Bring a large pot of water to a full boil.  Toss in your pyrohy, not crowding them too much.  Keep at a boil and stir gently every now and then.  The pyrohy are finished when they float at the top.  If they are frozen and particularly thick you might poke them gently to make sure the filling is soft.  Drain.

You can eat them straight this way, generally served with fried onions and sour cream.  A lot of people fry them with the onions to crisp up the outsides.  Growing up we ate them boiled for dinner and the leftovers were fried for breakfast the next day.  What else do you do without a microwave?

I serve mine with some garlic sausage/keilbasa/kubasa.  Other traditional sides/toppings include mushroom gravy, dill sauce, and bacon.  If you want to make the pretense of a healthy meal you might serve salad or peas - to the kids -  with this.  Oh yeah, bring on the heart attack.


Lindsay said...

Have you ever done plum ones with the prune plums in August? They are amazing filled with a small prune plum and some sugar, then boiled, then fried in butter and bread crumbs (I don't know why bread crumbs, but it works!). Great instructions - I too have a handwritten note about the dough that doesn't make a whole lot of sense!

Aimée said...

Thanks for this informative post! You put some heart into it and it shows.
My mother was NOT a good Ukrainian girl and taught me how to cook everything except pierogies.
We made them a few times, but when I was very little. Perhaps I'll take up the tradition--and make my Baba proud.

Julie said...

But what a way to go!!

Kevin Kossowan said...

This post was long overdue in the blogosphere. Well done.

Claire said...

I'm waiting for the last cheemo bag to run out and then I'm going to make these, gd it! a necessary skill for any prairie native.

Betsy said...

Patrick is homesick for pyrogies - a Sudbury favourite, so I have promised him I will try your recipe (probably tomorrow). Any last minute tips?

Ukrainian Canadian said...

Смачного from Toronto ;)

Anonymous said...

Found you through Julie's food blog and I'm reading all your entries. Thank you for this posting on pierogies. It reminded me of the Ukrainian people where I grew up (St. Paul, Alberta area). To me the characteristics they displayed were hard-working, sharing and with big, beautiful gardens always kept very tidy.


Fiona said...

I just want to say, six months later, that I finally made your Baba's pyrohy dough (which I came across thanks to Julie's post) and wow! It's perfect. I was using a recipe from the ReBar cookbook (roasted yam and smoked gouda) and their dough was too dry. Faced with around three pounds of yam, leeks, and cheese sitting in my fridge, I panicked. And then remembered this! So glad I did.

I made them while I watched an online seminar on my laptop. I wonder what all the babas would think of that?

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Rose Tree Originals said...

Oh, thank you, thank you for posting this recipe & the wonderful instructions!! I'm a good ol' Southern gal, proud to be born & raised in Alabama/Georgia/South Carolina, and somehow I married my wonderful husband who's from upstate New York. He will be SO happy to have some real pierogies (ok, ok, not spelled right, I'm sorry!) and I can't wait to try them :)

Lydia said...

Thank you so much for posting this (from one good Ukrainian girl to another!) - my mama is always getting on my case to learn how to make pyrohy but they seemed too daunting, but armed with my babtsia's recipie and yours, it just might encourage me to take the plunge!

Terra said...

Hi Cheryl. I too am a good Ukrainian girl who married a good Polish/Ukrainian boy who just lives up the highway from you in Innisfail. I just found your blog as I am watching the Brier and googling paska recipes. I have my go to pyrohy dough, etc recipes but always like to nose around and see what everyone else is doing. Okay, I'm actually procrastinating my weekend of paska, pyrohy and holupchi making (for English Easter). Where do you buy good Ukrainian garlic kobassa in Calgary? Thanks and I'm really enjoying your blog. Terra Posyluzny