Although I was born in Philadelphia, as a boy I grew up at the Jersey shore—Wildwood, to be precise. My parents purchased an old hotel (60 rooms, 7 apartments) with a dining room when I was about two years old. As soon as I was old enough to contribute to the family business as an indentured servant, I began working in the dining room. The restaurant served Polish-American food and I started working there at approximately age ten by preparing the bread baskets with dinner rolls and rye bread and by putting the salad dressings on the individual salads.
Eventually, I wound up doing just about everything there was to do in the business: cook, busboy, waiter, cashier, maître d’/host, dishwasher, floor-mopper, etc. Until I was about 17—when the hotel was demolished and a new motel was built in its place—I learned many interesting Polish recipes from my father who ran the hotel kitchen. He was known for his homemade stuffed cabbage (gołąbki) and kielbasa (sausage), czarnina (duck soup) and borscht (red beet soup). Many of his recipes originally came from his mother’s kitchen.
However, it was from a Ukrainian lady named Irene, who assisted my father in the kitchen, that I learned two recipes: pierogi and chrusciki.
Many cultures have some type of a pasta or dumpling dish. Eastern Europeans are no exception. I share with you now a recipe for one of the most well-known ethnic foods: pierogi. Meatless varieties include potato, cheese, sauerkraut (cabbage) and mushroom with various combinations of these ingredients.
To make the dough—
The basic ingredients for the dough (and fillings) are listed here which should be enough for two batches of 18 – 20 pierogi. I like to make pierogi in small batches. Repeat the recipe (double, triple) as many times as needed. Some recipes call for additional ingredients for the dough like sour cream, milk, oil, baking powder, etc. However, these four basic ingredients will make a suitable dough for stretching, filling and cooking pierogi. The key is to knead the dough to the point where it is not tacky and will stretch suitably for easy filling. The dough should not be too thin where it will break open easily, nor too thick so that the pierogi seem more dough than filling. Usually about ⅛ inch is the best approximate thickness, once rolled-out.
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup water
- ½ teaspoon salt
Mix the ingredients in a mixing bowl until they are no longer tacky. More flour (or water) may sometimes be necessary to achieve the proper texture. Knead thoroughly on a large pastry board, breadboard or countertop, adding additional flour as needed. Mold into a ball and let the dough sit in a covered bowl for approximately 20 minutes, once the dough is pliable and no longer tacky. Separate into two batches of dough. Roll half the dough until approximately ⅛ inch thick. Dust with flour, as needed. Cut into circles (using a water glass, round cookie or biscuit cutter, etc.) approximately 3-3½ inches in diameter. Fill the pierogi with a tablespoonful or so of the mixture and seal the edges pressing and closing thoroughly to form a half-moon shape. (Warning: if they break open in the water, you will have a mess!) Place in boiling water until they begin to float and the dough is cooked. Optionally, pierogi may be fried (after boiling) in butter or oil. Typically, they are topped with sautéed, chopped onions and a dollop of sour cream.
For the fillings—
Potato and cheese (mix ingredients together in a bowl)
- 3-4 large russet potatoes (boiled and peeled)
- 8 oz. farmer cheese (other cheeses such as cheddar are often substituted, but are not authentic)
- 1 small chopped, sautéed onion
- Salt and pepper to taste (½ teaspoon?)
Sauerkraut and mushroom (mix ingredients together in a bowl)
- 1 lb. shredded sauerkraut (drained and then fried for approximately 10 minutes)
- 4 oz. pkg. mixed mushrooms, chopped then sautéed (dried mushrooms, such as porcini, are also sometimes used)
- 1 chopped, sautéed onion
- 1 lb. farmer cheese
- Salt, to taste