My family is a very sociable bunch. It’s common for my Dad especially to chat up new people, and when we are dining, invite those people to eat with us, or in the very least to join our conversation. I love it, and him for showing me how to live with an open heart.
It came as no surprise then when having a drink at a bar recently, my father started chatting with a couple seated across from us. Before long, it felt as if the two were old friends, as in-between sips of wine, we discussed things like a mutual dislike for eggs (Me and the woman we met; there is something about the texture that both of us agreed we have never been able to get past!) and our favorite restaurants in the area. An otherwise quiet work night, the bartender had been periodically chiming in, and at this point mentioned one of his favorite watering holes; he said he loved that the place had a “Pierogi Night” every Tuesday, and that he thought they [the pierogi] were especially good there. To which one of our new acquaintances replied “Good, but not as good as the ones my wife makes.”
I watched as my Polish/Ukrainian Mom knowingly smiled, because she too can churn out some excellent homemade pierogi. Soon, our talk turned to cooking methods, preferred fillings (Potato; potatoes always win!), and holiday traditions. The woman told us how every Christmas Eve, she and her daughters start early in the morning, and together they prepare dozens and dozens of filled dumplings for their extended family. She talked about it being an event that all three of them look forward to throughout the year, and proudly mentioned that her girls had even taught some of their friends from college how to make the pierogi in their dorm rooms. It was so sweet to see her beaming with pride.
My Mom and I decided right then and there that we were going to adopt the same tradition. So here I am today, sharing our time-honored recipe with you – which my mother learned from her mother who learned from her mother before – in the hope that perhaps you might want to try it too!
When it comes to preferred pierogi fillings, allegiances tend to vary between sweet and savory varieties. I for one am a fan of both sweet blueberry versions as well as savory cabbage versions. My favorite, however, will always be a classic potato and cheese combination. The potato – or 9th Wonder of the World – is seasoned with salt and a generous sprinkle of black pepper, mashed, and combined with Farmer Cheese. I like to use red potatoes in this case as they have a nice semi-firm texture and a mild sugariness to them, which is a perfect complement to the cheese. To these ingredients I add a sauteed leek, and several sprigs of fresh dill for a spin on the standard. Once the filling is wrapped in a noodle-like dough, the individual pierogi are boiled and placed in a pool of warm butter – or pan-fried and browned with a few additional leeks. You cannot go wrong with either preparation!
And, as I was standing in my kitchen preparing this batch, with my Mom next to me – mash, stuff, pinch, repeat – I felt very excited; to eat all of the potato deliciousness coming our way, and to embrace our newfound tradition for years to come!
Visit the US Potato Board for more creative potato recipes for your holiday table!
- Potato and Cheese Pierogi with Frizzled Leeks
- For the Pierogi Filling:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 leek, white and green parts, cleaned and diced
- 10-12 medium-size red potatoes
- 1 cup Farmer Cheese (or other mild, soft, white cheese)
- ¼ cup milk of choice (fat content does not matter)
- For the Pierogi Dough:
- 1 ½ cups flour (+ additional for rolling)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup sour cream
- For the Frizzled Leeks:
- 1 leek, white and green parts, cleaned
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- To make the pierogi filling (Up to 1 day in advance):
- Melt the butter in a skillet set over medium-heat. Add the leeks to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately 5 minutes, until tender.
- Put the potatoes into a pot and add just enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are soft, approximately 20 minutes.
- Drain the potatoes in a colander and press out any remaining moisture. Add the cooked leeks, cheese and milk to the potatoes and mash together, until smooth (You can also do this in a stand mixer, with the paddle attachment).
- Refrigerate the mixture until cold, for approximately one hour or up to one day in advance (The filling is much easier to work with when chilled).
- To make the dough:
- In a large bowl or stand mixer (with the paddle attachment), mix the flour and salt. Add the eggs and sour cream and combine. The dough should feel slightly tacky and have an elastic consistency to it.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and pat it into a disc. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.
- Once the dough has chilled, roll it out into a thin circle, approximately ⅛ inch thick - This will take some effort given its elasticity.
- Using a standard biscuit cutter, cut the dough into rounds. Continue rolling and cutting until all of the dough is used. You will have approximately 20-25 rounds.
- In the palm of your hand, take one round at a time, and fill the center with a generous tablespoon of the potato mixture. Gently fold the round in half, pulling the edges away and pinching to enclose the filling. Work from one end to the other, ensuring that the entire dumpling is sealed.
- As you work, set the filled pierogi aside on a lightly floured surface.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Working in batches, drop no more than 6 pierogi at a time into the water. You will know they are done when they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a towel to drain and cool.
- The pierogi are best served immediately, with melted butter. Alternately, pan-fry the pierogi in a skillet with butter or olive oil.
- To make the frizzled leeks:
- Cut the leek in half crosswise, and then cut each piece in half lengthwise, so that you have four long sections. Cut each section into thin strips.
- Heat the oil in a large pot set over medium-high heat. Once the oil is very hot, drop the leeks into it, and fry for 1-2 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp. Remove the leeks from the pot using a slotted spoon, and place on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb any excess oil. To serve, sprinkle the frizzled leeks over the top of the pierogi.