Purchased wonton wrappers make these Pork and Sweet Potato Pierogi (left) and Apple and Goat Cheese Pierogi quicker to assemble and deliciously light and crispy. Recipes below.
Marion grew up eating pierogi. I had never heard of them until we met. So this week, I’m turning the kitchen over to her, so she can share her modern take on these delicious dumplings.
What culture does not approve of a stuffed dumpling? Shiu mai, won ton, mandu, maultaschen, pelmeni, gyoza. Buuz. Apple dumplings. Ravioli. As Alan Davidson says, “A dumpling is a food with few, indeed no, social pretensions, and of such simplicity that it may plausibly be supposed to have evolved independently in the peasant cuisines of various parts of Europe and probably in other parts of the world too.”
For me, the heart of the matter is pierogi. My mother’s pierogi were wonderful—the dough just right, light and thin and not too gluey or grossly thick, and always filled with the classics: Plain mashed potato; cooked, drained ground beef; and, in summer, blueberries. She served them with a little melted butter and a spoonful of sour cream, and it was heaven. I never had that great Polish-American variation, the pierog with potato and cheddar filling, until I moved to Chicago, but I think my mother would have approved.
Today’s commercial pierogi are mostly pretty awful—primarily a delivery system for boiled dough, with a chintzy afterthought of filling, all so miserly they make me think of grim Victorian orphanage fodder. And as for doing it yourself, what with all the steps involved (do this, then do that, then roll it out, then cook this, then cook it again this other way, etcetera), it’s quite some time since I’ve sat down and made them.
This ended a couple of weeks ago, when we went to a new-to-us place here in Chicago called Bread & Wine. We were leaning over the menus (I practically had my face on the page because of my useless new dumb contacts) when the words leaped out at us from the list of small plates: Duck confit pierogi. My sister and I sat up very straight and looked at each other and simultaneously said duck confit pierogi! and there was no question what we would order first. When they came, they were small and beautifully browned and full of yummy duck. As always when we have something delicious, the wheels started to spin right away.
Everyone who knows us—and that includes all of our regular readers—knows that we love the Lazy Man’s Way to Riches: The shortcut that provides a little simplicity while keeping things delicious. Like all pierogi recipes, this one is rather fiddly. But it allows one cool shortcut, an idea cribbed from all over the Internet (but which I somehow missed before, oh, last week): Don’t make the wrapper dough yourself, use store-bought wonton wrappers. These square wrappers come in a package of probably about 100 and you should be able to find them in the Asian section of the produce department. The time you save in mixing, rolling and cutting dough is totally worth it. The yield is a pierog that is smaller than the genuine Polish article, with a nice, thin, almost refined wrapper enrobing your favorite filling.
Once these are stuffed and ready to cook, you may steam them or fry them in a couple of inches of oil, or you may sauté them in a thin skim of olive oil, maybe with butter in it. The latter is what I did, and it worked out wonderfully, although the edges were most un-pierogi in their slight crispness. We had these for dinner with a simple green salad, and they would also suit as starters or as party food.
These two kinds of pierogi go together—the pork and sweet potato and the apple and goat cheese to serve alongside each other.
Compared to most of the recipes on Blue Kitchen, this one is a bit fiddly and time consuming. There’s prepping all the components and then there’s putting it all together. Once it’s together, though, the cooking goes quickly. You can assemble everything beforehand and hold it all over in the fridge for a little while, then cook them up just before you want to serve.
Apple and Goat Cheese Pierogi and Pork and Sweet Potato Pierogi
Serves 4 for dinner (may be halved or doubled)
1 package wonton wrappers (about 100 wrappers)
Butter and olive oil for sautéing the pierogi
For apple pierogi (makes about 20):
4 good cooking apples, peeled and cored, then cut into fine dice and tossed with 1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
fresh goat cheese—choose a soft, spreadable cheese, such as Montchevre brand
For sweet potato and pork pierogi (makes about 40):
2 cups mashed sweet potatoes (sweet potatoes, butter, salt, freshly grated nutmeg), cooled to room temperature
12 ounces ground pork, sautéed until thoroughly cooked, then drained
For each set of pierogi, you will need this set-up: A cookie sheet or something equivalent (I used pizza pans) covered with a sheet of parchment paper; a cutting board in front of you; the bowls of ingredients and measuring spoons at hand; a small bowl of warm water; a table or butter knife; and a damp lint-free dish towel. You may need more than one cookie sheet for each kind of pierogi as you assemble.
Assemble the pierogi. First, some general directions: Place one wonton wrapper on the cutting board in front of you. When you have put on the filling, dip your finger in the water and paint the outer edges with the water, then fold the pierog over, forming triangle, and press it shut. Don’t fill it too much or the wrapper will split or refuse to seal. As you make each, place it on the paper-covered sheet. As you add more to the sheet, don’t let them touch each other. After you have filled one sheet, drape a damp (well wrung out) dish towel over it all so the wrappers won’t dry out. At this point, you may rest them in the fridge for a couple of hours before cooking.
For the sweet potato-pork pierogi, put about 1-1/4 teaspoons of sweet potato in the middle of the wrapper, in a cigar shape, then scatter on a scant teaspoon of ground pork, then seal.
For the apple pierogi, using a butter knife, smear a bit of goat cheese in the middle of the wrapper (about ¼ teaspoon, no more); then heap on about 1 generous teaspoon of diced apple; then scatter a little fresh sage on the apple and seal the pierog.
Cook the pierogi. When you’ve assembled everything, there are several ways to cook these. You may steam them, or fry them in a couple of inches of oil. I sautéed them in a thin film of butter and olive oil, at medium heat, until they were golden on each side—only about two minutes per side. Transfer pierogi to a plate as they finish cooking with a spatula. You can tent them with foil to keep them warm, if you like, but they can also be served at room temperature.
We had these for Sunday night dinner along with a salad. They would also be great starters or party snacks. And the apple and goat cheese pierogi would also be a nice dessert, heaped on scoops of vanilla ice cream.
Don’t be confined to these stuffings. You can go old school and use straight-ahead mashed potatoes, or the Polish-American version, mashed potatoes with cheddar. You can use the classic Polish fillings, like sauerkraut with mushrooms or plum. The next time we do this, I want to use pulled pork with the sweet potatoes. Just-ripe pears and a bit of a blue cheese would also be awesome—we are aiming to try this with Gorgonzola or Humboldt Blue, and for those who don’t like the intensity of blues, bel paese is a nice route.
And to drink? We suggest a dry cider, like Crispin Hard Cider, over ice.