Pierogi is a traditional dish in Poland, so popular that the Polish have a festival dedicated to it. They cook it traditionally for Christmas, explains Emilia, because it’s a social dish. The whole family would gather in order to make rounds of dough, fill them and fold them into tens and hundreds of the mouthwatering filled pockets, and eat them together at the holiday dinner. Pierogi is the plural name for the dish, but no one would ever use the singular form, pieróg: You can never have just one.
This way to spend the holidays definitely beats the customary Israeli way: The traditional way – in which the hostess would stand for three days in the kitchen and cook just so that friends and relatives can ditch her cooking behind her back – has evolved: these days, everyone brings a dish or two so than everyone can ditch everyone behind their back.
The full name of the dish is Pierogi Russki – meaning Russian Pierogi. There is no explanation as to why ‘Russian’. The origin of the dish is unknown, but its name indicates its eastern European roots, as “pir” is an ancient Slavic word for festivity. The dish also exists in the Russian kitchen, but they call it Varenyky.
Curiously, the Russians have a different dish by the name of Pirozhki – A fried roll filled with various stuff. For me, this Russian dish connects with stolen pleasures, since it was always smuggled to me as a bribe by the huge Russian shopkeeper on Friday morning (the first day of the weekend in Israel), so I’d stay quiet and let my father purchase a huge stock of Russian delicacies – a whole galaxy of culinary adventures in terms of a Israeli small town in the 1980’s.
Someone in Poland made a whole mess out of the names of things, and now we can only stand in the kitchen and scratch our heads. At some point of the private history – not the one written down in books but the the history of peasants and women, the one that describes the slow processes of cheese making and bread baking – someone might have come home from a long journey. And that someone, I imagine, might have brought home a new kind of filled dumplings, different then whatever they had before: Russian-style pierogi. Oh, the joy! New tastes, new smells. But this story doesn’t add up: how come the Pierogi Russkie is nothing like the Russian Pirozki? Both dishes are dough filled with something, but that’s where the similarities end. I suspect our ancient Pole lied about the destination of his quest, and instead of going to Russia might have just spent a few months in the next town, eating perfectly Polish dumplings.
Pierogi are traditionally filled with either meet, sauerkrout, mushrooms or a Purée of potatoes and onions. We made the potato version. For Christmas, one would also make a sweet version, filled with fruit. And young Polish cooks would try new, less laborious fillings, such as spinach. “my mother would NEVER do that”, says Emilia.
The mother is generally the highest authority for Pirogi making. No one can ever compete with their mother’s Pierogis, says Emilia. Every young mother would complain to her young daughter during the preparation, saying that her Pierogis would never be as good as her mother’s. Every young girl would roll her eyes and say, my god, how boring. And most young girl who would grow up and become young cooks would say, oh my, these Pierogis would never be as good and tasty as my Mom’s splendid Pierogis.
(this, of course, can be just the same for Dads and sons and every other combination of the genders, that is if Dad cares about traditional cooking, which is to my experience rare. But in case there is someone like that – there’s nothing wrong with it! On the contrary! Come! Join us in the kitchen! I will face the challenges of genderless and PC writing with much delight.)
For the filling we mashed some potatoes, using my brag-about traditional potato-ricer I got at the flea market. The result was not much different then to mash it with a potato masher but we played around with it a bit, excited to discover it was made in the GDR and creating long worms with it.
After that we’ve made the dough. Emilia was as tense as an Olympic springboard diver. The traditional way is to make the dough on a cutting board, but it’s much easier to cut corners and just make it in a bowl… Emilia, however, faced the challenge successfully:
Polish mamas would fold the Pierogis with their hands, creating a lovely traditional ornamentation . When my friend Bat-El made this dish with Emilia and Sashka, she showed them a way to fold the dough with a fork so that it would make a nice ornamentation and also stick together better. This way, the Pierogis tend to open less when cooked. However, we made one with the traditional folding so you could see it for yourselves.
Now kids, can you find the traditional Pierogi in the picture?
Emilia’s Mom would probably never make it any other way.
I will upload the recipe very soon, but unfortunately not today… please excuse me 🙂