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Thursday, 8 March 2007

dumplings all over the world

What to cook for an Eastern European dinner? It was the theme for a soiree at Guy's on Saturday, we were on entree and I had no clue. My ignorance of the region is total and when wiki helpfully told me meat is popular in those parts I got cranky and went for a bath.

It was adam who found the answer, and tickle me Polish if I didn't unknowingly have every single necessary ingredient in my kitchen. That might sound impressive but this is exactly why Pierogi is my kind of dish. As those with the inside information know, you can stuff just about anything into these little babies and still stay true to their origin.

Dumplings vary regionally the world over and Pierogi are no exception. Common through East and Central Europe (and parts of Canada, apparently, according to my cousin, Tina), they are typically boiled then fried in butter and served with sour cream (in Poland at any rate). Fillings can vary dramatically, but savoury Pierogi generally have a base of meat, potato, cabbage or sauerkraut.

As with anything like this, they can be fiddly to make. But they can also be pre-prepared in stages, as I happily discovered. I was able to make both the pastry and the filling in the morning then head off to lunch with my cousins (I know, I know, I have a lot of cousins) before finishing them in the arvo. By happy development, I could also drag said cousins back home after lunch to become helpful little rollers and stuffers. Easy.

For the dough

2 cups flour (plus extra)
2 eggs
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sour cream (I didn't have this. I mixed double cream with lemon juice to make sour cream. You could use natural yoghurt or buttermilk as a substitute.)

Combine flour, eggs, 1/2 the water and the sour cream in a bowl. Mix well and slowly incorporate the rest of the water to make a dough. Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface to knead it. (I found mine was a bit sloppy so I added more flour.)

Keep folding, stretching and kneading the dough for a few minutes. It should be contained and smooth but a little sticky on the inside. When it's done, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate it (at least 20 minutes).

For the filling

2 large potatoes -- peeled, chopped and boiled
1/2 cabbage (shredded)
1 fennel (chopped into small bits)
2 x leeks (finely chopped)
1 x onion or 3 x large shallots (finely chopped)
a handful of fresh sage leaves (finely chopped)
1 cup of grated cheese (I used cheddar but goat's could be tasty)
3 garlic cloves (finely chopped)

Par boil the cabbage for a couple of minutes then drain it and saute it in some butter (melted in olive oil so it doesn't burn) with the fennel, garlic, sage, leek and onions/shallots. Cook it all until everything is soft. Then mash it up with the boiled potato. Add salt and pepper and stir in the cheese.

Building your pierogi

Rope in two drunk cousins for assistance. Roll out the dough (thin, preferably) and cut a decent round. Fill one side, roll over the other and seal into dumplings.

I was the dough roller and shape cutter in the family production line. I found it easiest to have the most aesthetically challenged cousin (i.e. more drunk) roll the filling into balls while the more artistic of the two folded the filling into the dough (make sure you fold the edges tight to seal them). When the attention of the former started wandering, I rewarded her by sprinkling flour onto the floor so she could moonwalk to re-energise. Ergo, rolling and stuffing Pierogi is a tedious exercise made much more fun en masse. (Young children would perform the above functions just as fine, if not better.)

To cook the Pierogi, I brushed the tops with egg white and popped them in a preheated oven until golden (200). (Nearly every recipe recommended boiling them first then frying them in butter but, for me, cooking at someone else's place meant an oven was easier.) I served them with a sauce made of chopped fresh dill, lemon juice and plain yoghurt.

Hopefully we'll get recipes from Guy's tasty main and Chew's beetrooty dessert in the coming days. But you never can tell with those two.

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