Shirley Daniels Czerniec Carter, June 9, 2003 in Kenosha, Wisconsin

Pierogi recipes from my mom: Pierogi dough & fillings

by | Dec 15, 2007 | 2 comments

As a Chicago-born guy of Polish descent, these pierogi recipes have always been central to my Christmas holiday. The humble pierogi is Poland’s take on the ubiquitous filled noodle dumpling, enjoyed elsewhere as ravioli or kreplach or pelmeni or jiaozi (pot stickers). They consist of a simple dough enclosing a variety of traditional pierogi fillings such as potato, cabbage (a.k.a. kapusta), mushrooms, cheese, and prunes. After the dough rounds are filled and sealed, the pierogies are cooked in gently boiling water, then finished by browning lightly in a pan with a little butter.

The Polish Christmas dinner is eaten on Christmas Eve. Known as the Wigilia (“vigil”), the traditional menu varies from family to family, but is generally a meatless meal with an accent on whitish foods such as fish and cauliflower, or my mom’s oatmeal-mushroom barszcz. The essential Wigilia family custom is the sharing of the Oplatek, a Christmas card-sized communion wafer that has been blessed by a Catholic priest. Every diner offers sincere good wishes to each person present, as both break off small pieces of each other’s wafers and eat them.

My family always makes large batches of pierogies in advance, typically freezing them after boiling, then later steam-heating and pan-browning them in butter at mom’s house on Christmas Eve. Amy and I prefer to freeze them, uncooked, on wax paper-covered baking sheets, then boil and lightly brown them before serving. The assembly location and participants vary according to circumstances each year (tomorrow it’s at my mom’s), but the core pierogi recipes (Polish: pierogi przepis) have been preserved for generations, first on paper and later on floppy disks.

Experimentation is permitted. One year I made a big batch of shiitake and portobello pierogies for an office Christmas party, and they seemed to be a hit. I have never eaten a pierogi filled with meat or poultry or seafood, but my mom says my grandma and great-grandma used to make meat ones occasionally.

Below are the pierogi recipes handed down by my mother, Shirley Daniels Czerniec Carter. She would not let me call them “her” recipes, since an African-American cook from New Orleans influenced her mother’s mother, Anna Duda, to add the “holy trinity” (onion, celery, and green pepper) to the cabbage filling, the cheese filling was adapted from her Aunt Marie’s, the sauerkraut mushroom filling was originally her friend Paulette’s, and so on.

Smacznego! (Pronounced “smuch-NEH-go,” this means bon appétit in Polish.) And of course, Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia (literally “Happy Holy Day of the Birth of Our Lord” — the Polish “Merry Christmas”).

Pierogi dough (pierogi ciasto)

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1/2 cup hot water

Mound the flour on a breadboard and make a well in the center. Drop the egg yolks, salt, and sour cream into the well. Working from the center to the outside of the flour mound, mix the flour into the egg and sour cream in the center with one hand, while keeping the flour mounded with your other hand until all of it is blended. Slowly add the water, a little at a time. Knead the dough until firm and well mixed. Cover the dough with a warm bowl, and let it rest 10 minutes. Divide the dough into halves. Keep one half under the bowl. On a floured surface, roll the other half of the dough until thin (not too thin, so it won’t break while filling). Cut out 3-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter.

The rounds can be filled using either of two methods:

  1. Place a small spoonful of filling to one side on the circle of dough. Moisten the edge with water. Fold the dough over and press the edges together firmly (some like to use a fork) so they won’t break open while cooking.
  2. This method — shown in the video above — permits a greater amount of filling: Stretch the dough circle slightly by hand, then form a “C” with the index finger and thumb of your free hand and set the dough circle on top of that. Using a spoon with the other hand, add the filling into the center depression, making sure to keep the edges clean and dry. Then tuck in two opposing points on the circle to form corners, and fold the two halves together, pinching the edges tightly.

Pierogi fillings

(Mom adds: “If the fillings are prepared a day ahead and refrigerated, filling the dough will be easier.”)

Cabbage filling

  • 1 large head of cabbage, thinly shredded and shaped into small pieces (large chunks can create a problem while filling and cooking)
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 2 ribs of celery, minced
  • 1 green pepper, minced
  • 1/4 pound butter (1 stick) or margarine
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Steam the lightly salted cabbage in a covered pot slowly, so it does not burn. Use only a little water, about a tablespoon or two, adding a little more if needed. Cook until tender but still firm. While the cabbage is cooking, melt the butter or margarine in a frying pan. Add onion, celery, and green pepper, and sauté until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper while cooking. Drain as much liquid from the cabbage as possible, mix in sautéed vegetables, and let cool. (Mom adds: “The above was my grandmother’s recipe. My mother-in-law didn’t use celery or green pepper and added a cup of dry cottage cheese to the cooked cabbage and onion mixture. Later I found that combining the two recipes (using the dry cottage cheese) was very tasty, added protein, and that the cheese absorbed some of the liquid, making filling the dough easier.”)

Cheese filling

  • 2 cups dry cottage cheese
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Beat the eggs. Add the sour cream and beat a little more. Add cheese, salt and pepper, and mix thoroughly.

Potato filling

  • 6 large potatoes
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 pound can sauerkraut, rinsed lightly and drained
  • 1 stick butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Peel, quarter, and cook the potatoes in salted water, until tender. While the potatoes are cooking, peel and mince the onion. Melt the butter or margarine, add the onion, and sauté until deep brown — not burnt but more than golden. Rinse and squeeze the sauerkraut, getting out as much liquid as possible. When the potatoes are tender, drain them well and mash until consistent in texture and not lumpy. Add the onion and butter mixture, the sauerkraut, and salt and pepper to taste.

Sauerkraut and mushroom filling

  • 2 large cans sauerkraut, rinsed and drained very well
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, washed, drained, and sliced thin
  • 1 stick butter or margarine
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the minced onion in melted butter or margarine until transparent. Add drained, sliced mushrooms and sauté on medium heat (possibly medium high heat) to brown the onion and mushrooms and reduce the liquid. After browning, add the sauerkraut, mix well, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook an additional 10 minutes or until flavors blend.

Prune filling

  • 2 cups dried, pitted prunes
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

In a saucepan on the stove, cover the prunes with water. Bring just to boiling, cover, remove from heat, and let stand 20 minutes. Drain the prunes, then add lemon juice and sugar, and cook until almost all of the liquid is gone. (Mom adds: “Some people aren’t fond of prunes, but a prune pierogi, with melted butter drizzled over it, can be very tasty, even to prune-haters.“)

Cooked fruit filling

  • 2 cups fruit, such as pitted cherries, apples, blueberries, plums or peaches.
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or cardamom (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs

Combine the fruit of your choice, water, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to boiling, then cook and stir until the fruit is tender and the water almost gone. Remove from heat. Mash the fruit slightly with potato masher. Add cinnamon and or cardamom and lemon juice. Cook and stir over low heat, just until the mixture is thick. Stir in enough breadcrumbs to make the filling very thick. (Mom adds: ” Usually at Christmas, I make all the fillings except the fruit. When I was a little girl, my Aunt Anna Sokolowski, who had fruit trees in her Cicero, Illinois backyard, took advantage of the fresh fruit in summer and made some delectable pierogi.”)

More pierogi recipes from Martha Stewart:

Like my mother, Martha Stewart is of Polish ancestry, and her collection of pierogi recipes includes some with more exotic ingredients. We have tried Martha Stewart’s pierogi dough recipe. Similar to Italian gnocchi, it incorporates potato. Initially, Martha’s dough seemed less sticky and much easier to work with — but the finished pierogies also did come apart more readily during boiling. And, as you might imagine, I still prefer the taste of my mom’s pierogies. Here are links to the Martha Stewart recipes for you to try:

Read and watch more about Polish Christmas customs:

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