Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Pierogi – an illustrated saga

I've had a few days off work, and frankly I'll be glad to go back and get away from the kind of obsessive masochism that makes me do stuff like this. It started out with cleaning my fridge. No, it started in the garden.

Part of fostering a natural-habitat-for-little-creatures garden consists of actual gardening. This morning it was cool and breezy, and the overgrown-ness of certain plants (calendula and borage mainly), crowding out the new perennials I had paid so much for in the spring, and in the case of the calendula perishing themselves from powdery mildew—finally got to me, so I spent an hour weeding them out. Too well aware, unfortunately, that these plants are veritable condominiums packed with creatures, but sometimes you just have to do it. I put the weedees into the composters and left the tops off so as to let escape who can. Thus, wracked with the guilt of the home-wrecker and murderer, I decided to clean out the fridge. On the top shelf were some crimini mushrooms drying out, and half a jar of sauerkraut that really should be used up. Ah, I wondered sadly to myself, how can I occupy myself with this for a really, really long time, use up some ingredients that need it, and keep my unwelcome blundering plant-uprooting presence out of the garden so it can begin to recover?

Oh, I know. I'll make pierogi.

No sooner said than done—er—that is, started. The recipe I used is from Vegan Brunch and I was pretty faithful to it, since I've never made pierogi before. Where my method differs from Isa's, I'll say so. I made the full recipe—in for a penny with all the mess out and everything, you might as well be in for a pound.

I steamed my potatoes for the potato filling instead of boiling them, since I think steamed potatoes don't get water-logged as easily. So here are the potatoes in the steamer ready for steaming:
While they steamed, I chopped mushrooms and started them cooking for the mushroom-sauerkraut filling:

Here's the completed filling:

Now, my friends, at the top of this post I placed the image of a little gadget that I love dearly and use all the time, but which seems to polarize nearly everybody: a potato ricer. I purchased it a few years ago for mashing potatoes for potato gnocchi. If you've ever made them, you know that the potatoes in gnocchi have to be perfectly mashed. If they contain potato lumps, your gnocchi get disqualified not only as gnocchi, but also as food. You can say this is only my opinion, and that's fine, but it's true all the same. Once I discovered the amazingness of this gadget, I told the whole world, only to be greeted with uninterested shrugs (my mom), or downright ridicule (Grandma Lulu). What, real cooks don't use potato ricers? They aren't macho enough or something? They're somehow gauche? Look, using this little deal, your potatoes will be absolutely perfectly mashed every single time with 1/10 of the elbow grease required to manually smash them up with the regular masher:

Those little wormy things at the bottom of the bowl dissolve completely into light fluffy potato heaven when gently stirred.

When the fillings were done, I made the dough, and then, as Isa advises, took a break to clean the kitchen and wash all the dishes I'd used so far, so as to clear off some counter space for the next step (and also, my god, because I couldn't even begin to imagine the crushing weight of gloom that would descend on one who, after standing at the counter for hours making all those pierogi, turned around to a sinkful of dirty pots and pans).

So far it had been kind of active and fun, managing all those skillets, kneading dough and so on. Now, in my clean and tidy kitchen, the real work began. I rolled out my first batch:

After this, I put on my iPod and started listening to my current audiobook, which is How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill. Rome was founded (1182 BC) and fell to Alaric and his Visigoths (410 AD) whilst I was rolling and filling and pinching.

I made a recipe and a half of the dough since after looking at the volume of fillings didn't think one recipe would be enough, and I still had some of the sauerkraut filling left over at the end (but wouldn't it be good stuffed into little white rolls? Stay tuned!). I got about 60 pierogi out of one full recipe of each filling and 1.5 recipes of the dough. Most of it went onto cookie sheets and straight into various freezers, whence I will scrape them into plastic bags once they are frozen. But I kept three of each kind out to eat.

You can boil pierogi, or you can fry them, but it seems wasteful to me to do both. Usually this is how I do it, placing a few raw dumplings on top of the onions I'm going to serve them with and cooking them together slowly:

Generally when I cook this way, the pierogi are frozen, and that seems to work better—the onions, cooled by the dumplings, don't cook too fast (if you're using frozen ones, make sure you cover everything for at least the first ten minutes of slow frying).

This is the kind of dish that will make me popular at some family function in the future. I'll try anything once—I've made soymilk in a pot (or rather, several pots and a blender), gluten from whole wheat flour, tofu from scratch—but though these pierogi were good and I can't think of any improvements that would have made them even better, it's still okay just to buy them at the market.

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