Recently, friends invited us over to make pierogies; butter-fried, empanada-like peasant food stuffed with potatoes, onions, and cheese. It became an opportunity to connect with my lost heritage.
The recipe is from Mike’s grandmother who, like my great-grandparents, lived in Russian-occupied Poland. At the beginning of the 20th century, as Jewish persecution escalated, they emigrated to the United States. Peel and slice 1.5 pounds of russet potatoes 1/2-inch thick, and cook in boiling water until soft, then drain and cool.
Meanwhile, make the dough. Dig a well in the center of 2 cups of flour, and add three beaten eggs, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/3 cup water. Mix with a fork, and then knead lightly. If too sticky, add more flour. Shape into a log, cover with waxed paper and let rest long enough to enjoy a beer. Thinly slice 6 ounces of salt pork, and cook in a large skillet until dark brown. Discard the pork. Dice two brown onions and cook in the hot pork fat until beginning to brown. (Optional beer break.)
Farmer’s cheese is expensive, so Mike quickly made his own. (Recipe from about.com.) Crumble 12 ounces of cheese into the potatoes; add the onions and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. You can also add minced meat or herbs, such as dill or chives to taste.
The four-station assembly line was like a ballet. Roll dough into 1.5-inch balls. Press each with fingertips into a disk on a well-floured surface, then flatten with a rolling pin to into a thin circle. Place flattened dough into the cupped palm of your hand, add potato mixture, moisten the perimeter of the dough with a water-wetted finger, fold to make a half moon and firmly press edges together.
Drop a few packages into a pot of simmering water until they rise to the top. Remove with a slotted spoon and sauté in plenty of butter until brown. Serve hot with sour cream. We spiked ours with garden-fresh garlic chives. | KP