DUMPLING DAYS: The secret to pinching perfect perogies

As cooler days and holidays approach, I'm craving an old family favourite — perogies! Connect to your Ukrainian heritage and gather for a perogy party — here's how.

In Western Canada, perogies are as familiar as apple pie and poutine — a local comfort! Cinda Chavich photos

By CINDA CHAVICH


Full disclosure – I may have a perogy problem.

My devotion to these little dumplings is rooted in childhood, memories of my grandmother’s steamy kitchen, and her tender perogies filled with potatoes, cheese, mushrooms and even plums. We slathered them with sour cream, doused them in buttery fried onions, and ate them with smoky garlic sausage on the side. It’s my definition of comfort food.



Such is my penchant for these Eastern European staples (pyrohy, pierogi, varenyky), I’ve even followed Alberta’s Perogy Trail — touring Edmonton’s Willy Wonka-esque frozen perogy factories, visiting the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, a living museum where costumed docents cook dumplings, and driving dusty back roads to see the world’s largest perogy, a towering 27-foot perogy-on-a-fork sculpture in the tiny town of Glendon.

In my family, perogies turned up at both everyday dinners and holiday celebrations — the delayed Orthodox (a.k.a. Ukrainian) Christmas in early January was always a time to create, and consume, perogies.





So gathering to pinch perogies in midwinter makes perfect sense.

But Bella Montgomery’s Perogy Pinchers of Victoria cooking classes, you can learn about making perogies, island style, year round.

“We started small, with ten or 12 people, and now routinely have 25,” says Montgomery of the hands on, two-hour classes she runs at various community centres, church basements and other venues around town.

“I bring the dough and we mix up the filling and learn to pinch perogies.”

When Montgomery moved to Victoria from the prairies, she started making perogies, using her own family recipe, as a way to stay connected to her Ukrainian roots.

Many of the others who join her perogy classes have childhood memories of delicious dumplings, too. But, like me, they don’t often take the time to make perogies.

Because the job of pinching perogies — like making Chinese dumplings or samosas or any other fiddly food — is best when it’s done collectively. Many hands make light work, as they say, and many hands make many perogies, tasty treats that can be frozen and saved to eat another day.

“I makes it a heck of a lot easier,” says Montgomery who recalls family perogy-making sessions, turning out “50 or 60 dozen at a time” for holidays and other events.

Which is the other attraction to today’s perogy class — everyone arrives with their mixing bowls and baking trays, with the promise of leaving with their own perogies to take home.

Making perogies is simple — less recipe and more technique.

There’s a basic dough to mix, a filling of seasoned mashed potatoes, often combined with shredded cheddar or sautéed onions, and that’s it.

Every grandmother has a slightly different twist. Montgomery uses sour cream and flour (no eggs) in her tender perogy dough recipe. When I was a kid, we sometimes added mashed potato to the dough, too, for a soft, almost gnocchi-like wrapper.

Others prefer their perogies with a thin, translucent skin — a pre-made egg roll wrapper can stand in for hand-rolled dough to save time, just make sure to wet the floury edges to get a good seal.

The mashed potato and cheddar cheese filling is probably the most popular today, but you can also find perogies filled with sautéed mushrooms and sauerkraut, cottage cheese, even meat or fish.

Don’t use too much filling - it’s important to make sure the edges are clean so you get a good seal or perogies may burst open when boiled. A three-inch diameter perogy holds about a teaspoon of filling. Pinch gently, says Montgomery, pressing the edges shut with the pad of your thumb after folding the dough over the filling. Never seal with a fork or use metal utensils.




Put filled perogies into boiling water, with a touch of oil and salt, and stir gently with a wooden spoon until they float to the top, then remove carefully with a slotted spoon to a warm serving dish, topped with onions fried until golden in lots of butter.


The origin of the perogy (pierogi) is debatable – dumplings Slavic cultures, from Ukraine, Poland, and other points across Eastern Europe — but thanks to early immigrants from these parts of the world, it’s a peasant food that’s found it’s way into our food culture.

Today, perogies are as ubiquitous, and Canadian, as poutine and Nanaimo bars, with chefs riffing on the dumpling for breakfast, lunch, appies and dinner. You’ll find local food trucks that specialize in perogies, restaurants like Victoria’s Sült Pierogi Bar with diverse perogy fillings and toppings (think bbq tofu, kimchi and black bean, or mango and chipotle chicken tinga), perogies with eggs for breakfast, even Pierogi Pizza topped with garlicky cream, bacon, fried potatoes and cheese at Fifth Street.


Perogies with poached eggs and hollandaise for breakfast at Agrius in Victoria

According to my vintage copy of Traditional Ukrainian Cookery by Ukrainian-Canadian home economist Savella Stechishin, published in Winnipeg in 1957, and the last word on the topic, varenyky (her nomenclature), should be “tender and with a thin coating of dough.”

It interesting to note that Stechisin’s traditional recipe has only four ingredients, but a full page of instructions for mixing, kneading, rolling, filling and cooking the dumplings.

So gather your friends, your family and your kids and host a perogy party. Practice makes perfect when it comes to pinching perogies!


PEROGIES TO BUY IN VICTORIA:

Too busy to pinch perogies? Here are some local sources of handmade perogies to buy and cook at home.


Ukrainian Canadian Cultural Centre:

You can stop in for a Ukrainian supper the last Friday of every month (5 p.m. to 8 p.m. with music, perogies and cabbage rolls), or buy handmade perogies from their freezer. Call ahead to inquire about availability.


Hungry Rooster

These Polish perogies are made in Nanaimo and available at their restaurant, and distributed through several BC groceries including Pepper’s Foods, Market on Yates, Niche Grocerant and Great Greens Farm Market. Though most are made with wheat flour there are also gluten free and vegan options,


Perogie Pinchers of Victoria:

Go online at https://perogiepinchers.wixsite.com/perogiepinchersofvic/services to book a class or find Bella Montgomery’s’s perogies frozen at local retailers including The Market Garden in Esquimalt and Artisan Kitchen in Saanich (potato/cheese, cottagecheese/potato/dill, or sauerkraut/bacon) $9.50-11.25/doz.



RECIPES:

PEROGIES WITH POTATO AND WILD MUSHROOM, OR TWO CHEESE FILLING

This is my recipe for perogies with a fluffy, mashed potato-infused dough — one that was published in my first cookbook, The Wild West Cookbook. There are two filling options in this recipe — either potato with two cheeses, or potato with cheese and wild mushroom. Don’t forget the fried onions and sour cream to serve on the side!


Dough:

4 cups all purpose flour

2 cups cold mashed potatoes

3 Tbsp vegetable oil or melted butter

1 tsp salt

1 egg


Mushroom Filling:

1 Tbsp butter

1 small onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 oz/25 g dried wild mushrooms, rehydrated and minced

3 cups cold mashed potatoes

1 cup mixed grated cheeses (Cheddar, Fontina, Asiago, etc.)

salt and pepper to taste


Cheese Filling:

3 cups cold mashed potatoes

½ cup shredded old Cheddar cheese

½ cup ricotta or creamed cottage cheese

salt and pepper to taste


Garnish:

Sliced onions, fried in butter

Sour cream

Chopped green onion or crisp, crumbled bacon


To make the dough, in a large bowl, combine flour mashed potatoes, oil or melted butter and salt. Mix with your hands until crumbly. In a measuring cup, beat the egg with enough luke warm water to make 1 cup. Gradually add to the potato mixture, just until you have a soft, not sticky, dough. Knead lightly for a couple of minutes on a floured suface. Cover and let rest 15 minutes.


If making the mushroom filling, melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onion, garlic and mushrooms. Saute over medium heat until tender. Cool slightly, then mix into the mashed potato. Add the cheese and combine. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.


To make the cheese filling, in a bowl, combine the mashed potatoes, shredded cheddar, and ricotta, season to taste. Set aside.


Divide the dough into 4 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece to 1/8-¼ inch thickness. Using a glass or a cookie cutter, cut into 3-inch circles. Fill each with 1.5 teaspoons of filling, stretch dough over to form a half-moon shape, pinching the edges well to seal each dumpling. Repeat with remaining dough and filling, setting the perogies on a baking sheet that’s been lined with parchment as they are filled.

To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and carefully add the perogies, one at a time. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring gently with a wooden spoon to make sure the perogies don’t stick to the bottom. When they rise to the top, cook a few minutes more, until they puff, then lift from the water using a slotted spoon and place in a warm bowl, drizzling each layer with melted butter.

Serve with fried onions, sour cream, and green onions or crispy bacon to garnish.

Makes about 8 dozen perogies.


NOTE: You’ll need 5 cups of mashed potatoes for this recipe – start with about 3 pounds of potatoes to boil (a dry variety like Russets work best). You can also freeze the uncooked perogies in a single layer on a baking sheet, then package in bags to boil later. If you have leftover cooked perogies, fry them in butter to reheat.


VARENYKY

This is the recipe published in

in 1957, the bible of Ukrainian Canadian cooking. Tenderness depends on several factors, she writes, but “cool water gives a softer dough” and too many eggs make it tough. Omitting egg whites and using only yolks gives “superlative results”, and “to assure tenderness, add ½ cup of cold mashed potatoes and 1 tablespoon of melted fat to her standard recipe.

The filling recipes in her book range from dry cottage cheese with beaten egg to potato/cheese, sauerkraut, mushroom, cabbage and leftover ground meat or fish with sautéed onions.


2 cups flour

1 tsp. salt

1 egg or 2 egg yolks

½ cup or more water


Mix flour with salt in a deep bowl. Add the egg and enough water to make a medium soft dough. Knead on a floured board until smooth. Too much kneading with toughen the dough. Divide dough into two pieces, cover and let stand 10 minutes.

Prepare filling (it should be thick enough to hold its shape).

Roll dough quite thin on a floured board. Cut into rounds with a large biscuit cutter or with the open end of a glass. Put a round in the palm of a hand. Place a spoonful of the filling on it, fold over to form a half-circle and press the edges together with the fingers. They edges should be free of filling. Be sure that the edges are sealed well to prevent the filling from running out.

Place the varenyky on a floured board or a tea towel without crowding them. Cover with a tea towel to prevent drying.

Drop a few at a time into a large quantity of rapidly boiling salted water. Do not attempt to cook too many at a time. Stir very gently with a wooden spoon to separate them and to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Continue boiling rapidly for 3-4 minutes. Varenyky are ready when then are well puffed. Remove them with a perforated spoon or skimmer to a colander and drain thoroughly.

Place in a deep dish, sprinkle generously with melted butter and toss very gently to prevent sticking. Cover and keep them hot until all are cooked.

Serve in a large dish without piling or crowding them. Top with browned buttered bread crumbs. The traditional accompaniment to varenyky is “smetana” (sour cream) or chopped crisp bacon or both. Some enjoy them with a chopped onion lightly browned in butter.




This food story originally appeared in EAT magazine