In the 1890s, my ancestors began emigrating from Poland (at the time divided and occupied by three different countries)to the United States through Ellis Island, ultimately settling in Camden, NJ. As with many immigrants, they fiercely held on to the culture they left behind, and while times have changed, many of those cultural traditions are still being passed on today. In my family, use of the Polish language passed on with the passing of my grandparents (sadly), but many of the cultural traditions live on, particularly when it comes to food. The best kielbasa comes from a Polish butcher using a family recipe passed down through generations. Oplatek is still passed around and shared at the family Christmas gathering. And there is no better holiday treat than a perfectly made kruschiki, again from the traditional family recipe.
And then there is pierogi. The history of pierogi is fascinating - it is a staple food in many Eastern European cultures, yet they all put their own special twist on it. At it's core, it's a filled dumpling that is boiled until cooked through, then either fried or baked prior to serving. The cultural differences come from the type of fillings used and when they are served. In Hungary, they are typically filled with jam or meat, and served for special occasions, such as weddings. In the Ukraine, they are filled with mashed potatoes and cheese (which is the most common filling copied, a la Mr. and Mrs. T) and typically only boiled. The same is true for Slovakia. In Poland, they also use mashed potatoes and cheese, but more often they are filled with meat, or sauerkraut, or mushrooms, and are a staple at the traditional Christmas Eve dinner.
My family's pierogi tradition is to fill them with meat (usually half pork and half veal)or sauerkraut. Growing up, they were usually made by my grandmothers or aunts. Later, my Father took over the pierogi making. Nowadays, my Brother and my Nephew (my Sister's son) are continuing the tradition.
And now I can say that I have taken over the tradition too - with a GFCF twist.
My version is based upon my Father's recipe. I only made the meat version (using ground turkey instead of the veal and pork - only because that's what I had on hand). It takes time - it took me about three hours to make 4 dozen pierogi from start to finish, but once they are boiled, they are fully cooked, and after they are cool you can freeze them and only pull out what you need for a meal. So you are in essence preparing several meals at once.
My son said it was the best meal I ever prepared. High praise from an occasionally picky eater. And, after missing out on pierogi for the past several years, I have only one thing to say:
I have died and gone to heaven.
PIEROGI adapted from my Father's recipe
Ingredients - the Dough
2 cups GF all purpose flour
2 tsp xanthan gum
4 large eggs
2 tbsp CF butter (I used Earthbalance Buttery Sticks)
1/3 cup CF milk (I used soy milk)
a pinch of GF season salt
Using a mixer equipped with a dough hook, combine the flour, xanthan gum, and season salt. With the mixer on medium speed, add the butter in small chunks until a coarse mixture is formed. Gradually add the eggs and milk, and continue to mix until a dough ball is formed. Add additional flour or milk as necessary to form a slightly tacky ball.
Ingredients - Meat Filling
2 lbs ground turkey (or 1 lb ground pork + 1 lb ground veal)
1 medium to large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
Saute the onions and celery in oil over medium heat until soft. Add the meat and cook, stirring frequently, until browned thoroughly. Remove the mixture to a bowl, draining the mixture thoroughly.
Making the Pierogi
Bring a large pot of water to a small boil.
Keep a damp towel over the bowl of dough to avoid having the dough dry out.
Roll out a piece of dough to 1/4" thickness. Cut out 2" circles using a cookie cutter or a glass, then roll the circles to around 1/8" thickness. Place two tsp of the meat mixture in the center of the dough. Moisten the edge of the dough with water, then fold the dough over and crimp the edges to seal.
Place the pierogi in the boiling in batches of 8 to 10 and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from the water and place on a towel to dry and cool. Once cooled, you can place the pierogi in freezer bags and freeze until ready to use.
To prepare for a meal, simply fry the pierogi in CF butter over medium heat until browned on both sides.