Food doesn’t play just a practical role of feeding and building up our bodies. As it happens, very often we turn to it to seek comfort as well. Even though we may not always like it, food and emotions are closely intertwined, and you find this to be even more true when you live abroad. Many times I am so homesick I (could) cry, and I want nothing more than to hop on a plane right now to go hug the people I left on the other side of the world, visit familiar places, and eat the food I grew up with. But since I live in the real world, and don’t have thousands of dollars to offer to the airlines every month, what’s a girl to do? I walk into the kitchen and whip up some real Slovak food. I sit down at the table with my three Slovak men, we eat and laugh, and I feel somewhat better. Never underestimate the therapeutic potential of a good grub.
Pierogi (pirohy in Slovak) are crescent-shaped dumplings of unleavened dough, stuffed with various sweet and savory fillings. They are popular all over the Central and Eastern Europe and can be boiled, baked or even fried. The form pirohy is plural; the singular piroh is rarely used, since the meal consists of several pieces, and you’d never be able to eat just one 🙂 This savory version is filled with typical Slovak sheep cheese called bryndza, and topped with fried bacon, onion, and sour cream. It is a traditional Slovak dish, and along with a similar dish of small gnocchi mixed with bryndza, is served in pretty much every Slovak restaurant. Finding bryndza in my neck of the woods can be somewhat of a challenge, though. Some Russian stores might carry it from time to time, but it’s not a regular thing, and since I can’t keep sheep in my backyard, I – again – had to adapt. (It seems the life of an expat is all about adapting, all the time!) Lucky for me, the crumbly and tangy bryndza is rather similar to Greek feta, which is readily available at stores around here, and when I mix in a little sour cream to make it creamier, the taste is pretty close. The dough for pierogi is pretty simple and consists of only flour, water, egg, some grated cooked potato and salt. It is rolled thin and cut into circles. The filling of bryndza, potato, and chopped dill is placed in the center, and the dough is folded over to form little crescents. The pierogi are then boiled in salted water, drained, and topped with bacon and onion. They’re best served right away, still piping hot.
Cooking well doesn’t always mean cooking fancy, and sometimes the best eats are quite simple. A plate of pierogi is a great example of that. So please, gather some friends and cook, and then go on and indulge. Smother those babies in (full fat) sour cream, and don’t forget to fry up some bacon! Life is short, and sharing delicious food with those you love is one of its very best experiences. Because really, food isn’t just a mere fuel to keep us going. Made and shared with love, it feeds our soul.
Traditional pierogi with sheep cheese
Dough for pierogi:
- 150 g (5.5 oz.) yellow potatoes, boiled in their skin, then peeled and chilled
- 500 g (1 lb.) all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ – 2/3 cups hot water, as needed
- 400 g (14 oz.) yellow potatoes, boiled in their skin, then peeled and chilled
- 300 g (10.5 oz.) bryndza or crumbled feta cheese
- 1 tablespoon sour cream
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 – 2 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
- To make the dough: Grate the potatoes, or run them through a potato ricer directly into a big bowl. Add in all other ingredients for the dough except water. Gradually add hot water until the ingredients start to form a ball. Knead the dough, until it changes from rough and floury to smooth and silky. (Alternatively, you can make the dough in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.)
- To make the filling: In a food processor, combine all the ingredients to make a uniform mixture. Chill the filling while you prepare the pierogi.
- Divide your dough ball in half and keep one half covered while you work on the first batch. On a floured surface, roll the dough thin (1/8 – 1/10 inch, 2 – 3 mm). With a biscuit cutter or a glass, cut out small circles (I used a glass with 8cm or 3.5 inch diameter). Sprinkle more flour on the work surface as needed to keep the circles from sticking (the potato dough becomes more sticky with time). Re-roll the remaining dough to make more circles.
- Place about ¾ tablespoon of filling in the center of each circle, and moisten the edges with water. Fold the circle in half to make a crescent, press the edges with a fork to seal.
- In the same way, make the pierogi from the other half of the dough.
- In a big pot bring water with a tablespoon of salt to a boil. Working in batches, add about 10 pieces of pierogi, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook the pierogi for 1 – 2 minutes until they float to the top and are tender. Remove the pierogi with a slotted spoon and brush them with butter to keep them from sticking.
- Serve hot with sour cream, fried bacon, and fried onions (or minced spring onions).
Recipe makes about 45 pierogi. You can flash freeze uncooked pierogi on a baking sheet, and then keep them in a Ziploc bag to cook as needed.