I first started making pierogi at a very young age — I would say I was 4 years old, or possibly even younger. Anna, a woman from Poland that lived in our house and cared for my sister and me, would cook pierogi at least twice per month and, of course, I insisted on ‘helping’ her in the kitchen. (I really just had a raw dough obsession, like Hadley’s).
I would watch carefully as Anna made the dough and filling, and help out with the rolling and smashing as needed. Thinking back, this is actually one of my favorite pastimes. Anna’s recipe for dough included white flour with an egg or two, some water, and just a dash of vanilla. I obviously can’t quite remember her specific proportions, and am not even sure that she precisely measured, but I remember the dough was always delicious! The insides were filled with a variety of things, usually white or red potatoes (because we children liked them most), but also with cheese, mushrooms, and other heavy, hearty fillings.
My husband and I both come from Slavic backgrounds, and the pierogi dish represents your typical, Eastern European hearty food, highly based on starch, very filling, and very comforting. My husband especially loves pierogi (at least he tells me so whenever I make them for him!) They are the perfect non-meat option for his carnivorous tendencies, so during the periods during the year when we fast from meat for religious observances, I often make a big batch of 50 or so pierogi, which I freeze and use as a quick non-meat dinner.
I have recently been seeking ways to make Jeff’s treasured hearty-food favorites a bit more nutritious, since he genearlly avoids vegetables, grains and fruits in his diet. One vegetable he does love (and very much so, I might add) are sweet potatoes. Filled with many vitamins, including A and C, they are far more nutritious than the ordinary potato typically used in pierogi filling. I decided to move forward with an experimental recipe for sweet potato pierogi, which I am sharing here.
The fundamental differences are the replacement of white flour with a combination of wheat flour and flax seeds for the dough, Greek yogurt for the filling (instead of sour cream), sweet potatoes in place of white potatoes, and part-skim ricotta cheese in place of ordinary ricotta.
2 sweet potatoes (or a winter squash of your choice), peeled and cubed
1/2 cup fresh, part-skim ricotta cheese (avoid store brands with lots of preservatives, get a fresh-made variety, which you can tell is as such because it should expire quickly)
1/4 cup non-fat Greek yogurt, like Fage or Oikos
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ground flax seeds
4 cups of whole wheat flour
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1 tbsp olive oil
About 2 cups of water
Bring water to a boil and drop in peeled potatoes, allowing them to cook until softened. Remove, strain, and put into a bowl. (If you prefer a saltier taste in your food, you may salt your potates lightly with kosher or sea salt at this time, though I do not do this). Use a masher to mash until soft but pasty. Add ricotta cheese, greek yogurt, and flax seeks and combine with a spatula. Add honey and cinnamon for sweetness; for a more savory taste, you may leave out.
Combine the dough ingredients in a large bowl, working with your hands. The dough should stick together but not stick to other surfaces. Adjust with more flour and water as needed. Roll out the dough on a flat surface using a rolling pin, and use a glass or cookie cutter about 3-4 inches in diameter to cut out circles.
Making your pierogi
Bring a fresh pot of water to a boil. Take a circle of dough and fill with a teaspoon of the filling. Fold over and pinch using your fingers (or the end of a fork is sometimes helpful for making sure the dough sticks together). Note that wheat dough combined with flax seed make the dough harder to work than dough made with white flour. Just be gentle and try not to pull too hard when folding over your pierogi. Drop the pierogi (a few at a time) in the water and keep them in there until they float to the top, removing with a strainer.
After your pierogi have boiled, you may also then transfer them to a pan, where you can sautee vegetables of your choosing (such as onions and mushrooms), along with your pierogi.
My husband still enjoys his with a side of the tried-and-true sour cream, which is very typically served with pierogi, but I choose to use organic applesauce as my side of choice, and also sometimes garnish with beets. Hopefully this hearty, comfort-food alternative is as pleasing to you as it is to us! Enjoy!