For 10 weeks over the summer I had the pleasure of living in Pittsburgh. Prior to moving to an un-air conditioned townhouse up in Squirrel Hill, I knew absolutely nothing about this city sitting deep within the mountains in Pennsylvania. I’m not really sure I know much more even now.
One of the things I learned about Pittsburgh (aside from the fact that I personally wouldn’t want to live there in the winter) was that it is a perogi mecca. Perogies are essentially Eastern European dumplings. They can be sweet or savory and typical fillings include meat, sauerkraut, cheese, or potatoes. Or any combination of those things. As a lover of the potato, a potato dumpling is just about the best damn idea I’ve ever heard. And in Pittsburgh, I could find perogies pretty much anywhere. Appetizer perogies? Check. Perogies as a dinner side? Got that. Perogies as an extra burger topping? Why the hell not?
Needless to say, upon leaving Pittsburgh, I’ve been going through a bit of a perogi withdrawl.
In an effort to make these slightly healthier, I decided to integrate the parsnip into my filling. Parsnips are really great because not only are they delicious, but they mash similar to a potato. This makes it really easy for me to mash them up and hide them into the perogi for my vegetable-phobic roommate to get a little bit more nutrition. Heh. Heh. Heh. Plus, a homemade perogi gives me the opportunity to make it gluten-free for my other roommate so that she can eat perogies again. Win-win.
Let’s start off with the filling. It’s the most important part of the perogi because it’s the most flavorful. I mean, the other part’s just a dough. Since I can do whatever I want with my potato filling, I decided to start off with some bacon. I cooked up the diced bacon in a skillet. I decided to cut it up prior to cooking because it gave me a chance to trim away some of the fat. I don’t want the fat because I’m going to add butter and we don’t want greasy potatoes.
After the bacon is crisped up, I added in some butter, onions, garlic, and sugar. Then I let this caramelize for a while, about 15 minutes or so. After caramelization, I added in a mixture of parsley and cilantro and let that sweet out to get some nice flavor into the butter. This serves as the base of our filling.
As for the more substantial part of the filling, I used a couple yellow potatoes and a parsnip. Any potato can work here because, as I always say, I don’t really taste a huge difference between all of the different types of potatoes. So use your favorite potato or whatever you have on hand.
Bring these to a boil (in the same pot because it’s easier) in a pot of salted water. As with all boiled potatoes, the water must be heated with the potatoes in the pot. It allows for even cooking. Salting the water pretty liberally (although not too much that you have essentially ocean water) will give the potatoes more flavor.
After the potatoes and parsnips are cooked through, after about 20-30 minutes of boiling, drain them and mash them. Then I added in the butter and a little bit of sour cream to finish off the filling.
After tasting it, I added a little bit of salt (not much extra is needed since there’s salt in the bacon and salt in the boiling water) and pepper. But other than that, this is all ready for the perogi dough.
The perogi dough consists of two main components. The first is a mixture of flour (gluten-free flour in this case) and salt. Mix these together in a bowl and make a small crater in the center. The other part of the dough is butter and milk. I don’t really know why, but warm milk is essential for this dough. I melted the butter in a saucepan and then added in the milk. I let this heat up a little more until it’s warm but not boiling hot.
Then I pour the milk/butter into the flour-y crater and mix it by hand. Now this isn’t actually enough liquid to make a proper dough. So I had to add water little by little until I got the desired texture. The desired textures, as I’ve come to understand it, is when the dough stops sticking to your hands. If you’re a dough expert, use your expertise. If not, just follow the directions and you should get pretty close. But the amount of water you need to add is pretty subjective since it all depends on random things like elevation, humidity, and dumb luck. Baking and dough making are weird.
Perogi formation is not unlike dumpling making. I rolled out the dough on a floured surface until it was about 1 cm in thickness. I know, metric system. As a science major I understand it very well despite growing up learning about feet, inches, yards and all those other bullshit measuring quantities. And, the customary system quite frankly sucks at describing things at less than half an inch. Basically you want this pretty thin.
Then you cut out little circles (I used a plastic cup), place the filling in the center, and fold it over to form a semi-circle. Press it down pretty hard and it will seal. You can use an egg wash I guess, but I don’t think it’s entirely necessary.
There are really two ways to cook perogies. A common practice is to boil them. Bring some water to a boil, drop the perogies in, and cook them for about 8 minutes. The other method is just to fry them in butter. I melted ½ a stick of butter in a skillet (the same skillet I used to make the bacon and onion mixture so I could pick up all that residual flavor). Then I layered the perogies in there and let them cook on each side for about 2 minutes or so to get some nice color on them.
After that, I just threw them in the oven set to a low temperature to keep them warm while I cooked the rest of my perogies. And there you have it. Some nice perogies to cure any perogi withdrawal. I like to serve mine with some fried onions and a bit of sour cream, but they can be eaten plain all the same.
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
- 1 parsnip
- 3 medium potatoes
- 3 slices of bacon, diced
- ¼ onion, sliced
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 3 tbs margarine
- 3 tbs white sugar
- 1/8 cup cilantro
- 1/8 cup parsley
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 3 cups gluten-free flour of your choice
- ½ cup warm milk
- ¾ cup warm water
- 1 tbs melted margarine
- 1 tsp salt
- In a small pot of salted water, boil potatoes and parsnips for 20-30 minutes
- In a skillet, cook bacon until crispy, about 5-6 minutes
- Add margarine, onions, garlic, and sugar to the skillet
- Saute until onions caramelize, 15-20 minutes
- Add cilantro and parsley, remove from heat and set aside
- Mash potatoes and parsnips
- Add margarine mixture and sour cream, stir to combine
- Salt and pepper to taste and set aside
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt margarine
- Add milk and let sit until milk is warmed but do not bring to a boil
- In a mixing bowl, mix flour and salt and make a crater in the center of the flour
- Add milk/margarine mixture and stir
- Pour in water a little at a time until the dough does not stick to your hands
- Cover in plastic wrap and set aside for 20-30 minutes
- Roll out dough into a thin layer of about 1 cm
- Cut out circles of the dough and set aside
- Place a tbs of the potato mixture into the center of the circle and fold over one side of the dough on top of the other
- Press down to seal
- Repeat until all the dough has been used
- Over medium high heat, melt half a stick of butter or margarine
- Add perogies to the pan and cook for about 2 minutes per side
- Set in a warming oven until needed