It Started with Aunt Dot
One of my favorite childhood food memories is when my Russian Godmother, my Aunt Dot (famous for her amazing Fruit Cake) would make the most mouth-watering potato cheese pierogis and cabbage pierogis. They were absolutely addictive. One thousand was not enough and one was too many…one bite and you couldn’t stop eating these tender pockets filled with mashed potatoes flavored with cheese or stuffed with sautéed cabbage.
Aunt Dot was an amazing chef. She ran the entire kitchen of The Russian Hall for years. The Russian Hall was where everyone had their weddings back in the 1970’s. We celebrated my Dad’s 50th surprise party there. My cousin, Daria, my Aunt Dot and Uncle Walt’s daughter, had her wedding there. My first bridal shower was held there. I could go on and on about events in my life that happened there. And there would be Aunt Dot at the helm.
A staple always on the menu would be Aunt Dot’s pierogis. Now, I have to tell you, they were infamous, truly. I’m not exaggerating. I kid you not.
Every year, my Aunt Dot, her sister Marie, and many other women from that generation and who attended St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Church in Little Falls, New Jersey, would gather to make the pierogis for their annual picnic. They would make them, literally, by the thousands because they not only needed to supply them for the picnic but also for the people in the community who wished to purchase them to bring home. It was a sad day every year when the last bag was pulled from my family’s freezer.
Ah, such fond memories of an era gone by. The women no longer gather to make the pierogis. The picnic no longer happens.
Let The Quest Begin!
I’ve been obsessing about these pierogis for decades now. No matter which ones I’ve purchased, whether from a grocery store or some other local church, they don’t even come close to Aunt Dot’s pierogis.
And so my quest began. My new challenge was to develop a recipe that would sate my obsession for one more of Aunt Dot’s pierogis, but vegan, of course.
Not having Aunt Dot’s recipe, I began trolling the web for any and all pierogi recipes. They varied extensively, but I do recall that Aunt Dot’s dough recipe might have had sour cream in it. There isn’t a vegan sour cream on the market yet that I think is worthy enough to befit this recipe.
I have to admit (and I hope it is okay to say this without sounding full of myself), I think I nailed it! I demonstrated this recipe at my Veganification Boutique Culinary Demonstration on March 5, much to what seemed to be the sheer delight of every participant. There wasn’t one left in the house when the class was done.
Daria, I hope you give this recipe a whirl and tell me what you think!
To Make The Dough:
3 cups flour, preferably all-purpose
½ teaspoon Himalyan sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 ounces vegan cream cheese, at room temperature (preferably Miyoko’s Kitchen or Kite Hill)
Water to make soft dough
- Combine flour and salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Using a pastry blender (or my favorite utensil, my own fingers), cut the olive oil and cream cheese into the flour until it is combined. It will make the flour coarse, but there’s not enough cream cheese to make pea-sized balls as you would expect when making a pie dough.
- Starting with 3 tablespoons water, and adding in additional one tablespoon at a time, work water into the dough until it is soft, smooth, and elastic.
- On a floured work surface, knead dough 3 or 4 minutes or until elastic.
- Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
To Make The Filling:
1-1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced, cut into small chunks
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
¼ cup nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
- Place potatoes in pot and cover with water to 1” above the top of the potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook until potatoes are fork tender, approximately 15-18 minutes. Drain, and return to pot.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the pot, and mash until smooth (but don’t overmash..you want to avoid them becoming like wallpaper paste)
- Set aside to cool.
Making the Pierogis:
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
- Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper and very lightly dust with bench flour. Set aside.
- Have a small bowl of water by your work station for sealing the pierogies.
- Working in batches (keeping the parked dough under a damp towel) and using a pasta machine or rolling pin, roll the dough to 1/16” thickness. (This dough is very easy to work with, so I prefer using my cast iron enameled French rolling pin.) If using a rolling pin, scantly dust your work area with bench flour.
- Using a 3” cookie cutter, cut out dough rounds. Reserve trimming on the side, keeping them under the damp towel.
- Lightly dampen the edges of the round.
- Dollop a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of a round. (My favorite tool for this is a one tablespoon ice cream scoop.)
- Fold in half, and seal the edges by crimping. Make sure the edges are sealed well so the filling doesn’t come out.
- Place completed pierogis on the cookie sheet. Cover with clean dusted towel.
- Gently lower the pierogis into the boiling water using a slotted spoon. Do not overcrowd, so boil 4-6 at a time.
- When they come to the top and float, they are done. It should take approximately 4-6 minutes. Remove them with the slotted spoon and cover to keep them warm.
- Here’s where you now have some options, however, my Godmother used to sauté onions until translucent in butter to make a sauce. Just before serving, she would place the pierogis in a large bowl, then pour the onion sauce over them and sprinkle some minced parsley.
- Make a double batch. Boiled pierogis freeze like a charm. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and lie the pierogis in a single layer, not touching each other on the sheet. Freeze until frozen, at least 4 hours. Store in the freezer in a sealed plastic bag. When ready to use, you can defrost and then heat to serve. Or, drop into boiling water; and when they rise to the top, they are done.