I had big plans for that jar of sauerkraut I made earlier this month. Plans involving plates of grilled sausages, deli-style reubens, and tangy late-summer slaws. But at the very top of my list were pierogi. I love dumplings in all forms, but these piping hot, chewy pockets of potato and cheese have held a special place in my heart ever since a Russian exchange student first introduced me to pierogi in high school. They are so satisfying served with nothing more than melted butter and a sprinkle of salt. They also freeze beautifully, so stockpiling them in the freezer for an easy comfort food meal on a busy night makes total sense.
I don't claim to have any great knowledge of pierogi other than that I love to eat them. I know they are usually filled with potato, sometimes along with ground meat, and very often with cheese. Sharp cheddar cheese seems to be preferred. Sauerkraut works its charm in many great pierogi fillings, adding it's own special tanginess and slight cabbage-y crunch. As my tastes have grown up, it's these sauerkraut and potato pierogi that I find myself craving again and again.
Making pierogi takes some time, which is why it's best to make a large batch and clear some space in the freezer. Put on some good music to sing along to as you cup the rounds of dough in your hand and fold them around spoonfuls of filling. Better yet, invite a friend over to make pierogi with you and divvy up the profits.
Let's talk for a second about how you cook these pierogi. I am a fan of boiling them first and then crisping the bottoms with some melted butter in a hot skillet. I love the tender chewiness and toasted crispiness this brings to each bite. I know this same method is near and dear to many of your hearts, but sacrilege to others. You can also serve pierogi boiled like ravioli or baked in the oven like empanadas. I have included my favorite method in the recipe here, but I leave the ultimate decision up to you.
Sauerkraut, Potato & Cheese Pierogi
You can substitute two cups of leftover mashed potatoes for the mashed potatoes in this recipe.
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup water
1 pound potatoes (I prefer red-skinned, but russet or yukon golds are fine)
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup drained sauerkraut
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons butter
1 small yellow onion, sliced thinly
To make the dough, whisk together the flour and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer (or regular mixing bowl). Whisk together the egg, sour cream, and water until combined, and then pour over the flour. Stir together the liquids and the flour with a wooden spoon or spatula until a shaggy dough is formed.
Knead the dough the mixer on low speed with the dough hook attachment until the dough is very smooth and soft, about 5 minutes. Alternatively, knead by hand against the counter for 8 minutes. If the dough seems very sticky after a few minutes of kneading, add a tablespoon of flour at a time until it starts coming together into a smooth ball. Cover and set aside to rest on the counter while you make the filling.
To make the filling, scrub the potatoes clean and place them in a 2- or 4-quart sauce pan. Cover with an inch or two of water and set over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are tender when pierced by a fork, 6 to 10 minutes depending on the size of your potatoes.
Transfer the potatoes to a mixing bowl with a slotted spoon. Remove the peels if desired (I like to leave them on!). Mash the potatoes into large chunks with a potato masher or a dinner fork. Add the sour cream and salt, and continue mashing until the potatoes are smooth. Add the sauerkraut and cheese, and stir to combine. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Shape the filling into 1" balls (roughly the diameter of a quarter) and arrange them on a dinner plate. Pre-shaping the filling makes it easier and quicker to shape the pierogi.
Line a baking sheet with parchment and sprinkle generously with flour. Set this near your workspace.
Divide the pierogi dough in half, working with one half at a time and keeping the other half covered. Sprinkle your work surface with flour and roll out the pierogi dough to 1/8" thick. Stop occasionally to lift the dough and make sure it's not sticking to the work surface; use more flour as needed. If the dough shrinks back as you roll, let it sit for 5 minutes and then roll again.
Use a 3" biscuit cutter or drinking glass to cut the dough into rounds. Gather the scraps and set them aside.
To shape the pierogi, hold one of the rounds of dough in the palm of your hand and set a ball of filling in the middle. Fold the round in half, pinching it closed at the top and then working your way along the sides to form a half-moon shape. Make sure the edges of the dough are completely sealed. Set the pierogi on the floured baking sheet.
Continue to shape pierogi with the remaining rounds of dough. Lay them close together on the baking sheet, but don't let them touch. Roll out the second half of the dough, and cut and shape the pierogi as described. When finished, roll the scrapes and continue to make as many pierogi as you can. You should end up with roughly 4 dozen pierogi.
At this point, the pierogi can be boiled and served right away or frozen. To freeze, place the sheet pan of pierogi in the freezer and freeze until solid. Transfer the frozen pierogi to a freezer container and freeze for up to three months. Pierogi can be cooked straight from the freezer.
When ready to cook the pierogi, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until the onions are translucent, very soft, and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Push the onions to the edges of the pan where they will stay warm and continue to caramelize.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously. Working in batches, add 10 or so pierogi to the boiling water and stir to make sure they don't stick to the bottom. Cook the pierogi until all the pierogi have floated to the surface and then 1 to 2 minutes longer to make sure the filling gets hot — 8 to 10 minutes total.
Transfer the pierogi to the pan with the onions. Turn the heat to medium-high. Cook the pierogi without moving until they are golden and crispy on the bottoms, 2 to 3 minutes. If you're cooking more batches, transfer the pierogi to a serving dish. Once all the pierogi have been boiled and crisped, scrape the onions over the pierogi and gently stir to coat the pierogi with butter and onions. Serve immediately while hot.
(Images: Emma Christensen)