Pierogi ruskie

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Ren Behan serves up her pierogi ruskie recipe, a wonderfully comforting dish of dumplings stuffed with a cheese and potato filling. Extracted from Wild Honey and Rye by Ren Behan, published by Pavilion. Photographs by Yuki Sugiura.

First published in 2017

Being Polish and having an insatiable love of pierogi go hand in hand. For me they conjure up images of a big family table, my Mama cooking endless batches and dishing up these little pockets of dough, similar to ravioli, filled with potato and cheese or mushrooms, coated in warm butter and caramelised onions and, sometimes, słonina, a type of pure pork fat. Pierogi can be savoury or sweet – the sweeter versions tend to be made during the summer months with seasonal fruits such as strawberries, blueberries or sweet plums, sprinkled with sugar and served with whipped cream. In Polish, the pierogi filling is called the farsz. Each year, there is a pierogi pilgrimage in Krakow, a huge street food festival where Poles showcase all sorts of flavours and toppings – from the very traditional to the very modern. I’ve eaten pierogi recently at a street food festival in London and from a cart in New York City.

The origins of pierogi are hard to trace – they are almost certainly Slavic and there are many variations of them within Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, Lithuanian and Romanian cuisines. In Lithuania they are known as vareniki. In the Ukraine, they are called varenyky: yeast is used for the dough and they are steamed. In Russia, pelmeni are a slightly smaller dumpling. Note that Russian piroshky are usually baked pies rather than boiled dumplings.

There are also comparisons to be drawn with Italian ravioli, given that pierogi are made with a simple dough of flour and water and are filled with a variety of fillings, sweet or savoury. They are also almost certainly related to Asian dumplings – Chinese, Mongolian or even Persian. Sometimes, you might find a dough recipe that includes melted butter, or soured cream. My Mama adds an egg yolk, for extra richness.

Pierogi Ruskie (originating in the Kresy region of Poland, where my father was born) are made with potato and soft white cheese and are probably the most popular filling you’ll find.

Pierogi with wild mushrooms and sauerkraut are often served on Wigilia or Christmas Eve. There are also all kinds of braised meat fillings. I love meat-filled pierogi and have also been known to fill mine with leftover duck and apples. On a recent trip to Poland I visited a pierogarnia – a dedicated pierogi restaurant – near the old town in Warsaw, where I had them with a creamy wild mushroom filling – simply delicious.

This is my Mama’s master dough recipe, which makes enough dough for approximately 40 pierogi. They are easier to make in one big batch. If you wish to freeze them, it is best to blanch them very quickly in boiling water, drain and place them flat on a tray so that they don’t stick together. Freeze. Once frozen, they can be placed in a freezer bag. To cook, simply add the frozen pierogi to a big pan of boiling water as below.




Pierogi dough

  • 1kg plain flour, or 00 pasta flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • 250ml of water, lukewarm

Pierogi ruskie filling


Make the filling to start with, as this will need time to cool completely before being used to fill the pierogi. Place the potatoes in a large pan of cold water, add a pinch of salt and bring the water to the boil over a high heat. Turn the heat down and simmer gently for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft when pierced with a knife. Drain and leave to dry out completely
Mash the potatoes, add the curd cheese or cream cheese and mash together – I like to put the mixture through a potato ricer, to make sure the potatoes and cheese are very well combined
While the potatoes are cooking, heat the oil and butter in a large frying pan. Cook the onion over a low heat for at least 10 minutes or until completely soft and slightly caramelised. Leave to cool slightly
Add the onion to the mashed potato mixture and season well with salt and pepper. Leave to cool completely before filling the pierogi. You can make this filling up to 2 days in advance
To make the dough, sift the flour onto a large wooden board or work surface. Make a well in the centre and add the beaten egg and the oil along with a few tablespoons of warm water. Using a knife, begin to mix together, adding a little more water 1 tablespoonful at a time. At first the dough will be quite soft and sticky. Use your hands to bring the dough together into a ball
Once the dough has come together, knead it on a floured surface for 4–5 minutes. The dough should become quite elastic. If it is too wet, add a little more flour. Place the dough in a bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and set aside for 30 minutes
Divide the dough in half and keep one half covered with a damp tea towel to prevent it from drying out. Sprinkle your work surface with flour and roll out the dough until it is about 3mm/1⁄8in thick
Have a floured tray or board to hand. Using a pastry cutter or an inverted glass tumbler, cut out 8cm/3in circles of dough. Continue until all the dough is used. Cover the circles with a damp tea towel until you are ready to start filling – or cut out a few circles at a time and fill them as you go along, keeping the dough covered with a damp tea towel
To fill the pierogi, place a circle of dough in the palm of your hand and add a teaspoon of filling in the centre of the circle. Fold the dough over to enclose the filling. Using your thumb and finger, pinch the dough along the edge so that the pierogi is well sealed. Lay the pierogi in rows on the floured tray and cover with a damp tea towel while you make the rest
To cook the pierogi, bring a large pan of water to the boil. Carefully drop the dumplings in one at a time (you can probably cook around eight in a standard pan). Keep the water at a gentle boil. The pierogi are cooked when they float up to the top, usually after 2–3 minutes
Lift them out using a slotted spoon, drain in a colander and set aside while you cook the rest. You can serve the pierogi boiled, as they are, or you can gently fry the boiled pierogi in a frying pan with a little vegetable oil or butter so that they pick up a little golden colour
First published in 2017

Ren Behan is a mum of two and a lawyer turned food writer.

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