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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » March 31, 2011
Polska… tastes good!
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Pierogi Back in Fashion
March 31, 2011   
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Pierogi are among the most famous and best loved Polish dishes. The best kind, of course, are those made at home, but frozen pierogi made by food processing plants are also popular.

The fascination with fast food is on the wane in Poland. Traditional dishes, including pierogi, are back in favor. In fact, pierogi are becoming all the rage and any self-respecting restaurant will most likely have them on the menu. Pierogarnie, or restaurants specializing in pierogi, are also springing up everywhere.

Pierogi are a dish made from dough that is rolled out thinly. Circles are cut out of the dough, stuffed with one of many fillings, pinched shut and then boiled in water, baked or deep-fried. In Poland the filling is most often meat (ground and cooked first), sauerkraut with forest mushrooms (see receipe on next page), seasonal fruit (blueberries, strawberries etc.), buckwheat groats, cottage cheese—either sweet or with added mashed potatoes and fried onions. The latter are known as ruskie (Russian) pierogi. One variety popular in eastern Poland are pierogi with lentils. People in the eastern Lublin region enjoy pierogi with cheese, potatoes and dried mint, which gives the dish a slightly tart taste.

Fillings popular in other countries include hard-boiled eggs, fish, spinach, marmalade or even chocolate and honey. Apart from Poland, the dish the Poles call pierogi is popular in Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, China, Japan and Italy.

It is thought that pierogi were made in Poland as early as the 13th century. They probably came here from the Far East via Ruthenia. In the old days pierogi were only made for festive occasions, and every festivity had its own pierogi shape and filling: kurniki—large wedding pierogi with various fillings but always with added chicken meat; knysze—mourning pierogi served at wakes; koladki—baked in January during the caroling season; hreczuszki—made from buckwheat flour; sanieżki and socznie—small and sweet pierogi usually baked for name-days.

Producing pierogi is rather labor-intensive but well worth the effort because nothing can compare with the version made at home. The same dough as that for pierogi (usually wheat flour, egg, water and salt) is also used to make varieties known as uszka and kołduny. The little ear-shaped (hence the name) uszka are especially popular on Christmas Eve; stuffed with mushroom filling, they are served with clear borscht. Kołduny are a Lithuanian specialty (koldunai in Lithuanian); these are tiny pierogi stuffed with raw ground meat and suet, boiled in water and served sprinkled with butter or in broth.

Pierogi can also be made from a yeast-based dough or short-crust pastry. The most popular yeast-dough pierogi in Poland are called kulebiaki. The best fillings for these include fish, meat (such as cooked beef, pork or mutton), poultry (including chicken livers), sauerkraut, less often cottage cheese or fruit. A kulebiak is served hot after being cut into thick slices. It is delicious with clear soups. Yeast dough can also be used to make small pierogi which are then baked or deep-fried. The short-crust pastry variety are also delicious, usually stuffed with meat or sauerkraut, served hot or cold.

For those who don’t have time to make their own, there are plenty of frozen pierogi to choose from, as many Polish food-processing plants make them. When shopping for ready-made pierogi, look for those with the label Poznaj Dobrą Żywność (Try Fine Food); this is a guarantee of good quality, reliable sources of raw materials and processing technologies that ensure consumer safety, as well as superior flavor.

The record holder in terms of the number of products with this label (more than 20) is Jawo, a company from Częstochowa that specializes in pierogi and dumplings. Their range includes pierogi with sour cherries, homemade pierogi with meat and sauerkraut, with sauerkraut and mushrooms, with cottage cheese and blueberries, frozen pierogi with meat, with strawberries, “Old Polish” pierogi with groats and mushrooms, pierogi with spinach, with cottage cheese and strawberries, “homemade” pierogi with cottage cheese, pierogi with blueberries. The Poznaj Dobrą Żywność label has also been granted to pierogi with spinach and those with sauerkraut and mushrooms made by a company called VIRTU Sp.j. B. Vertulani, D. Mikulska.

The Agriculture Ministry’s Poznaj Dobrą Żywność program, launched in 2004, is one of close to 400 programs promoting the quality of foodstuffs in European Union countries. The program aims to provide consumers with reliable information that a product meets more stringent quality requirements, either additional or special ones that are confirmed by independent bodies or inspection organizations. Products taking part in the program receive a special label confirming that they meet these extra standards as to raw material quality or production and/or processing methods.

The Poznaj Dobrą Żywność label is granted to products with a well-established market position, recognizable to consumers, made and sold on the market for at least one year, with implemented identification procedures along the entire food production chain, including procedures for withdrawing a product that fails to meet the requirements.

Since the start of the Poznaj Dobrą Żywność program, the quality label has been granted to more than 1,000 Polish food products from more than 100 producers. At present the label may be used by 474 products from 75 producers.

Pierogi with Sauerkraut and Mushrooms

Traditional Polish pierogi filled with sauerkraut and forest mushrooms can be served with mushroom soup or borscht. They can be served in the hot soup, or reheated by frying with onions and then served on the side.

4 cups flour • 2 tsp salt • 2 tsp vegetable oil
• approx. 2 cups warm water
1 jar (1 liter) dried forest mushrooms
• 1 kg sauerkraut • 1 carrot • 1 parsnip
• salt and pepper • 3 tbsp olive oil
• 3 onions, diced

Rinse mushrooms, cover with cold water, leave for 6 hours. Bring to the boil, add peeled carrot and parsnip, cook until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste near the end of cooking. Cook sauerkraut until soft, squeeze out liquid. Strain mushrooms, carrot and parsnip, keeping the stock for mushroom soup, for example. Squeeze out liquid. Grind with the sauerkraut in a meat grinder using the disk with large holes, or chop finely by hand. Fry onions in olive oil, add to filling. Mix until well blended, add salt and pepper to taste.

Sift flour, make a well in the middle, add salt and oil. Gradually add warm water, scooping the flour into the well to combine into a dough. Knead until soft and elastic, about 15 minutes. Cover with a cloth. Put a pot of water, salted, on the boil. Divide dough into two, roll out each piece very thinly. Cut out small circles with a glass or cookie cutter, place filling in the center, fold in half and pinch pierogi edges together. Cook in batches in boiling water until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Serve with fried onions.
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