The August 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by LizG of Bits n’ Bites and Anula of Anula’s Kitchen. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make Pierogi from scratch and an optional challenge to provide one filling that best represents their locale.
Pierogis are typically boiled or baked dumplings of unleavened dough stuffed with variety of fillings from vegetarian to meat to sweet ones depending on the country and region. I always thought of them as European dumplings. And, they pretty much are...
I think I first came across these dough pockets in one of our wanderings in Paris. I have always loved dumplings and took to pierogis in a jiffy. I haven't seen much of them in the US and definitely never attempted making them myself before. Now, I am wondering just why I didn't!! I mean, they are super simple to make and with endless options for filling, so much fun as well!
When I started researching Pierogis I realised there were so many regional variations, not just in the filling but also in the recipe for the wrapper as well! I was sure, I wanted to go eggless on the wrapper and vegetarian on the filling. So, I went with the simplest recipe that uses flour, water and oil. I just spruced it with some fresh basil and lemon zest.
For the filling, I toyed with potato and cheese but wasn't too inspired by this traditional choice. Eventually, I decided to go with caramelised onions, fresh paneer and fresh basil minimally flavored with just salt, pepper and a touch of chili flakes.
To finish, I sauteed the cooked (boiled) pierogis in butter to a brown crust and then served with more caramelised onions and browned button mushrooms.
Verdict: Well, predictably, I loved them. But, let me tell you about these pierogis specifically. There was a hint of sweetness from the fresh cheese as also from the bit of brown sugar that I used for caramelising the onions. In the same bite, there was the hint of spice from the red chili flakes. All the flavors were mild but melded together very nicely.
Caramelised Onion, Paneer and Basil Pierogis
Notes: I'd like to have made this entirely with rice flour as I think it's sweetness pairs nicely with the rest of the ingredients but belatedly realised I was running low on it. As it is, I used what I had and my recipe reflects that. Feel free to substitute entirely with rice flour.
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup fine rice flour
1 T olive oil
1 T fresh basil, finely chopped
zest of half a lemon
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup of water (this is approximate, I added water slowly until the dough was just formed)
1 large yellow onion (if you have vidalia, even better!!)
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp red chili flakes
1/2 cup fresh paneer (or you can use drained ricotta. Paneer recipe below)
salt, pepper and oil as needed
Mix all the dough ingredients to form a supple, tacky dough. Kneed for 3-5 minutes. Cover and refrigerate for atleast 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, over low heat, saute the onions in a little oil. As they lose water, add the sugar and chili flakes and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook until the onions are browned and have reduced to a fourth of the volume. Let the onions cool for about 10 minutes and then fold in the paneer. Leave the cheese a bit chunky.
When the dough is ready, roll it out as thin as you can on a lightly floured surface. Using a four inch round cutter, cut circles of dough. Place about a teaspoon of filling in the center of each round, a bit closer to one edge. Wet the edges with water and fold over the dough and crimp the edges to seal.
Bring a big pot of water to boil and lightly salt it. Gently ease the prepared pierogis into the water. Do not overcrowd. They are done when they float to the top. Remove and drain lightly. Once all the dumplings have been cooked, lightly saute them in butter to sear the wrapper.
Serve with more of the caramelised onions and sauteed mushrooms.
To Make Paneer:
This is an indicative recipe. The actual amount of cheese made from one cup of milk depends upong the fat content of the milk, acidity of lemon juice and your patience level :). The good thing is that more is always better here! :)
3 cups milk (definitely nothing less than 2%)
1-2 T lemon juice (key lime and lime have higher acidity, so you'll need less but I find the resulting cheese a bit bitter as well)
Over medium heat, bring the milk to a fast boil. As it boils up, lower the heat and quickly add the citric juice. Turn the heat back to medium and whisk the liquid. The cheese will start seperating from the whey. When slightly largish chunks start to form, remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes to help the coagulation process.
Drain the contents through a fine muslin cloth and hang the cheese in the cloth for about atleast 15 minutes (depends on quantity ofcourse) to drain as much water as possible.
Typically, you would try squeeze as much water as you can from the paneer but for this particular recipe, I left a bit of moisture to get a creamier consistency.