Sweet cheese pierogi (without the pierogi)

This weekend is Easter, which means that tomorrow is Good Friday, which means that if you are a member of my family, you will be eating pierogi!  It’s a tradition that I believe was started by my Grandma in an effort to come up with a meatless pre-holiday Lenten meal.  It’s since morphed into kind of a large celebration that’s honestly a little at odds with the somber religious holiday it shares a date with, but a fun and delicious day nonetheless.

Pierogi Day is typically a pretty big endeavor – many balls of dough are made the night before, and fillings are prepared that morning.  In some years, close to 20 people have gathered to roll, assemble, and boil the pierogi.  Someone’s usually on onion duty (and I am one of a few people who won’t be shy about complaining if the onions are undercooked!  Please, brown them a little!).  On one very dark day in the early 2000s, someone introduced a fat free margarine spray instead of butter, which I hope they still feel terrible about (because it was indeed a terrible pierogi injustice!).  From my childhood, I remember three standard fillings: potato-cheese, potato-mint, and sweet cheese.  There were a few experimental years where the kids were allowed to make some with things like marshmallows, jelly, and chocolate chips (I DON’T RECOMMEND ANY OF THESE), and in recent years we’ve had experiments in cabbage and sweet potato… which are fine, but I will stick to the basics, thank you very much.  And in fact, I’m typically going to fill my plate with 75% sweet cheese, the potato just being an extra side dish.  Sweet cheese is where it’s at!

All this being said… I’m not going to share a pierogi recipe today, because it’s probably short notice for you to get together that many people and all your biggest pots and the patience and upper body fortitude to roll all that dough… but I will share with you the absolute most perfect solution if what you just want is that amazing, salty-sweet taste of Grandma’s cheese pierogi.  This option will still require a little counter space and hand-eye coordination, but could easily make it on to your table for dinner, and will let you feel like you’re experiencing a little big of Pierogi Magic this week, even if we didn’t invite you to our holiday.

dumplings2

Cheese Dumplings

(adapted from this recipe, which has some helpful step-by-step pictures)

  • 1-1/2 cups large curd cottage cheese1
  • 1-2 Tablespoons sugar2
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 tablespoons salted butter3 (melted and slightly cooled)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • melted butter, sour cream, applesauce and/or jam for serving
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, cottage cheese, sugar, and butter.  Mix with a fork or wire whisk.
  3. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, fold in the flour, just a little bit at a time.  The dough will be sticky but should be stiff enough to work with.  Depending on the moisture level of your cottage cheese, you may need to add more or less flour than what is written here.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide into two or three pieces.  Roll each piece out into a snake that is 1-2 inches wide (you know, how you used to do with Play-dough or clay)
  5. Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, slice each snake into 1-inch pieces.
  6. Drop the dumplings, 8-10 at a time, into the boiling water (less if your pan is smaller… you don’t want them to stick together).  They will cook in only a few minutes, and are done when they float to the top.
  7. Remove dumplings (a spider strainer is perfect for this) and place on a plate or in a serving dish, topped with melted butter.
  8. Serve with your favorite topping!  I was really seeking a pierogi-like experience, so I served mine on a bed of sauteed cabbage with sour cream… and then decided to take a walk on the wild side and add a dab of lingonberry jam.  There are endless traditional and not-so-traditional ways to enjoy this dish!

NOTES:

  1. Please make sure to seek out large-curd cottage cheese.  This will be a soft, watery mess if you use the regular kind.
  2. I reduced the sugar significantly from the original recipe, just because the flavor I am used to is very lightly sweetened.  I imagine the large quantity of sugar called for in the recipe I link to above is also delicious, it just wasn’t what I wanted.
  3. Note that this is one of few recipes in the world calling for salted butter.  If you don’t typically keep it on hand, just use the same quantity of unsalted butter and add a little salt (1/4-1/2 teaspoon) to taste – and remember you can always sprinkle more on top later.

 

Delicious in Beige: Cabbage with Noodles (Zeljove krpice)

I have a family member (who shall remain nameless) that is well known for his love of  beige foods.  Thanksgiving is really his time to shine, and next week he will surely have a plate heaped with potatoes, turkey, dinner rolls, stuffing, gravy, apple pie and maybe a tiny smidgen of corn or sweet potatoes to brighten things up (but never salad and never cranberry sauce).   The honest truth is that he just doesn’t eat many vegetables, but I like to think it’s because he is fully committed to a color scheme.

cabbage_noodles

Inspired by beige and a cabbage that needed to be used, I turned to a new-to-me cookbook that I found at the library, Recipes from a Slovenian Kitchen (sadly, it appears to be out of print though you can find used copies on Amazon through the link above).  However, even if you can’t get your hands on that particular book, the recipe that I found is pretty common in Slovenian cuisine and can be found in a multitude of other places.

I learned after reading Recipes from a Slovenian Kitchen that white flour was for a long time considered almost a delicacy in Slovenia.  Most families had to rely on eating only what crops they could grow, and white flour was typically reserved for the rich.  White bread was actually a very special treat for most families and something reserved for special occasions.  So while at first glance this recipe, to me, looked like typical peasant food with only a handful of ingredients, noodles were for a very long time more of a delicacy than the staple ingredient we all take for granted in 2016.

I have had this dish with the homemade noodle squares detailed below, but in the version I photographed I used store-bought egg noodles.  My recommendation is to just cut the cabbage to whatever size your noodles are — in squares if you’re doing it homemade, or shredded thinly when paired with smaller un-homemade noodles, as I did here.  This recipe would be a perfect Thanksgiving side dish (especially if you’re into beige!) but is also a comforting, easy dinner for cooler fall and winter evenings.

cabbage-noodles-2

Cabbage with Noodle Squares

(adapted from Recipes from a Slovenian Kitchen)

Serves 4

Cabbage:

  • 9oz cabbage (about 1/2 large head of cabbage)
  • 3-6 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt

Noodle Dough:

  • 1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons water

NOTE: If you wish to use store bought noodles, simply use a quantity equivalent to the amount of cabbage you have (I just eyeballed it).  I used “fine egg noodles” from a local Amish manufacturer.

IF YOU ARE MAKING YOUR OWN NOODLES:

  1. Sift the flour into a bowl and make a well.  Add the eggs and water, then whisk lightly with a fork.  Work in the flour to make a dough.  Knead on a lightly-floured surface until smooth.
  2. Roll out the dough thinly on a lightly floured surface.  Cut into strips about 3/4-inch wide, then cut then across into squares.
  3. Boil a large pan of salted water and add the noodle squares.  Boil, reduce heat and simmer until noodles are tender.  Reserve some of the pasta cooking water.

IF YOU ARE NOT MAKING YOUR OWN NOODLES:

  1. Boil a large pan of salted water and add the noodles.  Follow package instructions for cooking time, until noodles are tender.  Reserve some of the pasta cooking water.

USING EITHER METHOD:

  1. Cut the cabbage into pieces about the same size as your noodles (squares, or if you are using egg noodles, sliced to a similar width, as though for coleslaw)
  2. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large pan.  Add sugar until it starts to color.  Add the onion and cook until lightly browned.
  3. Add the cabbage, cumin, and salt to taste.  Add a spoonful (or more – you want it to simmer slightly) of cooking water from the noodles and cook the cabbage for 3-5 minutes, until soft.  *At this point, you may wish to add more butter for flavor.
  4. Fully drain the noodles (either type) and mix in to your cabbage.

4-Ingredient Slovenian Potato Salad

My family does not distinguish between “food actually consumed by people who live in Slovenia” and “foods we eat at Slovenian holiday parties in the US.”  Maybe there isn’t a difference between the two, or, more likely, maybe only two members of my family (sadly, not me, at least not yet) have ever actually visited Slovenia so our American-Slovenian culinary experiences far outnumber our authentically Slovenian ones.  Either way, I look forward to someday finding out if the things we call “Slovenian chicken” (which I think is… roasted chicken?) and “Slovenian Salad” (iceberg lettuce in oil-and-vinegar dressing) are actually enjoyed on a regular basis by my distant relatives overseas.

Given this family-wide habit of calling foods “Slovenian” when they may just be, um, “food,” I did not expect Slovenian Potato Salad to be a real thing.  The way I’ve always prepared it is super-simple and for that reason I assumed it was just something my mom made up to appease her mayo-hating kids.

(Because – yuck – if you don’t like mayonnaise, is there anything worse than seeing that bowl of creamy potato salad sitting out in the hot sun at summer parties?)

Since it is going to be three thousand degrees this weekend in many parts of the country, with enough humidity to bend graham crackers and roof shingles into damp submission, resulting in a heat index of eleventy forty-hundred millennia,* and I don’t want you to accidentally poison your loved ones with warm mayonnaise, it seems like a good time to share this recipe.  Below are the two versions I found in my 1999 copy of More Pots & Pans.  It even has a Slovenian name, Krompirjeva solata (literally, “potato salad.”

potato salad

My mom’s version is more along the lines of Mary Marolt’s (No. I) but even easier. I’ve done my best to write it for you below.  FOUR INGREDIENTS (six if you count salt and pepper).  You could have this on the table just after the potatoes are cooked or, for even better flavor, allow it to chill in the refrigerator for a few hours (better yet: overnight).  You can really use any kind of potato for this, though my personal favorite are small redskins.  I used this basket of tiny potatoes the last time I made this, and they were perfect!  Even though some of the smallest ones were truly bite-sized, I sliced them in half so the cut sides could absorb more dressing.

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Slovenian Potato Salad No. III

INGREDIENTS:

  • approximately 2 pounds of potatoes, washed but unpeeled
  • one bunch of green onions (less if you aren’t crazy about onions), sliced (green and white parts)
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (I prefer white or apple cider)
  • 1/4 cup oil (I usually use olive oil)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Boil potatoes in salted water until tender.  Rinse under cold water and, when cool enough to handle, cut into bite-size pieces.  Whisk together oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in the bottom of a medium-sized bowl.  Add potatoes and green onions, and stir to combine.  Season again to taste.  May be served immediately, or chill in the refrigerator a few hours or overnight.  The longer it sits, the stronger the flavor!

(This recipe is very easy to make smaller or larger, since the dressing is really just a 1:1 oil:vinegar ratio.  Experiment as needed!)

 *Sorry, talking about weather again.