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.

 

Farina Dumplings

As a kid, I wouldn’t go near dumplings.  While I do regret missing out on some good soups in those years, it was worth it to avoid the lifeless, gray floating lumps at the annual Slovenian Women’s Union Christmas party.  Imagine being nine years old, all dressed up for Christmas, and knowing that a bowl of mushy rock formations stood between you and the part where the presents got handed out.  You’d be urged to eat your soup, but not too strongly – after all, most of the adults at the table actually wanted to steal the dead gray things from your bowl.  Once you’d drain the broth, the grown ups would pounce, and finally — finally! — the liver dumplings would disappear and present-opening could commence.

Now that I am older, with more control over the contents of my dumplings, I can recognize that some are just plain GOOD.  In most cases dumplings are not difficult to make and are a nice change of pace from plain old noodles.  Eating soup is basically a winter requirement in Ohio, and I love finding new recipes.  I recently took a look through some old cookbooks for inspiration and decided to try my hand at farina dumplings, because:

  1. They are made of one of my favorite cereals, Cream of Wheat.
  2. They are not gray.
  3. They do not contain anyone’s liver.
  4. I can remember my mom making them when I was younger — and me probably making her promise me that they didn’t include anyone’s liver, and me probably not believing her all the way when she said they didn’t — so I feel like I have catching up to do as far as Eating Dumplings That Aren’t Gross

pots and pans

This recipe for Farina dumplings comes from Marie Floryan of West Allis, WI and Olga Kumershek Thomas of Madison, WI by way of More Pots and Pans, a 1998 publication of the Slovenian Women’s Union of America (since evolved to include men and more inclusively renamed the Slovenian Union of America).  I received this book as a Christmas gift from my Grandma M in 2001 and it is so fun to read.  Every single recipe credits the person (or people) who submitted it, and I occasionally vaguely recognize the name of someone I surely must have met over roasted chicken, pink wine and gray dumplings at a Christmas party once upon a time.

Marie and Olga got it right on this one.  I have absolutely no improvements or criticisms of these delicious dumplings!


Farina Dumplings with Eggs – For Soup

(Zdrobovi cmoki z jajcem)

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup farina or Cream of Wheat
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • dash of pepper

Heat milk and butter.  When milk is scalded, stir in farina and cook until thick, stirring.  Remove from heat.  Cool.  Beat the egg whites until stiff; beat the egg yolks.  Add the beaten egg yolks to the farina, blend well.  Stir in egg whites.  Bring the clear beef or chicken soup to a gentle boil.  First dip teaspoon into boiling soup, then drop rounded spoonfuls of the farina mixture into the soup.  Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Makes about 15 dumplings.


Most recipes for these dumplings referenced cooking them in a “clear broth.”  I really wanted to eat these in a bowl of chicken soup, so I had to take a different approach that was maybe a bit convoluted.  I made one of my new favorite recipes for chicken soup, sans noodles… then I strained out all of the chicken and vegetables, set them aside in the bowl, and heated the broth to cook the dumplings in.

farina Collage

That was a good decision, because the dumplings puffed up significantly while simmering.

It was a tight squeeze to add back the chicken and vegetables, but well worth the crowded conditions!  The beautiful, delicious, pillow-soft dumplings resolutely stayed on top of the soup and the end result was exactly what I was hoping for.

soup1
NOT EVEN A SPECK OF GRAY.