When I traveled in Eastern Europe and lived in Russia, I ate a lot of pierogi but never learned to make them. Some were homemade—my favorites came from Russian women who carried pots of them from their kitchen to meet the train as we rode the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok. Plus, commercially packaged frozen pierogi were as widespread in Eastern Europe as frozen pizza is in the United States, and they could be dropped in boiling water for a quick meal.
Once I returned to the States, I tried many variations on pierogi dough, attempting to recreate those mild yet somehow tasty dumplings. Available dough recipes varied widely on both ingredients (egg, milk, butter, sour cream, even cream cheese) and ratios. But once I mastered homemade pot stickers, I realized I’d strayed too far from the frugal kitchens that prepared my favorite pierogi. So now I use the same dough for both types of dumplings; how I prep that dough, fill it, and cook the dumplings determines whether they’re labeled pot stickers or pierogi.
As I pointed out earlier this month, homemade dumpling shortcuts can save you both effort and time. Pierogi dough (aka pot sticker dough) can be started, rolled, filled, and cooked in one session. But you can space out the process. Make the dough ahead and store it in a zip-close bag in the fridge; it will keep a couple of days and could be used as the edible wrapper for pierogi, pot stickers, or both. I’ve never encountered commercially made pierogi wrappers, so your best bet if you want to fast-forward past scratch-made dough is to look for dumpling wrappers, likely where you buy other Asian foodstuffs.
Pierogi filling can also be made ahead. It’s generally simpler and drier than the fillings I use for pot stickers. It typically relies on boiled potatoes and sautéed onions, which refrigerate well and can be prepped as part of a prior evening’s meal and then set aside. Other mild leftovers work well.
Rolling, assembling, and cooking can happen on a separate or the same day as dough and/or filling; just bring the dough to room temperature if it was in the refrigerator. You can cook pierogi completely when you assemble them or parboil them briefly and freeze them to enjoy later. Fully cooked pierogi can also be frozen; either way, freeze the dumplings for a couple of hours on a tray and then transfer them to a freezer-proof bag or container for longer storage.
Frozen parboiled pierogi can be fully cooked just like fresh ones in boiling water. Freezing or refrigerating leftover cooked pierogi gives you an excuse to fry them for the perfect quick comfort food.
Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You just need pot sticker dough (but you can tweak the ingredients); you’ll just handle it a bit differently before wrapping it around a filling and boiling.
1. Roll the dough and cut out wrapper circles.
2. Add and enclose the filling.
3. Boil the pierogi and enjoy.
2 teaspoons sunflower or other mild oil (optional)
Prepare the dough as you would for Scratch-Made Pot Stickers. If you know you’ll use the dough for pierogi, add oil to the dough just as the rough dough ball takes shape and before turning the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and kneading for 3–5 minutes. Under a damp tea towel, let the dough rest for at least 20 minutes if freshly made or come to room temperature if premade and refrigerated.
Divide the dough into thirds and shape each into a rough ball; cover 2 balls with the damp tea towel. Set 1 ball on a lightly floured surface, flattening it into a rough circle.
Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to about 1/16 inch thick; avoid flipping the dough or getting flour on the top surface. Using a biscuit cutter or glass rim, cut out as many 3-1/2- to 4-inch-diameter circles as possible. Set the circles on a piece of lightly floured parchment paper, and then gather the remaining rolled dough into a ball. Place this ball under the tea towel and continue the process with the next ball of fresh dough. When you’ve rolled all the dough once, gather the scraps into 1 ball and reroll the dough, repeating until you’ve rolled and cut all the dough into wrappers.
Place a dough circle on a flat surface and scoop a heaping teaspoon of filling (see below) into the center, keeping the perimeter clean. Fold the wrapper over the filling into a half-moon. Crimp the edges together, ensuring the filling is sealed within the dough. Set the pierogi on a piece of lightly floured parchment paper, and then fill and seal closed the remaining dough circles.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add one pierogi at a time, stopping just before the water refuses to keep boiling. If parboiling the pierogi for freezing, cook them for about 1 minute, until they start to float to the surface, and then immediately plunge them in a bowl of ice water; when cooled, drain and freeze on a tray. If fully cooking the pierogi, let them boil for about 3 minutes after they start to float.
Remove the finished pierogi to a clean tea towel or parchment-lined baking tray to drain before serving. Repeat either cooking process with the remaining dumplings. Serve hot. Makes about 25–30 pierogi.
Tips & Tricks
- Although you can form pierogi wrappers individually like pot stickers, I don’t notice any texture difference with the faster roll-and-cut technique. If you struggle to get the dough thin enough, stop rolling, let the gluten relax, and then continue.
- Other tricks can make the dough easier to roll. A little oil slows gluten development and aids rolling. So does rolling from the center to each edge, rather than from end to end.
- If you prefer a richer dough, experiment with some of the ingredients I mentioned earlier. Adding an egg enriches the dough, but it can get gummy if the dough is overkneaded. Replacing half of the water with milk can give a more delicate dough.
- I spread out wrappers, fill them, and return them to the same sheet of parchment paper. If you’re making double or triple batches, you can stack your cutout wrappers with a little flour between each, but this may make them harder to seal.
- In some cultures, traditional pierogi folding results in an attractive braid that makes me think of a pie crust or empanada, but I’ve always found it a bit thick. Crimping isn’t as pretty but works. A dumpling press can make even quicker work of the process.
- If the pierogi start to stick when cooking, add a little oil to the boiling water. They may also stick when plunged in the ice bath; oil can help there too.
- Freshly cooked, refrigerated, or frozen pierogi can be fried in butter or a butter-oil blend. Brown them over medium-high heat for 3–4 minutes, flipping and shifting as needed to cook fairly evenly.
- Homemade Sour Cream is the ideal topping for pierogi; in Russia, we also sprinkled on a little fresh dill. Other toppings work too: caramelized onions are delicious atop or inside the dumplings, as are mushrooms sautéed or in a cream sauce.
Twice as Tasty
In some ways, it always surprised me that pierogi were so tasty because the fillings tended to be quite bland. Potatoes, onions, cabbage, and cheese dominated. Sometimes I’d find veggie ones with mushrooms; sweet ones would have cheese and jam. I only rarely encountered ones with ground meat, but that’s always an option. Regardless, all of the flavors stayed pretty mild.
In my kitchen, I tend to slide in a little more flavor but mostly let Homemade Sour Cream provide the dominant tang. Lemon Cheese makes the best filling, softening without melting and oozing oil. Good alternatives may be quark or even well-drained cottage cheese, rather than a hard cheese like cheddar. Precook onions for maximum flavor and potatoes until soft enough to mash roughly with a fork; potato skins can stay on or come off as you choose. Mushrooms and cabbage are also best quickly precooked so that they don’t release all their liquid when they hit the boiling water.
As with other dumplings, you can be as bold or conservative in your filling as you like. Adapt Deluxe Mushroom Filling by replacing the Asian seasonings with some sherry, cream, and dill, or use the filling from Mushroom-Stuffed Blini. Mix in fresh or dried herbs and leftovers like bell pepper and peas. Or go full tang on your cabbage and stuff your pierogi with one of the kraut recipes from my pickling book: classic Sauerkraut, Kvashenaya Kapusta (Russian-Inspired Soured Cabbage), or Apple and Cabbage Kraut.
Ready to give one of my favorite pierogi fillings a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need just 3 main ingredients plus some flavorings.
1. Boil and mash the potatoes.
2. Sauté the onion.
3. Mix them with the cheese and flavorings and cool.
Potato and Lemon Cheese Filling
1 large (10 ounces) onion
1 tablespoon sunflower or other high-smoking-point oil
5 ounces Lemon Cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons German-Inspired Spicy Mustard
2 teaspoons fresh or 1 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Peel the potatoes if desired and roughly chop into 1-inch pieces. Put the potatoes in a large saucepan, fill with water, and add a little salt. Bring the water to a boil and then continue boiling for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are soft. Drain the potatoes, transfer them to a large bowl, and roughly mash them with a potato masher or fork.
Peel and dice the onion. In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 10 minutes, until soft and lightly browned.
Mix the onions and cheese into the potatoes. Stir in the lemon juice, mustard, and dill until well distributed but still leaving the mixture lumpy. Season to taste salt and pepper. Let cool to room temperature before refrigerating or using in Scratch-Made Pierogi or another edible wrapper. Makes about 3 cups.
Tips & Tricks
- This recipe makes enough filling for a batch of dough; if you use it all and have trouble sealing your pierogi, put less filling in each wrapper. Mix leftover filling into scramble eggs, bake it into a frittata, or toss it with Seasoned Pot Beans.
- I’ve included weights not for precision but to help you change up the filling and still have ample for a batch of dough. If replacing the potato with watery ingredients like cabbage and/or mushrooms at the same weight, cook them into the onions and expect to end up with a little less filling.
- Varieties don’t matter here, so use your favorites or whatever you have at hand. If swapping in red onions and especially red cabbage, expect a little color in the mix or even to leak into the dough.
- My Russian friends probably would have found this filling way too flavorful; they generally stuck with salt and a little dill on top. Go bigger or milder as you like. You can always substitute your favorite commercial mustard, but you’ll find the recipe for my favorite in my new book.
Ready to make German-Inspired Spicy Mustard and flavorful krauts for filling pierogi? Get a signed copy of The Complete Guide to Pickling to fill your shelves and fridge with vinegar and fermented pickles, chutneys, hot sauces, salsa, and more. At the same time, pick up the The Pickled Picnic to learn how to use pickles and leftover brine in a range of recipes. Click here to order.