It's my 1000th post and there's a war in Ukraine. I'm sharing with you a classic vegetarian meal that I've enjoyed my entire life to mark the occasion and to drown my sorrows in carbs.
I HATE when people write a huge story ahead of their recipe, but I can't help myself today.
My grandparents were Ukrainian with roots in western Ukraine. I'm still not sure how my grandmom ended up referring to pirogi as "pedehe," but I've stumbled upon a number of blogs referring to the same malaproprism all across the U.S. and Canada. My best guess is that the Hungarian word for pie, "pite," got in the mix somehow, but who knows? Really, who cares? What matters is that they're delicious.
My grandparents were extremely proud of their heritage. We were Ukrainians. Not Russians. Not Poles. Ukrainians. This might seem obvious, but Ukraine wasn't on the map when I was young. It was a region of the USSR, and only sometimes acknowledged in a light italic font on a map of the Soviet Union. Despite being in a school full of last names that ended in "ski", no one but my brother and I identified as Ukrainian. The skis' heritage was clearly defined and in bold just adjacent to the large, always red mass that encompassed my homeland.
This was until 1991, of course, when the Soviet republics became independent. That school year my teacher brought in books about all of them. I was excited there was a book for me, but fascinated that there was a place now called Moldovo, and now there were Czechs and Slovaks, no Czechoslovakians. Months after that, Oksana Baiul won gold. The world waited patiently for them to find the Ukrainian anthem. It was a big deal.
When I got to high school, it was a no-brainer to take Russian instead of the traditional choice of Spanish, French or German. Going to a nice school meant an opportunity to travel. An election year meant my principal didn't feel comfortable sending us to Moscow. And that's how I ended up in Kharkiv in April 2000.
My classmates and I were treated like rock stars in the city. We were the first announced group of American students that ever visited in modern history. The school dazzled us with songs and dance routines (including a routine to "Back in the USSR"), their English proficiency, and field trips to Poltava, a retreat center, and the local biscuit factory.
Interactions with locals were usually pleasant, though interesting at times: old men yelling at us for eating at McDonald's; women yelling at us for leaving our apartments with wet hair; and a drunk young man who talked at me for God knows how long before he said, "I want to touch American woman." Lucky me, he meant to just shake my hand and say, "it was a pleasure to meet you, American woman."
I went on to get an undergraduate degree in Russian language and literature, and master's degree in Eurasian, Russian and East European studies. That led to my first job with the World Movement for Democracy. Lucky me, this meant going back to Ukraine twice on the tails of the Orange Revolution.
My first trip to Ukraine had ended with a couple days in Kyiv (then Kiev). I had fallen in love with it instantly. Its architecture is stunning. Its golden domes are blinding. Its monuments are at times overwhelming. And the Dnieper is as majestic as all the poets describe it. Coming back after the revolution, all that remained, but seemed brighter with the energy of the people.
I tacked on a trip to Lviv in western Ukraine the last time I was in the country. Picturesque, easy going, and the best place to eat blini & caviar (this was before I went vegetarian, obviously). This was a solo trip, and I of course took in local culture like museums, book sales and the opera. But really, my favorite memory is just sitting at a cafe and reading the Kobzar with a beer.
When I left, through Kyiv, I lightly hummed a popular Zemfira song, "До свидания, мой любимый город. Я почти попала в хроники твои." Roughly, "Goodbye, my favorite city. I almost became part of your chronicles."
The last few days have meant tracking down old classmates and families of classmates from Kharkiv and my grad program. It's awful to feel relieved when they share photos of themselves being in bunkers. It's awful to assume the internet will be cut off soon and I won't know if they have escaped the country, are still living in the metro, or are alive at all. Most selfishly, I'm heart-broken that I may never get to visit the country ever again.
None of this has anything to do with pirogi, other than I broke my entire recipe schedule to roll dough for me and my local friends. Thank you for putting up with preamble. Now to the actual recipe.
Source: Grandmom | Makes: 4-5 dozen | Time: 1.5 hr (give/take)
3 cups all purpose flour
2 eggs beaten with 1/4 cup of warm water (add more water if needed)
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt
9 medium potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, and cut into chunks for boiling
1 big vidalia onion, finely chopped (I usually reserve some to fry the pirogi in)
1/4 cup oil
1/2 lb sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (I did 10 oz)
Chopped vidalia onion
Start with the dough. Sift flour. Combine with remaining ingredients. Knead for 30 minutes. I have a Kitchen Aid mixer, so I just used the dough hook for about 10 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes or overnight
Now make the filling. Put the prepped potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Turn the heat to high and cook until the water comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-high (or whatever temperature is needed to maintain the boil) and continue cooking for about 10-12 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle of a potato goes in easily with almost no resistance. Carefully drain out all of the water.
Add the cooked potato to a large bowl and use a mixer to get them to a mashed potato consistency. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Set aside.
Now let's get to the actual pirogi. Set up a flat service with some sprinkled flour. Take a piece of the dough at a time and roll it into a ball 1 inch in diameter. Rub some flour on your rolling pin and roll out a circle about 2-3 inches in diameter. Add 1 tbsp of the filling and add it to the center of the circle. Wet the edge of one half of the dough circle. Fold the dry side over and pinch the edges to seal the pirogi. Repeat until you're out of dough.
When you're about halfway through the dough, fill a large pot with water (about 3/4 of the way to the top). Put it on the stove over a medium-high burner and bring the water to a boil. Add a little salt if you want to get the boil going faster.
Once you're done with forming the pirogi, add 3-4 at a time to the boiling water. Remove as the float to the top, which can take as little as a minute or as long as 4. When you remove them, put them on a flat dish and try to keep them separated. They have an annoying tendency to stick to each other ruining the next step.
Once you've boiled your pirogi, warm a skillet over medium-high heat. Add some butter or oil to the skillet. Then add your pirogi and fry until one side is browned. Flip, and fry until that side is browned as well. Remove from skillet and serve warm with sour cream.