Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ukrainian Vareniki

I mentioned a few months ago that I lived in Ukraine until pretty recently.  I loved everything (well, almost everything) about it there.  One of the things I truly loved and enjoyed was the FOOD.  My husband is Ukrainian and I have studied Russian and Russian/Ukrainian history for years, so I was no stranger to Ukrainian cuisine, but I loved living there and getting to have it whenever I wanted and trying so many new and exciting things.  In addition, there are so many restaurants (on nearly every corner) for cuisine types that we just don't see here in America, at least not often.  Things like Georgian, Armenian, Turkish and Crimean.  Right now, I am practically salivating thinking of the foods I miss!

One of those foods is vareniki: little dumplings with different fillings like meat, cabbage, potatoes, sometimes berries or cherries.  One of the important things is that the fillings are pre-cooked in vareniki.  There are another kind of dumpling, called pelmeni, that are smaller and typically have only meat fillings, where the filling is NOT cooked ahead of time.  My favorite kind of vareniki is potato and sauteed onions, served with just a little bit of butter.  I've been wanting to try making these for some time now, and finally got a recipe from my cousin-in-law in Ukraine.

So here's my first attempt and my favorite of Ukrainian delicacies!

 Vareniki Dough

(I made half this recipe for dough and the recipe yielded 22 vareniki.  A serving is maybe 4-5 as a side dish and 8-9 as a meal)

3 cups flour
3/4 cups cool water
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients to form a dough ball.  Dough should be neither too dry or too sticky.  If it is either, add a little flour or water and work it is until you get a dough ball that is smooth.  Cover with a tea towel and let sit for an hour.  In the meantime, make the filling.

1 large russet potato
1 onion (a sweet Vidalia is great)

Cut potato into cubes and boil until soft.  Saute onion until tender and browned.  With a ricer or masher, mash potato and onion together, adding butter and milk as needed.  Potato mixture should not be too dry and should hold together well.  Add salt to taste.

3 medium boneless, skinless chicken breast
1-2 onions

Boil chicken in salted water.  Shred or dice the chicken.  Saute onions until tender and browned.  Combine chicken and onion, adding a little broth if it is too dry.  Add salt to taste.

Preparing the vareniki-

Dust the counter with flour and roll out a chunk of dough (about half or a third if you have done a full recipe.)  Dough should be about 3 millimeters thick. Using a glass or biscuit cutter, cut circles from the dough.  They should be around 3-4 inches across.  You'll want to squeeze as many as you can from the rolled dough.  I noticed that the dough became a little tougher the more I worked with it, so the less re-rolling you need to do, the better.

Take each circle and place a small amount of filling on one half.  You don't want too much or the dough will stretch and won't hold the filling.  Fold the dough circle over and pinch them shut.  If they won't seal, dab a little water on the dough and that should help make the seal.

At this point, the vareniki are ready to be either boiled or frozen.  If you plan to eat some or all of them right away, boil for 8-9 minutes.  If you plan to freeze them, freeze in a single layer and then transfer to a freezer bag.  Preparation from frozen is the same, boil 8-9 minutes.  They will float when they are done.

Serve with butter, fried onions and/or sour cream.  My favorite is with butter and onions, although I skipped the onions this time (I actually forgot to save some out from my onions I sauteed for the filling.)  And I like to eat them with a cup of fresh mint leaf tea with honey and lemon.  I close my eyes and imagine I am back in Ukraine.

I was pretty happy with my results.  I thought they were very authentic, and I've had vareniki as authentic as you can get, both in Ukrainian restaurants and prepared by my Ukrainian aunt-in-law.

As I prepared each one, I put them on a plate.  I ended up cooking basically the top layer for myself and put the rest in the freezer.  What I SHOULD have done was put down a layer of parchment or wax paper.  When I took them out of the freezer to transfer to a freezer bag, a couple were frozen to the plate and I broke them as I tried to pry them off.  Unfortunately, this ruined them because once they are open, the filling will fall straight out when in the boiling water.  So, lesson learned and noted for next time, use wax paper to avoid the vareniki sticking to the plate and getting ruined.

This is my favorite Ukrainian restaurant in Kyiv, Ukraine.  It's called Harbuz and Co.  Harbuz is the Ukrainian word for Pumpkin, so the name of the restaurant is essentially Pumpkin and Co.  I miss this place SO much.  I went there for lunch almost weekly when I lived there.  It's very cozy.

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