Over Christmas break, I learned how to make sauerkraut pierogi with my Aunt Cindie and had the opportunity to get in touch with my Polish roots. Since my dad’s side of the family is Polish — my great-grandma Czajkowski emigrated from Poland to the U.S. when she was 16 years old — I’ve had some experience shopping for traditional Polish foods such as Polish sausage, cabbage rolls, dumplings, and, of course, pierogi!
Pierogi, the national dish of Poland, are half-moon shaped dumplings made from unleavened dough and stuffed with a variety of fillings. Some popular fillings include cabbage, sauerkraut, meat, mushroom, cheese and potato. You can also make dessert pierogi stuffed with different berries, seasonal fruits or sweet cheeses.
Though the exact origins of pierogi are contested, the dish has been made in Poland since the thirteenth century. Throughout history, specific pierogi were served for the celebration of holidays such as Christmas and Easter. Additionally, kurniki, special chicken-filled pierogi, were often served at weddings and other important events.
When my family is craving some good Polish food, we typically make a trip to Celina’s Fresh Market, a Polish food store in Lemont, Ill. near my house. This store offers a vast variety of delicious and authentic Polish food, including some of the best pierogi out there!
However, while I absolutely love Celina’s pierogi, there is just something special about making your own from scratch. Though the process takes a bit of time and work, in the end it is well worth it.
As we made our sauerkraut pierogi, my Aunt Cindie shared her memories of the Polish traditions of our family. Though we both share a Polish heritage, I did not grow up as well-versed in these traditions as she did. My aunt recalled that pierogi were an important part of her Christmas Eve celebration. The Polish Christmas Eve celebration, known as Wigilia, includes a traditional meatless supper in accordance with the fasting mandates of the Catholic Church. My Aunt Cindie remembers celebrating Christmas Eve with many vegetarian foods such as sauerkraut pierogi and her busia’s (grandma’s) yummy homemade finger dumplings.
Another common tradition of Wigilia is attending Pasterka, or midnight mass. My Aunt Cindie recalled her experience of this midnight mass with her family and her participation in the tradition of the Oplatki, which is similar to the Christian Eucharistic meal. Each member of her family would break off a piece of wafer, the Oplatki, and pass it to another family member along with a blessing. Since she had a large family of about 50 people, this process took quite some time.
On Christmas Day, everyone would continue the celebration and participate in another feast. However, on Christmas Day, meat dishes were permitted, and her family celebrated by preparing a great variety of traditional dishes such as Polish sausage.
Making sauerkraut pierogi with my aunt gave me a small window into these special Polish traditions. As we made the pierogi dough from scratch and rolled it out by hand, the delicious smells of sauerkraut and onion, sautéing on the stovetop, wafted through the air. My favorite part of the process was stuffing each dumpling with sauerkraut, folding over the edges, and crimping the dough with a fork. It felt like a little art project.
After we had made our pierogi, we divided them into small batches and plopped them, one by one, into a pot of boiling water to cook. We served our pierogi with a melted butter and breadcrumb mixture, but you can also serve your pierogi with just melted butter or melted butter and onion.
If you have some extra time this week and want to try a little taste of Poland, keep reading for my Aunt Cindie’s delicious recipe for sauerkraut pierogi! And stay tuned soon for another yummy Polish recipe — Kolaczki cookies filled with your favorite fruit jam.
Aunt Cindie’s Sauerkraut Pierogi Recipe
Note: This recipe makes approximately 60 pierogi. I recommend cutting the recipe in half if you are cooking for a smaller number of people.
- 6 cups flour
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 ½ cup milk
- 2 tbsp. sour cream
- 1 stick butter (softened)
- 2 eggs
- 24 – 36 oz. jar of sauerkraut (I used 24 oz. jar of Hengstenberg Bavarian Style Sauerkraut)
- 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
- 1 stick butter
- 2 tbsp. breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp. sugar (can use more if sauerkraut is too tart for one’s taste)
- Salt and pepper to taste
To make the dough:
- Mix flour and salt.
- In a separate bowl, blend milk, sour cream, butter and eggs. Slowly add in the flour mixture.
- Knead dough well. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate while making the sauerkraut filling.
To make the sauerkraut filling:
- Drain and rinse the sauerkraut well.
- In a frying pan on the stovetop, sauté onions in butter until softened.
- Add sauerkraut, breadcrumbs and sugar.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Cook for 10-15 min. or until tender.
- Allow sauerkraut filling to cool.
To make the pierogi:
- Take dough out of the refrigerator and roll on a floured surface to about an ⅛-inch. thickness. Use a round cutter to cut dough into 3-4 inch flat circles. (I used a plastic cup to cut circles.) Save scraps to re-roll.
- Put about 1 tbsp. of filling in the center of each circle of dough.
- Fold to make them look like half-moons. Press the ends together and crimp both sides with a fork. Make sure there are no open ends so that the filling does not escape when pierogi are submerged in boiling water.
- In small batches, drop pierogi in a large stock pot of boiling, salted water for 3-4 minutes or until they begin to float to the top.
- Using a slotted spoon, remove pierogi from the water and drain.
- Serve with melted butter, melted butter and sautéed onion, or melted butter and breadcrumb mixture. (I used a melted butter and breadcrumb mixture).