Recently, I noticed a blog Tasting Table pushed out. The title was Mastering the Art of Piroshki, and the feature article was promoting a new book by Anya von Bremzen called Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. It’s a little tongue in cheek word play against Julia Child’s famous tomb, meant to poke some fun at the dreary picture most people have of Soviet-era cuisine, but also a real cookbook of classic Russian dishes that survived that period. She and her mother made a little video about making piroshkis and I know I would like to have both of them as friends.
Having a strange compulsion for Eastern European foods, I was quickly attracted to this book. But then I watched the video. The dough they mixed in a small ceramic bowl seemed a little dry, worn out, and thin. And then she offered a second recipe for making piroshki using American biscuit dough in a tube, a product I despise, and then I knew that this wasn’t my cookbook.
But Allan noticed the title over my shoulder and said, “Piroshkis. Remember, we used to buy them from a guy on Vendor’s Row, near the Viking Union.” This was at Western Washington University, where we both eventually graduated. I had not thought about that for 30 years, but when he mentioned it, I could remember sometimes buying a mysterious triangular-shaped stuffed dough for lunch. That brought back sweet memories of meeting Allan at Vendor’s Row for lunch when we were in the flirting stage of our relationship, 6 weeks before we were engaged, (Oh, get over it. We’ve been married for 30 years. It’s all a memoir, now). I was coming from music theory class or Cultural Anthropology and he was coming from some upper division political science class, often about the parliamentary system. I usually had a little lunch with me because I worked most mornings from 5:30-8:30 at the Fountain Bakery, and they gave me 1/2 sandwich and a bag of chips as an employee meal. But somedays, I didn’t work, and then we bought a piroshki or bagels and some pastrami and cream cheese to go on them. Allan thought I was unique because I was shopping at the Food Co-op, making all of my own bread, and eating bulgur wheat with homemade yogurt for breakfast. I thought he was interesting and exotic because he ate piroshkis, worked at a restaurant that specialized in wild game dishes, and went to BC to visit his relatives. We were both ready to get on with our adult lives and we saw ourselves in each other. We didn’t really know what we were getting in to, but who does? We got lucky. We have maintained the same pace of change and still find each other interesting.
I wanted to make piroshkis for a little date night. I researched recipes and found one that sounded great from the LA Farmer’s Market. That’s what you want, right? A piroshki that is being sold from a cart. This turned out to be an outstanding recipe. You could be completely happy making it as it is printed. I had just returned from our own market and had been a little overambitious in my purchases so I didn’t mind spending a few hours to use some fine food products. This dough is stellar. You can actually put anything in it and it will be wonderful. I made three fillings today. It did take me three hours to make three fillings and then another couple of hours to make the dough and shape and bake them. That is a 5 hour Saturday project, but I listened to podcasts and had a nice time and now, I have 6 bags of piroshkis in the freezer for delightful weeknight dinners. Make the fillings and then make the dough since it doesn’t rise for long. You could even make the fillings over a day or two and then put it all together in a couple of hours.
Curried Butternut Squash, Sage, and Caramelized Onions
Peel a butternut squash and cut into 1″ cubes. Steam until completely tender. In a covered saute pan, cook a sliced red onion and about 20 sage leaves in some olive oil. Leave a lid on until they sweat and soften. Remove the lid and continue to cook until they begin to brown and release their sugars. Remove from pan. Add steamed squash seasoned with curry powder, in batches if necessary so as not to overcrowd the pan, and also brown until the squash releases its sugars. Put the entire mixture in food processor and puree until smooth and fluffy. Correct the seasoning with curry powder, salt, and pepper. Refrigerate until use.
Braised Lamb, Roasted Onion, Petit Pois, and Mashed Potatoes
Marinate lamb for several hours in olive oil, chopped mint leaves, and finely grated lemon zest. Braise, with a little water, for several hours at 280 degrees until tender and falling off the bone. Chop a red onion. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast in a 350 degree oven until soft and caramelized. Peel and cube, into 1″ hunks, 3 or 4 russet potatoes. Steam until completely tender. Drain and hand-mash, with a knob of butter and a little milk. Season with salt and pepper. Mix together shredded lamb, roasted onions, 1 small can of petite pois, and a balanced amount of mashed potatoes. Adjust seasonings. Refrigerate until use.
Freshly Ground Turkey, Leeks, Chanterelles, and Dill
Grind turkey if not available in the market. Chop 3-4 leeks and saute in olive oil until softened. Chop 2 cups of chanterelle mushrooms and add to saute. Add ground turkey and cook through. Add 2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley leaves and 2 tablespoons fresh dill. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until use.
- package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/4 cups warm water
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- In a small bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and 1/4 cup of the warm water; stir gently to dissolve. Sprinkle in 1 teaspoon of flour and let the mixture stand until the yeast comes alive and starts to foam, about 5 to 10 minutes.
- Put the remaining flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in the remaining 1 cup warm water. Add the butter and break it up with your fingers into the warm water so it melts. Add the egg, salt, and yeast mixture. Mix with your hands, incorporating more and more flour into the center to form a soft, sticky dough. Lightly dust your hands with flour as the dough sticks to your fingers. Take care not to add too much extra flour, however, or the dough will become dense. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and fold it over itself, kneading with the heel of your hand, until it’s smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
- Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces and roll into balls; they should be about 4 ounces each (about the size of a cue ball). Sprinkle the rounds lightly with flour. Cover and let rest for at least 30 minutes so they will be easier to stretch.
- Pat each dough piece into an oblong about 6 inches long and 2 inches wide. Mound about 3/4 cup of the filling evenly down the length of each piece, keeping a small border all the way around. Dust your fingers with flour and bring the long edges up to enclose the filling, pinching them together to form a tight seal. Check for any holes or tears, making sure the piroshki are completely closed.
- Gently pat the piroshki into 8-inch-long pies; they should spread out fairly easily. Turn the piroshki seam side down and gently pat the tops to spread them out. Lightly dust with flour, cover, and let rise again for about 10 minutes.
- Arranging them on a parchment paper lined baking pan. Brush with a beaten egg and top with poppy seeds. Bake in a 375°F (190°C) oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
I like this little forward from the blog that posted the recipe. I made blueberry and raspberry hand-pies on the Fourth of July in Montana and my family laughed every time I said it. It does sound funny somehow, doesn’t it?
L.A.’s Original Farmers Market Cookbook | Chronicle, 2009
Potato Piroshki are probably the best-known Russian hand pies. Like all the incredible baked goods from Tbilisi N Yerevan Bakery, in West Hollywood, this recipe hails from Rita’s father, Elko Kakiyashvili, and has been in the family for generations. Although T & Y features five different fillings, the traditional potato piroshki with dill and caramelized onion continues to be the most celebrated. These piroshki are as authentic as you can get without traveling to Russia. Steaming the potatoes instead of boiling produces the creamiest mashed potato texture.”–JoAnn Cianciulli
Potato Piroshki Recipe © 2009 A.F. Gilmore Company. Photo © 2009 Karl Petzke. All rights reserved.