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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Perogies for Boz

I'm half Ukrainian. That means I enjoy ridiculously strong tea, intemperate climates, plastic-covered furniture and vodka. Out of respect for my paternal grandmother - who died when I was 15 - I taught myself to make the foods she loved and could make in her sleep. I inherited some of her old cookbooks, which to me are more precious than 500 cats and 20 wheels of brie cheese, and have incredible names like "Ukrainian Catholic Women's League Cookbook". And just in case you don't believe me:


I started with perogies, that most delicious of Ukrainian fare, and moved on to borscht, cabbage rolls and beet leaf rolls (we like our food predominately in roll form). My friend and landlord Boz became ill suddenly a couple days ago and when I asked him what I could do for him, he requested my perogies. So I got to work.

First, you need a lot of time. This is not a one-pot, 1 hour meal. You will need about 3 hours on your first time and eventually you will get better, and will need about 2. Second, you will need fridge space and counter space. What you will NOT need is money. Perogies enough to feed an army will cost you about $20 in ingredients, and that's aiming high.

You will need:

Dough:

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup deskinned, boiled, mashed potato
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 ½ cups of warm milk

Filling:

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
¼ cup butter
½ cup white onion
2 small deskinned, boiled, mashed potatoes

Like most things in life, there is a rhythm to making perogies, as well as a few shortcuts that I’ve learned the hard way. Allow me to share them with you: First, take three medium sized potatoes, peel and boil until quite soft, then mash. This can be done up to one day ahead of time so the process isn’t too tedious the day you make them. Next, fry the onions in the butter until they become translucent. Add this mixture to the cheese and what is left of the potatoes after you have removed one cup for the dough (see what I’m doing there?). Mix everything together so that the cheese lightly melts and it all begins sticking together. Place in the fridge and let cool for half an hour. The mixture should be cold when you begin to assemble the perogies.

Next, you work on the dough. Mix all the dry ingredients together with a whisk, then slowly add the warm milk. Blend together with your hands. Add more flour or milk if necessary. Once properly blended, the dough should be slightly sticky but not too sticky to handle. Turn onto a floured surface and knead 10 times NO MORE. This is key. If you over knead, the dough will be too tough to manipulate properly and the manufacturing process will be difficult. Place in a clean, oiled bowl and cover with a dish towel. Leave to sit for half an hour. This is the point in the perogy-making process where you can take a little break, have a drink, masterbate, whatever you’re into.

Once the half hour is up, turn your dough back onto the floured surface. Spread out dough with your hands, then use a rolling pin to roll it out very thin, about ¼ inch, maybe less. To make this easier, and because I have a tiny West End kitchen, I rip the dough ball in half and do half at a time. Feel free to find what works for you.

Hard-core Ukrainians use knives and freehand to cut the dough circles that will house the filling, but I’m not that talented, and I’m willing to bet neither are you. I use a glass, which gives me about 3 ½ inches of surface area, which is what you want. If you have a cookie cutter that will work as well. Whatever you can find that will give you a circle about this size will do: 


I like to cut all my dough circles out at once, then manufacture the perogies. As you can see from these photos, this woodblock surface is all the space I have, so I have to economize. I mean, look at this bullshit:


Once the dough circles are cut out, you can now begin to manufacture your perogies. Form a ball of filling in your hands about the size of a walnut, and place in the middle of the dough circle. Pinch the perogy at the top, then up one side, then the other. Make sure the perogy is sealed on all sides. Keep up a steady pace; the dough becomes dry if you wait, so get a rhythm going 'till you're done.



After they are completed, put a large pot of water to boil, set aside the ones you are going to prepare now, and either freeze or refrigerate the rest in a sealed container. Once the water is at a rolling boil, put in the perogies and stir with a slotted spoon, making sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pot. Once they have been in for about 5 mins, drain and set aside. Chop half a white onion and half a ring of kielbasa or Ukrainian sausage. Fry in a pan with a small amount of oil. Once the onions are translucent, add the boiled perogies. The key is to fry them on the bed of the sausage and onion mixture to impart flavour. Once the pergoies are brown on both sides, remove from heat and serve with sour cream. 


I brought some to Boz and he was crazy about them. Well, if I'm honest, it was mostly the meat. He looked great and I'm happy to think that some good cooking and visits from friends will get him back on his feet in no time!

So that, my friends, is how you make Ukrainian perogies. Make sure you tell everyone how hard it was to make them, bank extra sympathy for your hard work, you never know when you're going to need it.

Epilouge: I started writing this post about 2 weeks ago, and I thought the end would be different. Sadly and untimely, Boz passed away on December 7, 2010. His memorial was today, on the 6th floor of our building, where everyone gathered to have some food and beer and trade great stories about him. He was the landlord here for 30 years. He looked out for everyone, kept a gorgeous garden in the back, and raised his teenage son. So many people knew him and loved him. I wasn't personally especially close to him, but I really enjoyed cooking with him in the garden in summertime, smoking and drinking and carrying on with him, my girlfriends and Paco the maintenance man.

On reflection, this building - which has been my home for 7 years - doesn't feel as safe anymore. It's not exactly home the way it was. I know the only constant is change, but I hate that. There is a peace that should come from that fact, but I haven't found it yet. When I do, I'll let you know.

We'll miss you buddy.

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