What are the best meals for a hostel environment? Easy, cheap, and communal, I say. When I was studying Spanish in Guatemala (in Xela), we all took turns doing an evening meal. When my round came up, I went way back to one of my favorite meals growing up: pierogis. My mom’s side of the family was entirely Slovak and I loved it when my mother or grandmother made a batch of these. “A lot of work” my mom calls it. But when you have a lot of hands in the kitchen, it goes quite fast, in fact.
A pierogi is a Slavic sort of dumpling/ravioli/gyoza: a dough pocket with a filling. The most common stuffing is a cheesy batch of mashed potatoes. Pierogis are great because the ingredients are available about anywhere and typically on the cheap end of the grocery list: potatoes, flour, a few eggs. Cheese and butter might raise the price a bit depending on where you are, but even the cheaper “cheese food” variety, the soft individually wrapped slices, will work for this recipe.
A “Recipe” for Pierogis:
Mom, what’s the recipe? “There’s really no recipe.” Same answer from grandma. Don’t panic, just go with it.
Shopping list: potatoes, bag of flour, a few eggs, pack of cheese, some butter (and optionally a small amount of milk).
The amount of dough depends on the amount of people eating of course, and it’s better to make small batches of dough to start. As you roll them out you may want to make more batches when you see how much your first batch produces.
1. Take 1-2 eggs and “beat the heck out of ‘em.” Add a bit of water and 1-2 cups of plain white flour. Work that mixture into a dough that is firm but not sticky or too dry and crumbly, adding flour (or water) to get it to that consistency. You don’t need to knead it that much and when you are done, let it rest a short while (or not) under a bowl to prevent it from drying out.
2. Peel the potatoes, cut them into smallish pieces so they cook faster, and boil them up. Drain them, add a bit of milk, butter if you want, salt to taste, and grated cheese to taste (cheddar, American, take liberties here) and mash it all into as smooth a paste as you can. Let it cool a bit to work with.
3. Work on a lightly floured surface and roll out the dough (not necessarily all in one go) until it is a wide sheet of about 2 mm thickness. (If you haven’t got a rolling pin, use a wine bottle. Come on, you know you’ve got one from last night.)
4. Cut the dough into squares with a knife (or even use a pint glass to make circles). Put a spoonful of the potato mixture in the middle and fold the dough over, making sure to pinch them shut well so they don’t open up in the cooking process.
5. Set a big pot of water to boil, throw in a spoon of salt, and add the piergois. A bit of olive oil in the water helps prevent them from sticking together in the boil. You only need to boil them for a few minutes. When they float to the top, they’re ready. Serve with some melted butter that you heated in a pan until just a bit of brown appears. Dip the pierogis in that as you go.
The result is a big filling meal for a large group of people. With multiple folks pinching the pierogis shut, this goes pretty quickly.
Optional: fry the pierogis in a pan after boiling, and serve them with a side of sour cream. (Canadian/Pittsburgh version) Stuffings can be alterered too. Sauerkraut, cottage cheese with the potatoes, go nuts here if you want.