[Welcome to the Sous-Chef Series, a new, sporadic feature on SK in which I invite cooks I admire over to my small kitchen to teach me — and thus, us — to make one of their specialties. Spoiler: I’m the sous!]
I first heard of the Russian restaurant Kachka when I was last in Portland, Oregon on book tour (hi, Powell’s!), when no fewer than a dozen people separately told me I had to go while I was there. A few said it wasn’t just their favorite restaurant in Portland, but their favorite restaurant, period. This made me all the more sad that I didn’t have time to make it happen. My regrets snowballed when I finally dug into the restaurant’s eponymous cookbook last summer. I was no further than the first page — where the confusion as to what is “Russian” food when “food from the former Soviet Union including Russia but also the countries surrounding it like Belarus, Latvia, Ukraine…” would be more accurate is humorously laid out — when I became deeply, emphatically obsessed with all that I’d missed.
The book is a delight on every page; a bit of history, a substantial amount of wry observations, some hilarious guides (how to navigate a Russian grocery store, the rules of the “drunk fest” known as a pyanka, how to “tetris” your zakuski spread, and I will never stop laughing about the day in the life of sauerkraut, kickbacks and all, in the former Soviet Union) and recipes that will make you want to take the vodka bottle from your freezer (or start keeping it there, have I not taught you anything), have a rowdy group of friends over, and cook, eat, and drink until you make plans for next time. I immediately bought another copy for my mother-in-law and a third for a friend. I could go on and on, but then we’d never get to the wild thing that happened last month.
A couple months ago, I received an email from the restaurant’s publicist that Kachka chef Bonnie Frumkin Morales would be in New York to cook a seder at the James Beard House (nbd!) and did I want to get coffee with her? No, I said. I have a better idea. Does she want to come over and cook with me in my small, terrible kitchen, specifically potato vareniki (Polish pierogi’s Ukrainian cousin)? I want to learn how to make them from a pro. Astoundingly, she said yes.
So, let’s talk dumplings. Even if you’re not self-described dumpling fanatic, even if your love language isn’t swaddled bundles of boiled or fried carbs, I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like pelmeni and vareniki — only people that have been unlucky not to have tried them yet. They use the same dough, but pelmeni are generally filled with meat (I have a recipe for Siberian Pelmeni in Smitten Kitchen Every Day); vareniki with vegetables, fruit, or cheese. Vareniki are often a little larger, but I prefer the one-bite-perfection of pelmeni, and make them the same size. Most Russians I know (and the one I’m married to) keep bags of each in their freezer for quick meals, and while they’re often quite good, nothing compares to making them at home. Manufactured dumplings require a dough stiff enough for machines and to hold up to shipping. Homemade doughs are much more tender and delicate. I see you running away, but wait! The dough is mixed and kneaded by hand and requires only a rolling-pin to stretch out — no pasta machines, no machines at all. It’s wildly forgiving. I did a downright sloppy job of sealing mine this week and not one of them tore or leaked.
Back to the visit: After I forced my homemade chocolate croissant attempts (a recipe coming soon, I hope) and storebought coffee on Bonnie and her husband/business partner/road prep cook, Israel Morales, she showed me how to use the pelmenitsa I’d just purchased inexpensively online. Bonnie is a pelmenitsa enthusiast. She considers the mold “a perfection of Soviet design, all angles and efficiency striving towards a utopian future of dumplings for all.” It’s economical (no wasted dough), the 3-cm width is “the perfect bite”, the circular opening in the center of each is “the ideal void” to pack in more filling, and the speed — instead of folding one at a time by hand, you make 37 at a time — is pretty key when your restaurant makes as many as theirs does each day.
Still, a pelmeni mold is not a prerequisite for making Russian dumplings. You could use a potsticker mold, or you can form them by hand, either by folding them into half moons and crimping the edges, or in tortellini-like shapes. I’ll walk you through each. I hope you’ll make them. Even if you think you’re not a dumpling person or that this isn’t carbs-wrapped-in-carbs weather, these will shake every idea you have of dumplings to its core. They’re slippery and light where you’d expect heaviness; uplifting instead of nap-inducing. And the next time you reach for the same old freezer meal and find these instead, you’ll know you’ve won the lottery.
A pathetic sidebar: Because I’m bad at, well, calendars, I hadn’t realized until much later than I should have that Vareniki Day was also Seder Day, the first night of Passover, when I had 17 people coming over for dinner. Maybe you’re thinking, “Cool! You can feed everybody vareniki made by a fancy chef!” I briefly thought this too, then I remembered basically the only rule of Passover — ha! Anyway, it was a wild and fun day but I’m going to schedule my visiting chefs and multi-course dinner party days separately next time, just the same.
One year ago: Ruffled Milk Pie and Pasta Salad with Roasted Carrots and Sunflower Seed Dressing
Two years ago: Tall Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes and Potatoes Anna
Three years ago: Failproof Crepes + A Crepe Party, Crispy Tortellini with Peas and Proscuitto, Confetti Cookies and Roasted Carrots with Avocado and Yogurt
Four years ago: Not Derby Pie Bars, Liege Waffles and Mushrooms and Greens with Toast
Five years ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars and Soft Pretzel Buns and Knots
Six years ago: Japanese Cabbage and Vegetable Pancakes
Seven years ago: Warm, Crisp and a Little Melty Salad Croutons and Chocolate Buckwheat Cake
Eight years ago: Creme Brulee French Toasts, Leek Toasts with Blue Cheese, Vermontucky Lemonade, and Easy Jam Tart
Nine years ago: Endive and Celery Salad with Fennel Vinaigrette, Rhubarb Cobbler, and Broccol Slaw
Ten years ago: Brownie Roll-Out Cookies, Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad
Eleven years ago: Martha’s Macaroni-and-Cheese and Crispy Salted Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies and Cherry Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake
Twelve years ago: Raspberry-Topped Lemon Muffins
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Drop Cornbread Biscuits
1.5 Years Ago: Dutch Apple Pie
2.5 Years Ago: Apple Strudel and Root Vegetable Gratin
3.5 Years Ago: Chocolate Peanut and Pretzel Brittle, Kale and Caramelized Onion Stuffing, and Apple Cider Sangria
4.5 Years Ago: Sticky Toffee Pudding, Pickled Cabbage Salad, and Pretzel Parker House Rolls
- 1 1/2 pounds (680 grams) yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced (weight is for whole potatoes)
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk, any variety
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- A few grinds of black pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds (680 grams) yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced (weight is for whole potatoes)
- Whole milk, as needed
- 5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large egg plus 1 yolk, whisked until uniform
- 5 tablespoons (55 grams) fine semolina flour
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill (optional)
- 3 1/2 cups (450 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for counter
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt (Diamond brand, use half for any other brand)
- 1 large egg
- 3/4 cup plus 2 to 3 tablespoons cold water
- A combination or your choice of: Butter, plain vinegar, minced fresh dill, caramelized onions, sour cream (bonus if you find the extra-rich stuff from a Russian store). Shown up top is Kachka’s sauerkraut powder (their own recipe, dehydrated and ground) and I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that these are served with a caviar buerre blanc at the restaurant, the recipe is on p. 304 in the cookbook
Simple potato filling
Luxurious potato filling
For the luxurious potato filling: Place potatoes in medium saucepan and add as much milk as you need to cover the potatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are cooked through, about 15 minutes. Strain off milk, saving 2 tablespoons, discarding the rest. Place cooked potatoes and reserved milk back in pot, add salt and butter, and use a potato masher to gently bring the ingredients together. Transfer potato mixture to a sieve and use a spoon or bowl scraper to push it through. Once potatoes are passed, let mixture cool to room temperature. Use a spatula to gently fold in egg until just combined. Add semolina and mix until uniform, trying not to overwork the mixture. Add dill, if using. Place in refrigerator until fully cooled before using.
Make the dumpling dough: Combine flour and salt in a large bowl with a fork. Add half the water and the egg and use the fork to mix them into the dough. Drizzle in all but last 1 tablespoon of remaining water, mixing as you pour until dough forms shaggy clumps. Use your hands to bring the dough together inside the bowl, using the last tablespoon of water if needed. Knead it several times in the bowl before transferring it to your counter. Knead dough for 10 to 12 minutes (set a timer; don’t skimp!) until it forms a smooth, elastic dough. Return to empty bowl and cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let rest at room temperature for 1 hour, which relaxes the dough and makes it easy to roll thin.
You can also make the dough in a stand mixer, using the dough hook to knead for 5 to 7 minutes.
Form vareniki, both methods: Grab a spray bottle of water (or a dish of water and a pastry brush, although just your finger is sufficient for hand-formed dumplings), a rolling pin, and liberally dust a rimmed baking sheet with flour. Remove one-quarter of dough (for hand-formed dumplings) or one-sixth of dough (for pelmenitsa dumplings) from bowl, keeping the rest wrapped until needed. On a very well-floured counter (Bonnie explains that the dough will only absorb as much flour as it needs and no more, so you cannot use too much) and roll it out on a lightly floured countertop until it’s thin enough that you can see light through it if you hold it up; you should be able to roll it to the thinness of pasta dough.
Form vareniki by hand: Cut out rounds of dough with a 2-inch round cutter or a drinking glass. Using two spoons, a small scoop, or a pastry bag, fill each round of dough with a blob of filling — about 1 teaspoon. Dab, brush, or mist the edges of the dough with water, then fold the round into a half-circle, pressing the edges to seal. Take the edges and pull them towards each other, pinching the corners to seal in a tortellini shape. As you shape a few dumplings, you’ll get a sense of how much filling you can stuff into each dumpling and still stretch the dough around it to seal. Transfer the shaped dumplings to your prepared baking sheet. Gather the scraps together back into the ball. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, rerolling the scraps after they’ve rested enough that you can roll them out again. (If they resist rolling, wait 5 minutes, try again, repeating this until the scraps roll as thinly as the first round did.) I like to slide my tray of vareniki into the freezer while working on the next batch; they’re easier to move around once semi-frozen. At this point, you can cook them right away — semi-frozen or fresh — or freeze them for future use. (Freeze the rest of the way on the baking sheet so they don’t stick, then transfer to sealed bag).
Form vareniki with a pelmenitsa: Drape the rolled-out dough over your pelmenitsa, so that it reaches over the ends of the mold. Press or pat the dough lightly so that an imprint of the mold below is made on the dough; this is so you know where to center the filling. With two spoons, or a pastry bag fitted with a wide tip, scoop or pipe a little blob of filling into each of the 37 divots. You’ll need just a heaping teaspoon or so in order to still be able to seal things (don’t get carried away with the amount of filling!). When you have piped filling into all the slots, roll out a second piece of dough until it’s slightly larger than your mold. Lightly spray some water over the top of your filled vareniki, or lightly brush the exposed dough with water if you don’t have a spray bottle, and then gently place the second round of dough over the top. Firmly roll over the top with your trolling pin, several times as needed, to seal the vareniki and cut the dough between them. Remove the outer trimmings that are not part of the dumplings themselves. (Depending on how thin I’ve gotten the dough, I can reuse these to make a 4th pelemenista of dumplings, hence the range in yield. Let the dough rest until it rolls easily again.) Turn the pelmenitsa upside-down over the prepared baking sheet and nudge the filled dumplings out. Don’t worry if they don’t separate right away. Slide the tray into the freezer while you repeat with the remaining dough and filling. (Once they are firm, you can easily break them apart.) You can cook them right away — semi-frozen or fresh — or freeze them for future use. (Freeze the rest of the way on the baking sheet so they don’t stick, then transfer to sealed bag).
Cook your vareniki: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the dumplings, about 20 per person (or 12 to 15 if they’re larger). Adjust the heat as needed to maintain a healthy-but-not-too-vigorous boil. Add the dumplings and give it a few good stirs, making sure none stick to the bottom of the pot. Cook until the dumplings rise to the surface, and then 1 minute more (this will take 4 to 5 minutes). If you’re not sure if they’re done, you can always remove one and cut it in half — it should be hot in the center.
Finish and serve: While the dumplings cook, prepare a mixing bowl to dress your dumplings. Everyone likes their vareniki a little differently but I’ve been forever converted to Bonnie’s method. For each serving, you want to place a good pat (about 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoons) of butter and 1 to 2 teaspoons of plain vinegar in the bottom of your bowl. Add salt and pepper, if you wish. When the vareniki are done, use a large slotted spoon (this is my favorite) to transfer the dumplings, shaking off the extra water, right into the bowl. Toss! The butter will melt and come together with the vinegar from the heat of the dumplings. Keep stirring, whirling everything together until the vareniki look glossy and lightly sauced and you are astounded by your newfound cheffy skills. Transfer to individual bowls and let everyone add the finishes they wish.
Do ahead: The simple potato filling is good in fridge for 4 to 5 days, the luxurious one for 2 days.
137 comments on potato vareniki
These look incredible – I could eat them any time of year, even in the depths of summer! I’ve had the Kachka cookbook on my list to buy for awhile, very cool that you got to cook with the chef herself.
All right. I actually have one of those dumpling things, and today is Saturday, this looks like a lot more fun than organizing my closet. A surprise dinner, and vegetarian as well!
These look delicious! I’m wondering if for the luxurious filling method I can pass the potatoes through a ricer rather than a sieve for the same result? Thanks!
I asked myself that as well. If I pass it through the ricer twice, I get really silky potato mash. Would that work here?
Bit suspicious about the vinegar Dressing, but if Deb loves it…
Trust her. The restaurant is amazing and these dumplings are life affirming.
So being an amateur potsticker maker, I want to jump on the vareniki wagon and buy a pelmenitsa mold! Did you have any problems with your aluminum one (as per your link)? Some reviews said it had sharp edges that ripped the dough. I saw some plastic ones and those seemed to have better reviews. Just wondering…plus, it’s not like they are $50 or anything 👍🏼. Can not WAIT to try these puppies!!
I’m interested to know as well which is better…the aluminum or plastic one.
I have a plastic one that I use quite frequently and I love it. I grew up using the metal one in Ukraine and you do have to flour it quite a bit. Overall, I do prefer the plastic one. Hope this helps
The one I used is the one they use at the restaurant. Bonnie likes it because it has crisp edges. So, I’ve been happy with it. But you need to flour the heck out of it. Don’t worry about using too much. It will leave behind what it doesn’t need.
My favorite way to eat these is with the butter and vinegar AND chopped cilantro, a liberal dusting of curry powder, and a drizzle of sriracha. Probably not typical or traditional, but totally out of this world. This dough recipe is the easiest I’ve worked with by far – so soft and easy to shape. Thanks for sharing the recipe!
These look so amazing! How do you think subbing good quality GF flour for semolina would work?
That pelemina is too cool—why don’t ravioli molds work like that? (And I would keep my vodka in the freezer, only my bottle is very big—and potato-y, yay—and my freezer is very very full.)
I’m hoping this one will get a quick response as I plan to tackle these today! Can I make other fillings and if so what will work well? Spinach? Cheese? Thanks!
I’ve done butternut squash, and I think the cookbook has a cheese version using a cheese similar to farmers cheese.
So glad to see a pelmenista in action (and to learn what it’s called)! I inherited one from my grandmother who used it to make kreplach – which are maybe the same thing as pelmeni? She stuffed hers with lightly seasoned ground meat (beef or chicken). I might try using this dough for that! I’ve been dreaming of homemade kreplach since my grandmother passed years ago.
My MIL makes kreplach with a mix of beef roast and cooked onions that she grinds to make the filling. She individually rolls out dough for each kreplach – using something like this looks so much easier!
Made these tonight – luxurious filling and formed them by hand. I was nervous these would be a little plain (I’ve never made any type of dumplings before) but these were exquisite!!! Little pillows of deliciousness and I dressed them with butter, vinegar and dill. A winner sure, thanks Deb!
I just ordered one of these molds! So excited! I have a big work thing coming up next week and so the week after that will be vareniki week and thus now I have soemthing to look forward to if things get stressful!!! Yay!
My Fiance and I tried this recipe 2 days ago, and it was one of the best. It did not look as professional as on the provided picture, but it tasted amazing. Thank you
I caught a typo, but I kinda love it. “Trolling pin” in the pelmenista instructions: “Firmly roll over the top with your trolling pin”.
That made me giggle too! A Trolling Pin seems like a necessary tool for the times…
I giggled when I saw that, too. Nothing like a rolling pin with attitude!!!!
(& it looks like I may be investing in another piece of kitchen equipment in the near future)!
I am so, so jealous. To say I’m obsessed with the Kachka cookbook is an understatement. Everything I’ve made has been excellent and now that it’s almost winter, I’m planning a zackuski with multiple dumplings because it just feels right.
Great story, but did you by any chance mean “pelmennitsa”? :)))) it’s a terrible word to spell, I know!
Yes! Whoops, now fixed.
ouuu never heard of this before!! :o sounds and looks sooo good omg
Where do you add the tablespoons of butter and the salt for the luxurious filling? Should that go in the milk when you cook the potatoes?
I second this question – please let us know!
i gathered from the photos that it goes it after or during the combining/potato masher stage. thats what i did and the mixture looked (and tasted, dipped in maldon lol) great.
I made this tonight and it was AMAZING! I did my immersion blender very briefly instead of sending through a strainer, but other than that I followed the recipe exactly (with the luxe filling). Five stars here and such simple ingredients/preparation, and were a very bright-tasting mouthful on a hot day. Thank you!
Heya! So cool to see a recipe for the ever pervasive perogies, at least where we live in a small village in the Manitoba prairies, where Romanian, Ukrainian and Mennonite traditions are strong. Always the potato filling here includes translucent, butter soaked onions. The Mennonites use dry cottage cheese mixed with egg yolk and heavy cream and no potatoes. Sometimes they make a rhubarb sauce to pour over them or fill with saskatoons, apples or dried fruits. Both Romanians and Ukrainians will boil them, add onions fried in butter, garlic, dill and pour heavy cream over and then bake until the edges are browned and bubbly. There are so many variations, and they appear on school menus, Christmas, Lenten, Easter and Thanksgiving menus or as a quick meal in the ice fishing shack with deer sausage.
I am so excited to try this recipe! I stumbled across the restaurant Kachka while visiting Portland from Los Angeles a few years ago and was awestruck by the food and vibe (their cocktails are amazing too). I made a point of visiting again last month and it was still just as good. The fact that the you had an opportunity to cook with this chef in your kitchen is incredible (sort of like reading Anna Karenina and then inviting Tolstoy to tea….). I hope you have a chance to visit Portland again and dine at Kachka. It’s worth making a special trip. :-)
Seriously considering adding a small amount of finely chopped smoked trout to the simple potato filling after mashing the potato. Does anyone foresee a problem with this?
Piping the filling is absolutely brilliant!
My Boobie, from Russia, the Ukraine area then) taught me to make these when I was a little girl (64 now!). It was my Dad’s favourite and he loved them with a gedempted chicken gravy. I add fried onion to my potato- yummy!
I have never seen them in a recipe book so I am so happy you have them in this weeks blog – brilliant!
What does “gedempted” mean?
It means potted or braised.
I’m from Portland. I’d better try that restaurant and get the cookbook. Loved you had them in ur home — so special.
I learned about what we call cheese pockets from my mother-in-law (she’s a German from Russia).
This was super interesting. I’m hoping I can get this forwarded to my niece who made cheese pockets for her uncle’s funeral. Think she’d enjoy this. This would be much faster. We cut each circle and pinched shut.
There are no words! I want to make this now and I have to get the cookbook!! I’m moving tomorrow so maybe not! Thanks for sharing I’m so excited my grandma was Lithuanian so I’m sure there’s something in the book that I’ve forgotten! Thanks for the lesson!
>the confusion as to what is “Russian” food
There also appears to be confusion as to what is Russian in general in this case. Because “kachka” is not a Russian word
Recipe is not confused though. It’s a solid vareniki recipe. Of course, potato is a filling number three – one enjoying vareniki should definitely also try them with classic cottage cheese filling and just as classic summer sour cherry filling
Love the cottage cheese ones.
You can learn why she chose the (yes, Belarusian) name here: https://www.oregonlive.com/dining/2013/09/southeast_portlands_kachka_res.html
Surely, Belarus folks on average love potato more, so for them maybe this filling is actually ahead of cottage cheese or sour cherry. This also was just a sort of a personal opinion.
I don’t plan to make a war over it, I just found it a bit funny (something like saying “Today I went to a British restaurant Tandoor and ate delicious samosas”).
I just wanted to mention making blueberry vareniki. I ate them once when my cousin’s godmother made them and I thought I had gone to heaven to eat this. WoW, it was spectacular. Cutting the vareniki in half and having the dark purple blueberries oozing out just makes my mouth water thinking about them. Try it sometime.
Can these be done in a food processor?
Jessie Davies, there is an excellent varenyky dough recipe from Ukraivin that uses the food processor (it’s a very tender dough, and vegan for Christmas Eve too). When our Ukrainian Saturday school volunteers get together to make varenyky for our holiday bazaar, this is the recipe we use.
Is there anything that can be subbed for egg in the dough? We manage egg allergies and I’m not sure any of my usual subs (mostly flax egg or applesauce) would work here… thanks!
I make the dough without eggs, I just use water, flour and oil. It was the way my Russian grandmother taught me. It works perfectly and the dough can be frozen if you make more than needed.
I’ll try that, thank you!
This series (on the evidence so far ; ) ) is such a warm, generous idea. I feel included in the special, private tutorial.
What are those newfangled contraptions? Making vareniki should not be quick and easy. I’ve worked many, many assembly lines in my grandma’s kitchen. She would roll out the dough, I’d score the rounds with a small glass. She mixed the filling – cheese or potatoes or meat or, occasionally, cherries if the stars were smiling upon us, I’ll spoon it on the rounds then start folding. She’ll boil the water (without once referring to the salted boiling water recipe on epicurious) and start tossing in the folded varenik, never commenting if they were less than round or fell apart in the water. I’d get the first batch, fresh from the water, with a chunk of butter and a spoon or three of sour cream.
TL ;DR I miss both my grandmas like crazy and can’t wait to make vareniki again.
I have been wondering when/if you were going to mention Kachka ( the book) I found it at the library when it first came out- renewed it as many times as was possible- then bought it on Amazon. It is fabulous and just as Deb said equal parts humor, serious recipes, and photos that are great. Kind of reminded me of Smitten Kitchen in a way…and these yummy things are but the tip of the iceberg. Find a copy somewhere and start cooking/reading/laughing/envying Portland people. It is a decision you won’t regret.
I made this following the recipe exactly (I’m a recipe developer myself so I pinky swear this is true). It was boring at best, tasteless at worse. I used the luxurious filling. The problem with professing that every recipe is earth shattering or will rock your world or one you “can’t live without” or one you’re going to want eat every night is ultimately …disappointment and then an ever so slow wearing down of faith and trust. Before you discard my comment in the bitter/disgruntled pile, please know I love so very many of your recipes. Those fluffy buttermilk pancakes are *the* bomb! But this one not so much. I’m Eastern European myself and found these to be labor intensive and definitely not the best ones I’ve made, or eaten for that matter. I love your writing and pep but I respectfully request if some of the hyper accolades for at least some of the recipes on the blog would be toned down. Maybe they motivate and ignite the other readers into action but not me. I like it delivered with enthusiastic modesty and letting the recipes speak for themselves. Clearly, these most certainly did not “shake every idea (I) have of dumplings to its core.” I wish it had! ):
I’m sorry it was not to your liking, but for me, it was all of the things I wrote. I’d never call it that otherwise. I’ve been buying frozen vareniki for almost 15 years from every brand, including straight from great dumpling shops in Brighton Beach, and these were miles better. When you say they tasted “boring,” do you mean underseasoned? Was the dough not light? Did the filling not have enough flavor or richness?
Like Mel, I just want to note that I do appreciate your writing style, and find the accolades quite accurate. You are the only recipe source I trust completely to give me an amazing dinner, and I especially appreciate your somewhat recent (can several years be somewhat?) focus on fast meals that nonetheless come out incredibly flavorful. When I make something new that’s awesome, my fiance automatically assumes it’s a Smitten recipe :)
@Mamas Personally, I am all for Deb’s superlatives and enthusiasm. Sure a few of the recipes didn’t work out for me, but many were deserving of the superlatives. While you may feel overwhelmed by it and misled, I respectfully disagree and I didn’t see the point of your personal request. If you don’t like Deb’s superlatives, maybe you’re on the wrong website or perhaps you should start your own website, writing it with ‘enthusiastic modesty and letting the recipes speak for themselves.” Also, you’re asking Deb not to be Deb and that’s just not right.
As for this recipe, I am pumped to give it a go. I had been eying the book and this post was the push I needed. Thanks, Deb!
I love Deb’s enthusiasm. I suppose if everything I’d ever made from what she offers underwhelmed, I’d wander away and pay no more attention. But as it is, it’s that enthusiastic love of food and straight up pleasure that bring me back here over and over. That, plus the fact that so many of her recipes have pleased me. Maybe the error is more on the reader’s side, expecting consistent palate alignment?
Deb. What a lovely looking recipie. The cookbook Looks great too. Would you recommend it for a vegetarian or ist it Very meat laden? I Generally really appreciate your recommendations (six seasons is a favourite here and i simply ignore all things meat there)
It’s definitely got more meat in it than Six Seasons. You can browse the table of contents and recipe list on Amazon to give you an idea. If you cook only three things from it, however, I think most people will enjoy it because it’s such a delightful book to read.
The last time I had a vareniki was a few years ago at a little Russian restaurant near Sihanoukville in Cambodia. I remember a sea breeze, a chilled white wine and some of the best dumplings I’ve ever had.
I started my morning thinking I’d make this recipe but it is 40+ Celsius here in Chiang Mai today so I’ve put it on hold. Looks great though!
Deb, I love your blog, I check out your Instagram regularly, and I rely on your recipes, so I was thrilled to see a Ukrainian recipe mentioned – and then was surprised and disappointed that it’s really not. Your dough and filling may be delicious and I will try them, but varenyky are not pelmeni. Ukrainian Varenyky (or Pierogies in Polish cooking) are made in a half moon shape with a “full belly” – never small circles like the pelmeni in the cover photo. There is no tool for this other than one’s hands and heart, they are not round or hexagonal or square, and they would not be confused with another kind of dumpling no matter what their filling.
If I made your buttermilk pancakes in a muffin tin they might still be delicious, but that wouldn’t make them pancakes, and if you called your dumplings pelmeni I wouldn’t be commenting.
I don’t want this to come across as nitpicking, but being cognizant and respectful of a heritage and tradition that has often been lumped in with others.
Thanks, Chris X. -you wrote exactly what I was wanted to say. The filling is definitely different from ones I’ve seen, and I’m curious to try it, but my first reaction when seeing the photos was “wait – are these tortellini?” and then “these aren’t varenyky, these look like pelmeni”. Even my husband (who is not Ukrainian) said they were not varenyky. Definitely half-moon shape, definitely by hand (friends of mine even went so far to say “why isn’t she using a glass to cut out the circles?” – because that’s what my grandmother did….. and with summer coming, try them with fruit (blueberry or sour cherry)!
I completely understand where you are coming from but — and do know, my husband is from Ukraine/Russia, I’m keenly aware of the traditions here — my understand is that it is the filling that makes these vareniki. (I once made reference to potato pelmeni and recieved heaps of DMs and messages correcting me, that only vareniki can have potato in them.) I explain above that these are not the traditional shape but that my family and I prefer the one-bite perfection of the pelmeni shape, a view that was coincidentally shared by the visiting chef.
I feel that my job here is not to miseducate; this is why I explained in the post that this is not the traditional shape as I always explain the places where my recipes may veer from the textbook definitions of the recipe or traditions. But it is my place to make changes to my liking and explain them accordingly, which I have also done. I hope this gives you a fuller picture.
Deb, thank you for making and sharing this recipe! It might only be 98% authentic, but anything that draws attention to the deliciousness of our underrated cuisine is a plus in my book! People are sensitive about ethnic foods because they feel so intertwined with who we are. I started making varenyky before I could form real memories — just the blip of my grandmother handing me a partially sealed varenyk and trusting me to finish the job, over as over, surrounded by all the women in our family. I make a potato version annually if not more often, but you’ve motivated me to try your dough recipe with my favorite — fresh blueberries and sugar filling. Thanks for piquing these memories! And thanks for the recipe.
I have a daughter who is Ukrainian, and though it isn’t traditional, cooking them until toasted all over in brown butter, drizzling the butter over, and adding about three times the amount of caramelized onions is my favorite way of eating these.
These look delicious! It’s so fun to learn about recipes from different parts of the world.
After a long wait for din tai fung soup dumplings, someone at my table very plainly stated, Russian dumplings are better. I nearly jumped over there table to fight them. I have since calmed down and figured there are two types of people, soup dumpling people and not soup dumpling people. This post makes me think theres a chance one could love both?
PDUB, these aren’t Russian, they’re Ukrainian.
The best part about your blogs is that you explain each and every step so well that it gets easier for us to replicate the process and attain the perfect taste. I am a fan! Keep doing the wonderful work that you are!
Does anyone have recommendations for specific toppings that work well after using the butter and vinegar mixture suggested? I’m at a loss here.
Thanks all :)
I’m guessing anything you’d use to top a pierogi would work here: sour cream, golden onions and butter, really any butter sauce
An earlier comment about the Luxe filling noted that it’s not clear where to add the salt.
I also realized that it’s also not clear where to add the butter! Any clarity here would be appreciated.
Whoops — now fixed! Thank you.
We made these last night! Saw the story on instagram and thought, those look do-able. A perfect activity at 41 weeks pregnant, just waiting for our baby to come. They were delicious. Did not induce labor, but so it goes.
Best of luck!
Is there any advantage to eating these fresh instead of frozen?
I have a large meal coming up and I’d like to make these all a day in advance, freeze them, and then cook them the day of. I’m wondering if I lose out on any flavor or texture if I do that.
(Or if it’s only a day in advance, should I just put those in the fridge?)
I’m gonna have to try these this weekend! Dad used to us to the Ukrainian Club in Sydney (Australia) when I was a kid – and LOVED their vareniki! They always used to come with a generous serve of thinly sliced, deeply caramelised fried onions on top of the dollop of sour cream. Add lots salt and pepper – heaven! Though I think given the calorie content – not too frequently… lol!
This is such a therapeutic dish to make! Even the 12 minutes of kneading is strangely relaxing, and rolling the dough & forming the vareniki put me in a kind of trance, sigh. They also taste amazing.
When I told my daughter “Deb recommends vinegar and butter” she knew it would be delicious & did not need to ask who I was talking about!
Does this bring back memories! I still dream about my Grannie’s pelmeni.
She had a slight variant that might be useful to those making them manually. Instead of rounds, she sliced the thin dough into squares and folded one side over the filling to make triangles. No little bits that need rolling out all over again! Or, God forbid, waste.
Can the dough be made ahead of time? It would be great to prep both the filling and the dough over the weekend (or even form the vareniki totally!) and then cook during the week for an easy weekday meal. Would they not hold up in the fridge?
It sounds from the recipe that if you’re making the Varenki ahead of time, freezing them is the way to go?
I’ve just frozen mine a few minutes ago. I’ll let you know how they turn out when i cook them on Thursday.
Thank you! I was also thinking of freezing wholly. Maybe they’ll just need more time to boil to the top than fresh ones. I’d appreciate hearing how it works for you!
I froze mine once assembled and they cooked up beautifully.
I’d have to check next time. I remember that after too long, the dough became too stretchy and more difficult to work with without tearing, however, that wasn’t from the fridge. I’d think that from the fridge, as long as you give it time to warm up a little, you’d be fine. Let me know how it goes.
These are amazing. One of my favorite restaurants in Madison is Paul’s Pel’meni- it used to be a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and they would only sell these meat and potato (or a mix) dumplings. Now they have a nicer place and serve beer and cocktails (maybe other food,too, but why would I want that?), and I still love it. They serve it with hot sauce (I think it’s sriracha mixed with rice vinegar), cilantro, curry powder, and sour cream. I know it’s not traditional, but I don’t care- it’s delicious. Thanks for sharing this recipe.
These were an excellent rainy Saturday afternoon project with a friend and a couple of mostly willing tweens. These were everything you promised! We made the luxe filling and I don’t regret a second of time we spent making them and the ridiculous amount of time it took me to get the flour/potato paste off my kitchen table. One big recommendation is to save the milk from the potato cooking and turn it into a tasty chowder a day or two later. These will be made again…I don’t think the vinegar is an optional finish.
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My Ukrainian M-I-L makes a log of dough, takes one slice at a time, flattens it and fills it. Absolutely no waste!
I love all dumplings! I’ll have to check out that cookbook. Thanks for sharing. XO
Yes I LOVE this post. As a Ukrainian, I appreciate ALL the work that goes into these little gems. When I was a kid we ALWAYS had them made with sardines (yuk)!! I still remember my mom and baba churning these out dozens at a time. Baba only had 3 fingers on one of her hands…and if she was still here today I know for a fact she would dance circles around me with her eyes closed and STILL make more (and better) ones than me. I miss her cooking so much.
My family, originally from Ukrania, has always made verenike with goose or chicken fat, both in the potato filling and in the onions used to top them. I thought they always had to have these ingredients, and felt kinda guilty when I didn’t have any around and made them anyway.
a search for Siberian Pelmeni on your link only gave me this recipe. Must have missed something. Love to find your meatball filling. Just got my pelmeni today for this recipe
It’s in my cookbook, Smitten Kitchen Every Day.
Looks great! A little tip from when we made these in Soviet Union. Once you put the first layer of dough over the pelmenitsa, use your fingertips to push the dough in slightly, this way you know where to place the filling and also you can get more filling in.
I made this last weekend and have to agree with a poster below that they were not really worth the effort. A bit boring – as in OK to eat but wouldn’t do again.
I made this! And it was amazing! My 5 year old was so excited to have a “noodle pocket filled with mashed potatoes” and I was so excited to have a 10 minute dinner ready after freezing them! And it was remarkably easy. The most important ingredient is time. Kneading, then waiting for the dough to rest is crucial to rolling it out well. I also used the pelmenitsa and a spray bottle and those two things have changed the way I approach stuffed pasta/dumplings as in I can do this! That was the neatest part of this recipe. That addition from a restaurant chef was really helpful because those were tips I would have never thought about and I am terrible with using a pastry brush and water. It shouldn’t be that hard but it is. I hope you continue the series!
I made the easy filling and these were very very good! My favourite part, though, was tonight when I made tschebureki from the leftover dough I had kept in the fridge – love me some fried food 😉
Also, my kids went mad for the vareniki, which is always a serious bonus
Hi, I saw the Diamond salt note about the dough but there is no similar instruction about the amount of salt in the potatoes?
I searched and discovered how many years late I am to the Diamond vs Morton issue. Where I live and cook we have neither brand; our kosher salt is sea salt. Should I be reducing *every* kosher salt in your recipes?
Thanks! We won’t wait for an answer. Having these for supper today!
Last night our family had a Russian-themed dinner party with our friends (cooking mostly from the Kachka book) and I made these (with the luxurious potato filling). We loved them but I missed the vinegar recommendation because we were drinking while cooking and I was, ahem, having a hard time following directions after a couple of hours of cooking and drinking. I think this means I need to make them again soon! Thanks for the inspiration- and for the helpful tips on using a pelminitsa.
Thank you so much for this post. We were in Portland last week and went to Kachka. We had a wonderful meal and my husband had the sour cherry vareniki. He said they brought back memories of his mother who made these for him as a child more than 70 years ago. Nothing like a food memory that powerful! Can I now make these at home? May be worth a try.
I only used the dough recipe (made a sweet potato filling instead) and it worked out great with a cheap plastic pelmeni mold. No sticking. They froze well even going into the freezer in a ziplock bag (no pre freeze on a tray- my freezer is never that empty). Very few stuck together once they hit the water. But I only kept them in the freezer for a day, so I don’t know if that affected the good results.
My grandma’s potato vareniki had schmaltz in the filling. Maybe even a little griebenes. And she also used that filling in potato knishes, which she baked with a flaky filo-like dough. She make the dough from scratch, of course.
Next summer on the way to the beach, i recommend a cheap lunch here:
We’ve been there but it wasn’t my favorite, or nothing has filled the Gletchik-shaped hole in my heart.
This is a really good recipe! I used the simple filling but added some cream cheese cause…why not. I think next time I’ll experiment with some other cheese as well for a bit more flavor. Dressing in butter and vinegar is delicious. I served mine with sour cream and sautéed apples and it was very tasty. The dough was very easy to work with. I may invest in one of those dumpling maker molds cause I would like to make these again, and overall it was pretty easy, but hand making each one was TEDIOUS.
I really liked this recipe! It was very easy but very tedious. I would like to make these again, but will invest in the mold thing before I do cause hand making each one is a lot. I added cream cheese to the simple filling cause…why not. I don’t think I added enough salt though because it seemed a little under seasoned. The texture of everything was fantastic – that is what really sets them apart from anything frozen. I have never liked Pierogies because they have that thick gluey exterior, but these were light and tender. They were very tasty with the butter/vinegar dressing, sautéed apples and sour cream. Next time I think I’ll experiment with some grated cheese in the filling for a bit more flavor.
I didn’t mean to post twice…stupid wordpress. Sorry!
When our first ones came out and we tested, we were also disappointed that they seemed a bit under-seasoned. Then, I salted the boiling water, and they were delicious! But if you ever make them with cheese, let me know and I’ll help you eat em! ;)
To start with – the flavor is delicious. This dish is the essence of comfort food. What drove me to drinking was the pelminitsa. I thought that process was going to simplify things and I overfilled them, then couldn’t get a good seal…then struggled to get them out of the frame. It was a red hot mess. However, once I’d gotten done with the struggle – it was delicious even without all the trimmings.
It needs so much flour! I tried to warn but even I underfloured sometimes.
These were AMAZING! We had a Russian-themed book club and these were the perfect (vegetarian) addition. I had never made pasta/dumplings before and was nervous about the dough, but it was very easy and everything was delicious! Served with caramelized onions and sour cream mixed with some vinegar, S&P, and dill. Yumm.
These were delicious! I made the luxe filling and it was absolutely incredible. My dough was a little tough though, wonder what I did wrong?
I ended up resting it for probably closer to two hours and my rolling pin sucks, so I may have rolled it a little…aggressively (it wasn’t super happy to be rolled out, even after two hours). Could that I have been it? I think I may also not have gotten the dough thin enough. Next time I may use my pasta roller to help a bit?
I am keen to use my pasta roller as well, as I never seem to be able to roll out dough by hand very thinly. I am making the farmers cheese vareniki from the cookbook tonight and will give my pasta roller a whirl…
This was delicious and well-enjoyed! My only complaint is that even after a very generous rest, the dough was nearly impossible to roll out and was quite aggravating. I would not make these again without a pasta roller. I did find that if I rolled out a quarter of the dough, used a cutter to get my circle and then rolled that again for awhile it did get thinner (but obviously took A VERY LONG TIME to roll each circle individually). I still wound up with half of the filling leftover, which I’ve frozen for when I feel up to the arduous task of making these again. Thank you for the recipe all the same Deb!
I too had a very difficult time with the dough. I rested it for at least an hour and it was very stiff and I contemplated pulling out my pasta roller as well! I didn’t pull out the roller, I just powered through will rolling it out by hand, but I won’t use this dough recipe again. I had previously made pelmeni with this dough, which I do recommend: https://natashaskitchen.com/russian-pelmeni-recipe-new-dough-recipe/ It makes a ton, but you can easily cut it in half.
These were so wonderful, they were worth the considerable effort. I made the luxurious filling, and used a ravioli press for the dumplings, which works exactly like a pelmenitsa but only makes 12 at a time. They are like little pillows of heavenly lightness, and the vinegar/butter treatment is magical.
Next time I make these, I will make a couple adjustments. I think I could get away with using a ricer for the potatoes instead of the sieve – I don’t know if I have an unusually fine sieve, but that was difficult. I overestimated the amount of dough my ravioli press needed, so I had a lot of overhang the first couple of times. I found the re-rolled dough to be difficult to work with, and a 2nd re-roll (3rd total roll) was totally impossible. I would have wasted less dough and gotten another dozen or two dumplings if I hadn’t rolled the extra dough in the first place. I didn’t put dill in the filling, and I’m glad I didn’t – I think it’s better fresh on top. I might experiment with adding cheese to the filling for fun, but it really is perfect the way it is.
This is an update from my previous comment! I’ve made them again, and they still rock my world. I did try with the potato ricer this time, and it was 10x easier but slightly less magically pillowy. I have ravioli press that makes 12 dumplings at a time, and it turned out that 50-55 grams of dough was perfect for each roll-out (so for one side of the batch). I weighed as I went, and in the end I had more dough leftover than filling. I found 1 re-roll was possible, though a little tricky, and I could have made around 24 more dumplings if I had more filling. Someday I will get the ratio perfect!
I added dill in the filling as my cooking partner thought it would be good, and it was! No cheese this time; that will have to wait for batch #3. One note – we didn’t freeze the dumplings that we were going to eat right away, which was a minor mistake. Fresh, they are hard to dump into the boiling water without messing up the shape. Freeze as you go, even if you plan to eat them right away!
I agree with the reviewer that found these “therapeutic” to make. I did find it unexpectedly difficult to roll the dough out to the required thinness, but was able to hand stretch it fairly easily before forming the dumplings. I made half as written (using the non-luxurious filling) and half with a caramelized cabbage/carrot/onion filling recipe I found on another blog. I finally gave up on the second “tortellini fold” because the potatoes kept leaking out (I probably used too much); no one minded the larger dumplings that were only folded in half. My kids loved them, and my husband likened them to his favorite pierogi restaurant in Bellingham. Thanks Deb! And thanks for the intro to Kachka – I live near Portland and will be sure to visit when the pandemic has lessened.
I’m about to head into the kitchen to start these, they will go with a quickie version of your tangy spiced brisket(flank steak in the instant pot)
I’m excited to try some different fillings (I love the one bite size that will be made with the cool tool I just received) I’ve had a recipe for a long time I’ve wanted to try for a pie but didn’t want to make a huge pie…It is a filling of blueberries,goat cheese and basil.
Now off to tackle some potatoes!!!!!
This is the first time I’m commenting on a recipe. I’m from PDX and have heard rave reviews of Kachka but unfortunately have never had the chance to dine there. But this recipe… UNREAL. It’s perfect. The vinegar at the end with the sour cream just brings it all together. We topped it with sautéed leeks and bacon and we’re in heaven. Thank you for posting!!! We love your site and recipes btw so keep it up.
So I made this last night with your simple filling and the pelmenitsa and they were SO GOOD!!
I was skeptical about the butter vinegar toss – but did it anyway and it was great!
Thanks for sharing this – I’ll definitely be making these often
Wanted to swing back and thank you for suggesting a pelmenitsa. I am staunchly anti-unitasker and have zero eastern European heritage so no family recipes justify the purchase, but I ordered one anyway shortly after this recipe debuted and it has been totally worth it. I use it to make the pelmeni from sked, and small ravioli as well and have been trying to decide how I can mash up a blintz pelmeni combo (maybe deep frying?). It’s quite satisfying to see so many delicious nuggets fall out when you turn it over. Also, vinegar+butter emulsion forever!
My Booba from the Ukraine taught me to make these but she called them Veranakas and they were much bigger. We always had them with the gravy from kedempt (braised) meat or chicken. Yummy, yummy, yummy!
I think what one calls these things is dependent on the cook’s origins. My Jewish Ashkenazi families with roots in Russia and Poland drew a distinction between kreplach ( meat) for soup, and verenikas (cottage cheese, potato, blueberry). Neither looked like these. But I think it’s simply a function of shaping the dough and the amount of filling. In any event, they were delicious.
Thank you for the memories and recipe.
I smiled when I saw the word “vareniki.” My Bubie used to make cherry vareniki but we never learned the recipe, “A little of this, a little of that,” like so many legacy recipes. Could I use this dough and try it with cherries?
Has anyone made these without milk? I am curious if plain water would be better than a plain nut milk?
I do love you! You are my inspiration for a recipe that is the best of the best! I always look to you to the answer to the best recipe . God bless and keep you and yours.
I just wanted to say thank you Deb for your very clear recipes – you always divide the ingredients for each section – provide the measure and weight – describe what to do with the ingredient (for example weight of whole potato) which makes everything so clear. This sets the cook up for best success.
I think I’ll just let Bonnie make them for me.
Delicious. We ate them with minced onion and tomato, fresh dill, and sour cream.
I’m in a dry climate so I usually have to add a Tbsp or so of extra water to Deb’s dough recipes but they then work fine for me.
I noticed that if I got the dough started by stretching it across my knuckles like strudel or pizza dough, it then seemed to relax and let me roll it out flatter.
Made these for the second time today. Simple filling, no pelmeni press. This second time around was sooooo much more successful—mainly because I took my time and rolled the dough out verrrrry slowly until it really was ultra thin and see-through. I still had some filling leftover but not as much as last time. And the whole process was much neater and more manageable somehow. So: go slow with the dough! I still would like to try them with a pasta roller and the pasta dough my Nonna made (no water, more eggs).
If you can stand to wait a bit longer, I highly recommend pan frying for a few minutes in butter after boiling. The bottoms get wonderfully crispy and the crunch is a nice contrast to the pillowy center
I love this recipe, and just tried making them in a pasta maker and it was still a PROJECT but also so much faster and easier to roll the dough out! Haven’t boiled them off yet (they’re stored in my freezer at the moment, hopefully I didn’t roll too thin) but they seem similar to when I rolling pinned them in the past?
Also this time I miscalculated and ran out of filling before finishing my dough (I switched things up and made the filling with potatoes, sour cream, a dash of cider vinegar, pepper and a single clove of garlic) and rolled off the remainder of my dough to make buttered noodles…..not quite as good as the egg-rich noodles I usually make but homemade buttered noodles are always a treat!
These look fabulous! I have a ravioli tin that might just work for making these without another tool in my kitchen!
I make these regularly and bought a pelmenitsa after realizing how often I wanted to eat these! Great way to spend $15. A few notes: 680g of potatoes makes too little filling for me; I always ended up with excess dough. I now use closer to 1000g of potatoes and can produce 5 batches of pelmeni by weighing out the dough to roughly 88g pieces and rolling it quite thin. Highly recommend using a food processor to mix the dough: give it a few knocks around the blade and rest as instructed, and you won’t need to knead it.
We love these! I was so captivated by the process that I purchased a pelmenitsa before trying them the first time… now 4-5 times later, I am even better at cranking them out! I love making them, eating them, and that I can freeze enough for an extra meal or two.