With cooler weather finally approaching, I thought I’d post about one of my favorite stick-to-your-ribs fall dishes: vareniki.
What are vareniki, you ask? They’re Russian potato dumplings, kind of like pierogi, and in this context they’re adorable!
I was introduced to the world of tiny Russian dumplings when I was throwing a Russian-themed 35th birthday party for a friend, and was immediately hooked. I’m all for carbohydrate-laden goodies, so potato dumplings served with butter and sour cream sounded amazing. Add in a neat gadget for making dozens of itty-bitty dumplings at once, and it was a given that I’d be making them ASAP!
To be fair, the plastic dumpling thingie is actually used to make pelmeni, meat-filled Russian dumplings that I don’t like as much because they’re not different enough from the meat-filled Chinese dumplings I get all the time, but the tool is still a ton of fun to use here!
I found a dough recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen (a very useful blog for anyone trying to get into Russian cooking), and basically threw together a filling based on my own personal tastes. Potatoes, of course, with cheese (whatever I had in the fridge) and browned onions because they’re more flavorful than raw onions. Plus bacon, because potatoes and onions just cry out for bacon, am I right? The finished dumplings are tender and delicious whether boiled or pan-fried, and when served with a little sour cream and dill they’re fantastic comfort food.
Note: This recipe uses a pelmeni mold to form tiny dumplings quickly– if you prefer you can hand-form the dumplings in any way you like, but I just love how cute these are!
2.5 lbs. russet potatoes
1 large onion
5 oz. bacon
4 oz. cream cheese
4 oz. shredded mozzarella or other cheese
3 tbs. butter
Salt and pepper
1. Peel potatoes and slice into 1/2″ rounds. Place in a large pot and fill with salted water until just covered. Bring to a simmer and cook about 15 minutes, until tender. Drain and set aside.
2. In the meantime, finely dice bacon and fry in a skillet until mostly cooked through. Add diced onions and continue cooking until onions are soft and bacon is crisp.
3. Going back to your potatoes, add butter, cream cheese, and mozzarella and mash until smooth. Add bacon and onions and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Dough (adapted from Natasha’s Kitchen)
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tsp. salt
8 cups flour
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together sour cream and eggs, then add water and salt.
2. Switch to a dough hook attachment. Add 4 cups of the flour and stir until combined. Add remaining flour one cup at a time until a soft dough forms. The dough may be sticky, but keep kneading it until it’s workable. It will take a while.
3. Turn dough out onto a generously floured board and knead until it’s not sticky anymore. I admit this is a very imprecise process– you just need it to be workable and I would recommend adding as little flour as possible until you reach this point. Otherwise you won’t be able to re-roll it later.
4. Dust your pelmeni mold with flour. (do not forget this step, it’s important)
5. Take a piece of dough weighing about 8-9 oz. and roll out into a round about the size of your pelmeni mold. Lay it over the mold, stretching to fit if necessary.
6. Spoon or pipe (piping is SO much easier) about 3/4 tsp. of filling into each indentation.
7. Roll out another piece of dough the same size as the first and lay over the top of your filled dough. Using a rolling pin, carefully roll over the mold to crimp the edges together and cut them apart. Take the extra dough around the edges and set it aside.
8. Flip the mold over and push the dumplings out onto a floured baking pan. Chill, freeze, or use immediately.
9. Once you’ve rolled all of your dough once, take all the discarded pieces (there will be a LOT of extras) and re-roll for another set of dumplings. Depending on how much flour you’ve used, it can be harder to roll the dough a second time– it tends to spring back rather than roll smoothly. I wouldn’t recommend trying to re-roll a third time, the dough was too tough for me by that point. I used the extra scraps to make individual hand-formed dumplings, since I was able to stretch small pieces into rough circles big enough for those.
10. To cook, pan fry (fresh or frozen) by heating oil in a skillet and frying the bottoms until they’re brown, then adding a splash of water and covering them to steam until cooked through. For frozen dumplings, that took three minutes of steaming after the initial browning; then I uncovered the pan and flipped the dumplings over a few times until the water boiled off and both sides had browned.
Alternatively, you can boil them in salted water until tender– honestly, I don’t know how long this takes because I prefer the crispy bottoms you get with pan-frying. You can just treat them the same way you’d treat fresh or frozen ravioli.
In any case, serve with sour cream, dill, and lots of black pepper.