Unswayed by the glamour of nouvelle cuisine is the universal palate for delightful, unpretentious dumplings, be they sweet or savory. The Polish must have their traditional pierogis, which translates to "small pies" in English; the Italians have their love affair with ravioli, studded with cheese or smothered with sauce. Then there's golden baked piroshki for the Russians; and of course, Asians and Westerners alike jump for joy when served soft, yet crisp pot-stickers.
Our ancestors who fed us these taste traditions produced the stuffed doughy "pillows" not just as a labor of love but out of frugal necessity, making terrific use of leftovers for the fillings. Through the years they developed skill and speed in shaping these little creations that were to become comfort foods for generations to come.
The Hurried Cook
What about today's hurried cooks who don't have the skills, time and patience of their ancestors? Short of dashing to the store for a package of frozen pierogis to microwave at home, their dumpling craving can be satisfied--with a bit more time than a take-out, of course--with modern gadgets. For one thing, there's the food processor to make the dough and the filling. At your service are efficient little food choppers for onions, herbs and other seasoning ingredients . . . pastry bags and tubes for stuffing . . . wire slicers for eggs and mushrooms.
Still another new helper for dumpling fans is Pierogi Classics ($9.95), the pierogi- or crescent-shaped-dough mold from Cooney Manufacturing in Kenilworth, Ill.
"Now, like ethnic cooks, you can easily make your own big batch to freeze and heat up as needed," said Leighton Cooney, owner of the company. "I found that for generations, this staple was shaped or cut out with a bottle or cup; many Poles still make it that way."
Cooney's pierogi maker is a hexagonal-shaped plastic board with 14 crescent holes and ridges. A thin sheet of dough is placed over the floured surface of the device. The filling is spooned into each pocket then the second sheet of rolled dough is placed on top to cover filling. When pressed down lightly with a rolling pin, the top dough sheet sticks to the filling and bottom dough, then sealed. Excess dough is trimmed off, and the board is turned over and when tapped lightly on the counter--presto, dumplings are released.
Its Sticky Nature
Sometimes the dough may be too moist or there may not be enough flour to counter its sticky nature, so you may need to separate the dumplings with a sharp knife. Aside from the advantage of easily performed dumplings, sealing with a fork or finger crimping is eliminated. The dumplings may then be dropped in soups, served with sauce, brushed with melted butter or fried and steamed as potstickers. To freeze uncooked dumplings, dredge in flour, freeze until hard on a tray then package in plastic bags.
Great for a bridal shower or Mother's Day gift, the pierogi maker is attractively boxed with convenient illustrations. It also comes with recipes specially developed for the device by Illinois home economist Peg Raffles. Tasty concoctions include vareniki, the Russian dumpling dessert with sweet cheese filling, beef pierogi, Beijing-style potstickers with ginger pork filling, cheese-spinach ravioli and sour cream piroshki with potato-bacon or mushroom fillings.
Pierogi Classics dumpling dough former is available at Kitchen Place in Santa Monica, Bristol Farms in Rolling Hills and South Pasadena and Cookin Stuff in Torrance.