Do you ever experience that feeling when you open your refrigerator to find that you have absolutely no desire to make what you would normally make with the items before you? Does a gloom settle over you? Do you then pray to the food gods for inspiration to strike, awaiting the deliverance of an important, life-altering culinary message from above?
I found myself precisely in this position just a few days ago, staring into a refrigerator packed with items I had no right moping over. But just as you look into a bursting closet without a clue what to wear, you may find yourself looking into your food supplies at a standstill — feeling hungry and lackluster.
But just as this feeling began to settle in, growing more pressing with each growl emitted by my frustrated stomach (if it could talk, it would have probably said “Just feed me already”), an idea took form in my head — a beautiful, appetizing idea. At that moment, I decided to make pierogis.
Yeah, I bet you didn’t see that coming.
Some people have photographic memory; most people, like myself, have just a normal memory. But because it’s in my nature to constantly be thinking about food, I have a peculiar habit of recalling bygone recipes at a moment’s notice.
This time, I remembered seeing a recipe for caramelized onion and mushroom pierogi that had stood out to me while browsing the many appetizing recipes concocted by online food bloggers. I remembered that the dough seemed fairly easy, requiring just flour and yogurt (in addition to the eggs, water, oil and salt I already had on hand). I also remembered that it sounded freaking amazing, and long ago, I had tucked it away in some abandoned bookmark or Pinterest board like the countless other recipes I excitedly resolved to make before saving them for later.
So, after the recipe that had faded from my memory suddenly sprung back to mind, I got to work by assembling my already available ingredients before making the little Polish dumplings. Pierogis remind me of my grandma’s kreplach (a Jewish dumpling filled with meat), only layered and typically filled with potato and cheese instead. Perhaps the methods of preparation are similar, but they both comprise the collection of old-school recipes brought over by families from countries outside the U.S. and passed on through generations. Therein lies the essence of comfort food, and the appeal of both making and consuming the pierogi.
The dough required surprisingly minimal effort and was easy to handle (aside from my practiced pie dough making, I’m pretty much doomed when it comes to dough). I sautéed my onions, garlic and mushrooms in a pan before adding the spinach and letting the leaves wilt in the pan of steaming vegetables. I took a lot of liberty with this step of the process, opting to stray from the recipe’s filling and make a simplified version suited to my own taste instead — adding goat cheese and spinach in place of the prerequisite mashed potato.
Finally, the pierogi dough was ready to be rolled out, cut into circles using (what I think was clean — it’s sometimes hard to tell in our kitchen of seven) glass and carefully dealt a spoonful of stuffing before being folded over into their familiar crescent shapes. With mounting anticipation (the water could not have taken longer to boil) I carefully dropped my pierogi into the salted, bubbling water and watched as, one by one, they lazily floated up.
Then, after scooping them out and letting them rest, I fried them in a generous pat of sizzling butter until they crisped up to a nice golden brown. And after less than an hour’s work, I had a whole tray of savory mounds of fried, mushroom filled dough to show for my efforts.
Though delicious, the doughy pockets aren’t the moral of this mouth-watering tale. I had, in an instant, been transported to another world. One where I could access memories, tastes and feelings that are otherwise unavailable to me. And all because I had, in the depths of complacency, decided to do something to counter the immobility that comes with feeling uninspired and weary.
People generally shy away from the unknown, idly resigning to the familiar ease of a meal repeatedly and unceremoniously prepared. While there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s the very habit that we vow each January to spur in favor of something new and better. It’s the time of year again when we all resolve to do something different.
So, maybe start with the small changes that seem more daunting than they really are. Do something differently. Make something different. And even if your dough betrays you and tears as you fold a particularly overstuffed dumpling, at least you tried and can feel assured that you’re better for it.