It’s winter time here in Sonoma and the rain is pouring! Thank god for that! I know there are probably people new to California or have been living here for less than 10 years that are confused, but YES! It does rain here and it is supposed to rain in winter lol!
Cold weather makes me feel all the snuggles with my warm blanket and my cat Kili curled up by my feet. It also makes me want comfort food and right now that is a nice warm bowl of dumplings! Being Bay Area and California people instantly assume I mean Dim Sum when I say dumplings, which are amazing don’t get me wrong, but I’m talking rich, flavorful, seriously comforting Eastern European dumplings. I’m talking Pierogi and Vareniki with a nice warming shot of vodka on the side (or in my case a dirty martini because I am not really a shots person lol). Vareniki is the Ukrainian version and one of the most traditional fillings is potato.
It may come as no surprise that Ukraine, and for that matter most of Eastern Europe, has a history of poverty. Like many regions that have been abused by dictators or “Strong Men” there is a surface of success and money they want you to see and covering the vast amount of suffering below. Some of the most comforting foods come from these kind of places because they needed to learn to make nutrient rich food out of ingredients that were in expensive and could last. Dumplings were perfect! Potatoes where cheap, flour was cheap (if you didn’t know Eastern Europe, Russia, Ukraine, and Germany in particular, are some of the largest producers of wheat in and for Europe), bacon was cured and could be stored for a long time, and very few eggs are required. They were a source of comfort rich in carbohydrates, which help feed the brain serotonin providing a feeling of happiness and content.
Does the concept of comfort food seem to make a little more sense? Think about comfort food in America. What comes to mind for many? Southern food. Who can we attribute a vast majority of southern comfort food too? Like it or not slaves. Maybe I’ll talk about this in more detail later, but for now enough history, and back to the joy that is Vareniki!
My added touch on the classic Vareniki was caramelizing onions and fennel for a little extra sweetness and depth. Takes a little it longer, but it is so worth the wait! If you want to take a bite in to a pillowy cloud of potato encased in soft supple dough then this is the recipe! Takes about an hour or 2 of prep… ok I’ll be honest if you are inexperienced it could take longer because of mistakes or just lack of speed. So, if you are a first time Vareniki maker maybe a lot yourself 3 hours. Enjoy and prepare to wow your friends and family!
-5 Russet Potatoes
– 1 Large Red Onion
– 1 Large Fennel Bulb
– 1oz Vodka
– 1lb Thick Cut Bacon
– Salt & Pepper
– 4 Tablespoons Butter
– 3 Cups All Purpose Flour
– 1 Teaspoon Salt
– 1 Cup Cold Water (Keep in the fridge till needed)
– 1 Large Egg
-4 Tablespoons Sunflower Oil
Garnishes: Sour Cream, Fresh Dill, Green Onion, and Sauerkraut
- Place a large pot of water on the stove, generously salt the water, and bring to a boil.
- While water is boiling peel and cube the potatoes, slice bacon in to small pieces, and clean up and thinly slice the onion and fennel.
- When the water is boiling add the potatoes and boil.
- In a pan on medium heat cook the bacon until crisp. Usually 5-7 minutes.
- Once bacon is done use a slotted spoon remove the bacon and let it sit on top of a paper towel covered plate to absorb the excess grease.
- Without cleaning the pan add the onion and fennel to the bacon grease, give it a quick stir, and cover and let cook on medium-low heat. Stirring occasionally. This is called sweating.
- While onions and potatoes are cooking using a food processor make your dough. Add the 3 cups flour and 1 teaspoon and pulse for a few seconds until combined.
- Turn the food processor on low and add the egg and cold water through the top. Let the machine run until the dough forms and pulls away from the blade. You will know its done it is smooth and when you touch it’s sticky, stretches, and doesn’t tear easily.
- Remove dough from the mixer, place in a bowl, cover with a towel, and let sit for an hour at room temp.
- At this point your potatoes should be done. Strain in to a colander in the sink and the immediately place back in the pot.
- Add the butter and mash until fluffy. I prefer some lumps, but you can make them smooth if preferred. Set aside.
- By now your onions and fennel should have sweated most of their water, look soft and sticky, and brown in color. Add the vodka and cook for an addition 5 minutes uncovered.
- Give your bacon a generous chop till its in nice small bits.
- Add bacon, onion and fennel mixture, and salt and pepper to taste to the potatoes. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Cover and set aside till dough is ready
- Once dough is ready divide the dough in to 4 equal pieces, quickly work each one in to a round ball, and cover again with towel.
- Lightly flour a work surface and using a rolling pin roll on ball in to an 11 in circle. Use a 3 in round cookie cutter to cut out perfect even pieces. Aim for 10 and if you have to rework the dough to get the last 2 thats ok. The goals is to have 40 by the time you finished with the rest of the reserved balls of dough.
- When you have your 40 pieces cover with a towel, and taking one at a time gently roll a little more so you have slight oval, take about a tablespoonful of your filling and place it just off center towards the bottom of your oval, gently pull the top over, and pinch the ends creating a full seal. At this point you can leave it simply pinch or you can crimp which looks pretty, but isn’t necessary. Complete all 40 Vareniki.
- Once your Vareniki are finished you are going to bring a large pot of water to a boil, turn oven on to 250, have a baking sheet close by, and heat sunflower oil in a large pan on high.
- From here work quickly and in batches of 10. First add 10 dumplings Vareniki to the boiling water, give them a quick stir so they don’t stick, and boil until they float to the top.
- Using a slotted spoon spoon remove from the water and gently add to the pan with hot oil. You will quickly brown for about 10 seconds on each side.
- Remove from the pan, place on the baking sheet, and keep warm in the oven. Repeat 3 more times.
- Once you are finished with all the Vareniki, garnish with the fresh dill and green onions, and serve with sour cream and sauerkraut on the side. ENJOY!
Notes: If you do not wish to make all the Vareniki at once they freeze well. Once you have formed all the Vareniki remove the ones you will cook. Take the remained and place them in layers in a covered dish using wax paper in between each layer. The key is to keep them separate so they don’t stick once frozen. When you are ready to cook they can go directly from the freezer in to the boiling water. They will take just a little longer to float to the top. Finish exactly the same as normal.