Saturday, January 16, 2010

"No thanks, None for me."

Let me begin by apologizing to anyone of eastern European descent and pretty much the population of Canada - especially the prairie provinces. This post is not meant to offend, hurt or belittle a much loved cuisine and comfort food of the masses. It is simply my opinion.

That being said, please, let me continue. I recently got into an on line discussion about perogies. Some loved them. Some could take them or leave them. A few only liked them prepared in certain ways with certain fillings and toppings. Others, well they weren't the least bit tempted to eat them or just plain didn't like them.

Me? Well, I have NEVER liked them in any way, shape or form. Yes, I realize that this may well be considered blasphemy - especially from a Southern Manitoba born gal living in Winnipeg, but I can't stand them!

I've never understood what the attraction is to a stuffed dumpling like concoction that is boiled and then lathered with melted butter, oil or creamy gravy.

So, "What are perogies?", the uninitiated may ask.

Basically, they are made with an unleavened dough that is thinly rolled out and cut into pieces, which are then filled with a variety of mixtures. They are then boiled or steamed and served with a drizzle of melted butter or oil. They are also often accompanied by bacon, farmers sausage, fried onions, sour cream or a cooked fruit such as apple sauce. Any left overs are usually fried and served with a cream gravy over top.

In Mennonite circles there is a similar version called Wareniki. Wareniki or "Varenyky are square- or crescent-shaped dumplings of unleavened dough, stuffed with sauerkraut, cheese, mashed potatoes, cabbage, meat, hard-boiled eggs (a Mennonite tradition) or a combination of these, or with a fruit filling. Varenyky are very popular in Ukraine. ... The name varenyk, in fact, simply means "boiled thing," from the adjective varenyy."

Hmmm, "Boiled thing"? Sounds pretty accurate to me!

I can't and won't speak for anyone else, but I have to wonder what the attraction is. What is so appealing about a starch laden, artery clogging, plate of a days worth of calories with next to no nutritional value?

Now I am no health food guru and I do have my own guilty pleasures, but some people thrive on these and have it on a very regular basis. They salivate at the mere thought of a plate of these doughy things. Everybody seems to have their own favourite version or recipe. Claims such as; "Well you'd like MY recipe" or "You should taste my grandma's version then you'd know why they are so good" are rampant.

Well that may be true for some, but I wouldn't bet the farm on me becoming a fan or even finding one version that doesn't make me have chest pains just looking at the plate.

I have tried several over the years, but it just doesn't do it for me. They can have some decent ingredients such as potato, cheddar cheese and onion but then they go and ruin it by wrapping it in dough and boiling it or steaming it. To me it just tastes like something that is undercooked. The fried versions just taste greasy on the outside, but still soggy inside. Frankly, it is a waste of good filling and the ingredients for the dough could be used in much more appetizing ways.

Here in Canada, you can find many restaurants that serve various varieties and even specialize in perogy making. You can also buy perogies frozen in any major grocery store.

Maybe it really is a cultural thing or something that you have to be raised on. We never had them when I was a kid, although my mom did sometimes make dumplings when she made a pot of stew. I never liked those either. I always had her take out a portion of the stew for me before she added the lumps of dough as little bits always seemed to find their way into the pot and that ruined the taste for me. Nothing like thinking you are biting into a piece of potato or onion only to have your taste buds heart broken and your tongue touch a piece of soggy dough.

In the 1970's there was a very popular item available in stores and through Television commercials called "Hunky Bill's Perogy Maker". It simplified the process for making perogies and claimed it could be used for countless other items as well.

Well, like I said, we didn't eat perogies or wareniki at home, but my mom bought one anyway. I think it was mostly because it was on sale for about half price at a variety store we often shopped at. We tried several recipes that required fillings wrapped in dough. It actually worked fairly well, but our favourite use for it was for mom's homemade pizza snacks.

Mom would make her basic bun dough and let it rise. Meanwhile she would cook up some lean ground beef and chopped bacon. She'd sauté in onions, mushrooms and peppers then pour in a can of pizza sauce, add some spices and let is simmer till it was really thick. When it was just about ready to be used for the filling, she'd stir in grated mozzarella cheese. Then she'd roll out the dough really thin and place it over the perogy maker. She'd put some filling on top of each section then put another layer of dough on top and press the pizza snacks out. She let them rise for awhile on the baking sheets then bake them.

OH, now those were good!!! We'd eat those like crazy! Mom always tried to keep a few dozen on hand in the freezer so she'd have something to serve for lunch, snacks, to unexpected company or as an hors d'oeuvre. They were a huge hit!

I guess that perogies, wareniki and dumplings are all acquired tastes. Sometimes we find foods that we just love and other times we just say;

"No thanks, None for me."