Pirozhki or Russian Savory Stuffed Pastries

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A former colleague once made a very interesting observation. She was born to parents of Puerto Rican and Eastern European descent and later married to an Anglo-Saxon, and as a result was exposed to a variety of different cuisines from an early age, which she continued to explore further into adulthood. She said that almost every cuisine around the world that she's tried has a dish where something is stuffed inside some form of dough. Be it a mince pie, an empanada, gyoza, or sambosa, it all involves some sort of savory (usually meat) filling, wrapped in dough, and baked, steamed or fried. I thought her observation was spot-on, and something I hadn't thought of. She then asked me about the Russian or Ukrainian version and whether it wasn't pierogi, which on my part provoked a response longer and more impassioned than was probably called for in making intra-office chitchat. So, reader, brace yourself. At the end I'll reward you with a delicious recipe for pirozhki (just as babushka used to make) with a vegetarian filling of mushrooms and rice.


There have been several instances, like the one above, where I've heard a Russian or even any kind of Eastern European dumpling or stuffed pastry referred to as "pierogi." As in, "isn't it all just pierogi"?


It's a lot more complicated. So before we get to the recipe, let's talk about some of the different Eastern European dumplings, savory stuffed pastries and pies (although this will not be by any means exhaustive).


First, the dumplings.

Pierogi. Pierogi (pe-ROH-gee) are Polish. Therefore, what is commonly referred to as pierogi here in the U.S., are actually Polish fried dumplings that are made from unleavened dough (flour, water, eggs), stuffed with a filling (such as meat, potatoes or cabbage), usually boiled and then pan-fried. Similar types of dumplings exist in Ukraine and Russia but they have a slightly different method of preparation and different names.

Vareniki. Vareniki (vah-REH-nee-kee) are Ukrainian. In Ukraine, dumplings made with unleavened dough and stuffed with a filling such as meat, potatoes or sour cherries, folded into a half-moon shape, and then boiled in water, are called vareniki.

Pelmeni. Pelmeni (pel-MYE-nee) are Russian. They are similar to vareniki, made with unleavened dough and stuffed with meat (but sometimes also with other fillings) and folded into a saucer shape. I've made them before here.



Now onto baked goods.

Piroghi. A Russian word pirog, plural piroghi (pronounced pee-roh-GEE; not pe-ROH-gee) means pie. Pirog or pie can be made from puff pastry dough or pie dough and be either sweet or savory (for the holidays it is fairly common to make a sort of mince pie by filling it with ground meat and rice).


Pirozhki (pee-roh-zhh-KIE; singular: pirozhok) is a Russian diminutive word for pies. These are palm-sized and oval shaped and made with puff pastry or yeast-based dough, stuffed with meat or vegetables, and usually baked or fried. Sometimes in English, pirozhki are incorrectly referred to as pierogi. But even if there is little discernible semantic difference to a native English speaker between the two words, it might make a difference if depending on which word you use at a Russian restaurant, you get served these delicious, meaty, savory stuffed pastries or two or three full-sized cream pies.


In this recipe, I use a vegetarian filling consisting of mushrooms and rice. As always, feel free to adjust or use other fillings. The recipe for the dough includes yeast, however this is a nonrising recipe. I also included the egg wash in the recipe which can be used to give the pirozhki (or other pastries) a deeper golden color when baked; it is optional.


Are there similar dishes with dumplings and/or savory stuffed pastries in your country of origin (or that of your parents/grandparents)? If so, what are they?

Pirozhki or Russian Savory Stuffed Pastries
(Makes about 35-50 pirozhki)

Start with the dough:
(Recipe for dough adapted from: Please to the Table, by Anya von Brenzen and John Welchman; 
according to same, this recipe is "well known to every working Russian woman.")

3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp salt
1/4 oz packet of active dry yeast (2 1/2 tsp)
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 egg
2/3 cup milk, slightly warmed
1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and active dry yeast. In a measuring cup, whisk together sugar and egg until the sugar is dissolved, top off with milk to measure one cup and whisk to combine. Add butter to the flour mixture and mix until crumbly with a wooden spoon or your hand. Gradually add the milk mixture. Mix well until dough starts to form. Knead the dough a few times. If it is too sticky, add a bit more flour, if it is too dry, add a few drops of milk. Form the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap or a towel and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. While the dough rests, make the filling. (Note: this is a non-rising recipe).

Then prepare the filling:
1 1/2 cup cooked white rice (1/2 cup uncooked)
1 tsp canola oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 lb baby bella or crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
1/8 cup dry white wine (optional)
1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
2 tbsp sour cream
Salt & pepper to taste

1. To cook the rice: bring 1 cup of water to a boil, add 1/2 cup rice. Stir, cover, and simmer on low heat until all of the water is evaporated, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork and let cool.
2. In the mean time, heat canola oil in a pan on medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté, stirring frequently until translucent, 1-2 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the mushrooms. Cook, until mushrooms are done, about 5-8 minutes. Pour off any excess liquid. If using, stir in the wine and sauté quickly until the wine is almost evaporated, 1-2 minutes. Stir in parsley and remove from heat. Let cool slightly. In a large bowl, combine the cooked rice, the mushroom mixture, sour cream and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Egg wash is optional:
2 egg yolks
1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp milk

Whisk all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Make the Pastries:
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line two cookie sheets with foil and grease with canola oil.
2. Divide the dough in half. On a dusted surface, roll out half of the dough to 1/8 inch thickness with a dusted rolling pin. With a round cookie cutter of about 3 inch diameter, make as many round shapes as you can, rerolling the scraps to make more round shapes. Repeat with the remaining dough.
3. To form the pastries, take a round shape, stretch slightly and place two to three teaspoons of the filling in the middle. Fold the piece in half and press the edges together to seal them. Pat the seam down slightly and place on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pastries, placing them on the baking sheet about 1/2 inch apart. If using, brush each pastry with the egg wash. Bake, until golden (or in Russian, "until blushing"), about 25-30 minutes. Serve warm, with sour cream.


  1. Wow - thank you for enlightening me! I can't say I'm particularly close to any of my heritage, cuilinarily, and my primary experience with meat pies is from going to the UP and getting (whatever they call) Pierogi. My family and many of my friends consider it a real treat, to have Polish Pierogi, but they do tend to vary from restaurant to restaurant and now I wonder if they are, in fact, completely seperate pastries all marketed as the same thing. Often times, one of the biggest differences is in the gravy - is gravy traditional for any or all of these types of pies, or has that been added on over the years?
    Beautiful post, as always - your photos are so bright and beautiful, I want to reach in and grab one for my lunch tomorrow!

  2. Willow - first of all thank you! :) I've actually never had gravy served with any of these. Whenever we've had pelmeni in my family they were served with just sour cream on the side - as a sort of a dip. Pirozhki are mostly finger food (that you could grab from a pirozhki stand on a street and eat on the go). They can also be served on the side with soup. So they rarely come with anything (except sour cream, which is used pretty much in everything). I haven't had that may pierogi, so I can't say if gravy is common for them. It could be that gravy is a regional variant.

  3. Thanks for following back. I love this recipe. It reminds of a recipe that my mother used to make all the time when I was a little girl in Brazil. It is called "pasteis" in Portuguese.

  4. At University of Washington I lived in Russian House for a year. Our housemother, Nina Nikolaevna, made Borshch and deep-fried Piroshki fairly often on Fridays. Russian ex-pats would drop by for the food, and we could practice our Russian conversation. MMMM, good times!

  5. My grandma uses to make them, but she puts feta cheese or potato inside. I should give her the recipe with the mushrooms as well, they look delicious!

  6. I am Polish and Puerto Rican, "Poli-Rican," which results in some yummy food combinations. Will try these for sure, maybe some with empanada filling.

  7. first off, i really love your blog! i am learning a lot of things from your posts! :D

    that is such a cool observation, and it's so true! i can think of a lot of different foods stuffed in bread or dough of some kind. :)

    <3, Mimi
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  8. The Russian pirozhki are very good. I´ve had some excellent ones in Moscow (Pushkin restaurant). In Estonia we also have similar, we call them "pirukad" and they can be either baked in oven or deep fried. Usually made with a yeast dough. However in Switzerland i have not really come across stuffed small pastries. There are plenty of open pies or quiches here.
    Recently I had some Uzbek pirozhki at a cafe, these were with puff type pastry. I have a recipe of the Mexican empanadas from a colleage of mine on my blog.
    In Finland they have Karjala / Karelian "piirakka" usually with rice or carrot or potato filling in rye dough, but very different from the pirozhki.
    Like you say, every cusine has their own...

  9. Wonderful pictures! Definately make me wanna taste it :D

    I wish I could be so creative in the kitchen as you are :)

    Kisses xx

  10. A food to go - I must agree. Usually when I'm out and busy, I'd drop by in a shop where they sell baked/cooked goods and get myself a couple of this and a drink then I'm good to go :)

  11. I´ve had these on my list for a long time. The filling is so interesting, I never mixed rice and mushrooms in a crust before. Love it! And it´s true, there are so many similar dishes that are basically the same idea all around the world.



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