Tart Cherry Dumplings

Saturday, June 30, 2012


Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, know my penchant for things wrapped in dough from an earlier post. In that post, I went into a lengthy discussion on differences between various Eastern European stuffed pastries and dumplings, like the Russian pelmeni or meat dumplings. Today's post involves a related Ukrainian dish, vareniki. Vareniki are similar to pelmeni in that the recipe for the dough is essentially the same, but instead of having a round saucer-like shape, vareniki are simply folded into half-moons. Also, although it is more common for pelmeni to have a meat-based filling, vareniki are more versatile. They can have a meat filling, but they can also be filled with potatoes, cottage cheese, cabbage, or mushrooms. Vareniki can also have a sweet filling. A common Ukrainian dessert is vareniki with a cherry filling, served with sour cream, a thickened cherry sauce, or just a sprinkle of sugar.


Traditionally the cherry vareniki are made with sour cherries, which are easier to find in certain parts of the world than others. When we were in Norway, for instance, there were sour cherry trees everywhere. It seemed like every household had one in their yard, and their branches would hand over the fence and drop cherries like raindrops on the sidewalk. There were also many wild ones, ripe for any passer-by to pick. There was a similar abundance of sour cherries in Ukraine, where instead the sweet cherries were a special, rarer treat.


If you cannot find sour cherries, canned or frozen ones will be the next best thing. If you are using canned sour cherries (as I did), I recommend using cherries preserved only in water, without sugar or any other additives which tend to alter the taste (if you can only find cherries in syrup, be sure to adjust the recipe for the filling accordingly to account for the sugar).


These cherry dumplings are a delicious, sweet treat. They can be had for dessert, as an afternoon snack, or even for breakfast. Despite the moderate labor-intensiveness of pelmeni and vereniki, if you make a large batch, you can always freeze them and keep them in a ziplock bag in your freezer for several weeks.


Tart Cherry Dumplings
(Makes 25-30 dumplings)

You will need:
1 cup (140 g) all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
5-6 tbsp water, more if needed

(Filling and Sauce)
1 lb (450 g) fresh or canned sour cherries,* pitted
4 tbsp sugar, divided
2 tsp corn starch, divided

*Fresh cherries are best. If not available, use canned sour cherries containing just cherries and water without sugar or other additives, or frozen sour cherries (without sugar or other additives), thawed.

1. If using fresh cherries: combine the cherries and 2 tbsp sugar, let stand for about 30 minutes. Once the cherries give off juice, pour the juice into a measuring cup and reserve. If using canned: pour off the juice into a cup and reserve, then mix just the cherries with sugar and let stand for 30 minutes; pour any additional juices into the cup. You should have about 3/4 cup (177 ml) cherry juice; if not, add a requisite amount of water. Toss the cherries with 1 tsp corn starch right before filling.
2. Combine together flour, salt and sugar and add to a bowl, forming a heap. Make a small cavity at the top of the heap and pour the egg yolk into the cavity. Fold the flour into the yolk until the mixture flakes. Add water, one or two tablespoons at a time, until dough starts to form (adding either a little more flour or water for the right consistency). Mix the dough until you can form it into a ball. Give it a knead or two, cover and let stand for 20 minutes.
3. Roll out the dough on a dusted surface with a dusted rolling pin to 1/8 inch (3 mm) thickness. With a 2 1/2 inch (6-7 cm) round cookie cutter, cut out as many circles as you can. Peel off the unused dough and roll it out again, repeating the process. You should have 25-30 circles. Place about 3 cherries in the center of each circle. Dip your finger in water and run it around the edges. Seal the edges together, forming the dumpling into a half-moon. Then press the edges together with a fork. Repeat with remaining dumplings. Refrigerate until ready to cook.
4. In a small pot, combine the reserved cherry juice, 2 tbsp sugar, and 1 tsp corn starch. Bring to a simmer, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened and reduced to about 1/4 cup (60 ml), about 15-20 minutes.
5. To cook the dumplings, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt. Add the dumplings, bring back to a boil, and cook until the dough is cooked through, about 7-8 minutes. Drain. Serve the dumplings with the cherry sauce.


Greek Couscous Salad

Monday, June 25, 2012

If the last few posts are any indication, there is definitely a trend towards colder dishes in our kitchen. Last week the weather has consistently been above normal human body temperature, so turning on the stove (let alone the oven) seemed insurmountable. As a result, we turned to colder meals that don't require much cooking, which have the added benefit of not being very time consuming.


This couscous salad has been a long-trusted recipe that I invariably turn to during summertime. It is very simple to make as the cooking is minimal (you bring the water to a boil, stir in the couscous, and turn off the heat to let it "steam" as it sits, while you prepare the rest). The Greek-inspired flavors are both appealing and refreshing on a summer night, and the simplicity to delectability factor usually takes any of our dinner guests (or just the husband, who will have forgotten about it since last summer) slightly off guard. 


Greek Couscous Salad
Adapted from Eating Well (ca. 2005)

(Serves 6)

You will need:
1 1/2 cup (355 ml) water
1 cup (237 ml) uncooked couscous
1/2 cup finely chopped cucumber
1/2 cup finely chopped tomato
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
juice of 1 lemon (about 2 1/2 tbsp)
salt and pepper to taste

Bring water to a boil in a medium pot. Stir in the couscous, cover, and turn off the heat. Let stand for five minutes. Uncover, fluff with a wooden spoon, and let cool to room temperature. Once the couscous is cooled, combine it with the remaining ingredients in a bowl. Serve chilled.


Tuna Salad Bites

Friday, June 22, 2012


A short time ago we bought some sandwiches for lunch, and I got one with tuna salad. When my husband saw it, he asked, "why did you order tuna salad?" I explained to him that a good tuna salad sandwich can be quite tasty, if made properly and if fresh. It happened that this particular deli made the salad on the spot and together with freshly baked bread and crisp iceberg lettuce made a refreshing combination on a hot day. He proceeded to explain that when he was small, his father would make him a tuna salad sandwich for lunch with nothing but mayonnaise and salt and pepper, and at the time he thought it was just too bland (I apologize in advance to any family members reading this that might be displeased with this statement, even though it isn't mine. As I learned in my line of work, every story has plural versions).

I, on the other hand, shared memories of sloppy, fishy school lunches served on stale kaiser rolls. And how too often delis have a tub of tuna salad behind the glass display with a somewhat winded look (at times you can see where they scooped out the stuff to serve some unfortunate soul and there is a difference between the bottom, which still looks fairly moist, and the top, which has crusted over and turned brown). Too often the salad sits next to its old friend, the egg salad, in an unfortunately similar condition. So instead, here is a recipe for tuna salad that is certain to please.


The mayonnaise is replaced with sour cream for lower fat content. Scallions add a requisite bit of kick without the misfortune of a reminder to yourself and others that you had an old curmudgeon of an onion for lunch. Bell pepper adds a needed crunch to an otherwise soft texture, and a more flavorful alternative to celery. Finally, the salad is complemented by a small amount of freshly squeezed lemon juice. You can serve it as an appetizer on quartered bread slices, or use the same ingredients and amounts to make two tuna salad sandwiches.


Tuna Salad Bites
(Makes about 16 appetizers or 2 sandwiches)

You will need
4 bread slices, toasted
10 oz (290 g) canned tuna, drained
1/2 medium bell pepper, cored and finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped scallion
1 tbsp chopped parsley
3 tbsp sour cream
1 tsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
green sprouts, for garnish (optional)

In a mixing bowl, combine tuna, bell pepper, scallion, parsley, sour cream and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. For appetizers, remove the crust from the bread slices, and cut them into quarters; right before serving place a small amount of the tuna salad on each piece and top with a few sprouts. Or use the salad and green sprouts as toppings for two sandwiches.


Spicy Carrot Salad

Monday, June 11, 2012


This recipe has been a favorite of mine for some time. This salad frequently makes an appearance on Russian tables, and in these circles it is referred to as "Korean carrot salad." If you go to a Russian food store in Brooklyn and ask for it by name, they will know exactly what you're talking about. I am not sure, however, about its Korean origins. From my very brief research on Google it appears most searches for "Korean carrot salad" refer back to Russian recipes with the same name, which tie it to Korean settlements in the eastern parts of the former Soviet Union. The settlers perhaps had to make do with entirely local ingredients in creating this dish. The similarity I can draw between this salad and bona fide Korean cuisine is that the salad is pickled for a brief time, and has a tangy, sweet but mildly sour and spicy taste, bearing some resemblance to perhaps kim chi or pickled radish, but the ingredients used in the pickling process are different.


In any event, the fact remains that this salad is very good, whether Russian, Korean, or Korean made with Russian ingredients. The spiciness can always be adjusted to taste. Most of the spiciness in this salad comes from garlic and cayenne pepper (traditionally hot paprika would be used - such as Hungarian paprika - which I can't manage to find; I recommend using a blend of cayenne and mild paprika if you can't find hot paprika).


This recipe also calls for julienned carrots. Julienned means cut into long matchstick-sized strips. You can of course grate the carrots, but the taste and texture will differ. I recommend using a julienne peeler, which looks like a vegetable peeler but has jagged teeth, or a julienne mandoline. If you can't find them, you can also slice the carrots by hand, which can be rather laborious: slice the carrots lengthwise into 1/8 inch (3 mm) long flat pieces, then place each piece flat side down, and slice into strips. If you do it by hand, take care that the strips are not too thick, otherwise the salad will not marinade as quickly.

Side note: we are adding metric conversions for our recipes, in hopes of making this blog more friendly to our non-U.S. readers (according to Wikipedia, U.S. is the only industrialized nation which does not use the metric system as its official system of measurement). The conversions will be rounded slightly for convenience.


Spicy Carrot Salad
(Serves 4)

You will need:
1 lb (450 g) carrots
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
1/8 cup (18 g) coarsely chopped onion
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp ground paprika, or to taste
1/8 tsp ground cayenne, or to taste
1/8 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

1. Wash and peel the carrots. With a julienne slicer, julienne the carrots and place into a bowl. Add salt and sugar and mix with your hand, working the crystals into the carrot strips so that they begin to give off juice. Let stand 10-20 minutes.
2. In the meantime, heat the oil in a pan and add the onions. Fry the onions on medium heat until fragrant and translucent. Turn off the heat, discard the onions, and pour just the hot oil over the carrots. Mix with a spoon so that the strips glisten with oil, then mix in the remaining ingredients, adjusting the seasoning to taste. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or overnight before serving.

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