Updated: Sep 20
I don’t know how many vareniki I have eaten in my life, or even how many more I’ve made in my life! Vareniki is one of those iconic foods Ukrainians are proud of. Every family has its own recipe, and everyone will swear that theirs is the only real vareniki. But the bottom line is that all Eastern European countries have a similar dish with a slightly different approach that means it needs another name. For example, the Polish name for these dumplings is pierogies. Polish immigrants were the first ones to introduce this dish to America back in the early 1900s, their popularity being driven by charity fundraisers in the 1940s. By the 1960s, pierogies were in the frozen food section at supermarkets across the US. Since they were the first to introduce the dish, their name for it is the one that most Americans know.
When we moved to the South in 2013, our little church started doing fundraising around Christmas, and one of two items we chose to sell were vareniki. It went really well that first year, but I remember almost everyone who came to buy dumplings asked, “What it is vareniki?” After explaining it to them, almost everyone said, “Oh! It’s like pierogies!” So, the next year we changed the name to pierogies, and they sold way faster.
These little dumplings can be filled with all kinds of things, both sweet and savory. Some of the most popular sweet ones are filled with farmers cheese, prunes (my mom always made these for Christmas dinner), tart cherries, and black currants. The most common savory fillings are mashed potato; potato and cheese; sauerkraut; braised cabbage and mushrooms; and organ meats and onions. The toppings could be fried onions, bell peppers, bacon bits, etc. The options are limitless! My mom always liked to serve savory ones with fried pork fat bits and fried onion. Whatever they are filled with, they always swim in butter (real butter, I have to say) and are served with sour cream.
HOMEMADE FARMERS CHEESE
While there are so many varieties, vareniki with farmer’s cheese is as classic Ukrainian as it gets. Today I’d like to share with you, my friends, some savory ones filled with farmer’s cheese and herbs. They require only a few ingredients, and with a little effort (I call it a “labor of love”), you have a lovely meal or a delicious appetizer for your guests. They also freeze really well, so it’s great to make ahead of time so you can turn it into a quick dinner when you’re having a busy night. It’s SO worth it!!!
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Yield: About 50-60 Vareniki
Author: Inna of innichkachef.com
4 cups all-purpose flour
2-3 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup kefir (plain yogurt or milk will work)
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound farmer’s cheese
2 teaspoons salt
Few turns of fresh black pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup chopped herbs (scallions, dill, parsley, green garlic, and cilantro)
2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup melted butter
½ cup thinly chopped green onions (green part only)
1 tablespoon chopped dill
12 oz. sour cream or creme fraiche
To make farmer's cheese yourself, check out my blog for how to make Tvorog (Farmer's Cheese). All you need is milk, kefir, and time.
I love, love herbs. I can’t cook without fresh herbs. They just bring every dish to another level. Substituting dry herbs for fresh ones won’t work in this recipe.
Other topping ideas for Vareniki
Fried onions, bacon bits, fried lardons, fried mushrooms with onions and garlic, sautéed onions and bell pepper.
1. In a mixing bowl with the hook attachment, add flour, eggs, kefir, salt, and melted butter.
2. Mix until the dough comes together into the ball, stopping and scraping once in a while. If you don’t have a mixer, this can also be done by hand like my mom always did.
3. Cover the dough and let it rest 20-30 minutes.
4. To prepare the filling, switch the attachment to the whisk and add cheese, salt, red pepper flakes, black pepper, egg, herbs, and flour. Mix them all together.
5. Divide the dough with dough cutter into 4 pieces. Work with one piece at the time, and keep the rest covered.
6. Roll the dough out to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Use a 3-inch cookie cutter to cut out as many circles as possible. Repeat with the remaining dough.
7. Place approximately 1 teaspoon of filling in each circle. Press the edges together to make a half moon. Make sure the edges are well sealed (vareniki can be frozen at this point for future use).
8. Salt water and bring it to a boil. Drop in the vareniki, about 10 at the time. Simmer until they float to the top.
9. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a buttered ovenproof dish. Keep them warm until they are all done (my mom did this way). Or pan fry them in brown butter (my husband likes them this way even though it's not the authentic Ukrainian way).
10. Top them with thinly chopped green onions and dill and serve with a dollop of sour cream or cream fraiche.
What to do with leftover dough?
You will end up with a bunch of scraps of dough. Collect them all, then knead them all together again into one ball. Cover with plastic and LET REST for another 20 minutes. It’s very important to let the dough relax, otherwise you won't be able to roll it.
How to make browned butter?
If you like butter, you will LOVE browned butter. Simply just put your good quality, real butter in a frying pan on medium heat. Slowly let it melt, then stir with a wooden spoon for a few minutes. When the butter melts, it separates into milk solids and water. As you continue to heat the butter, it will begin to change to a golden-brown color. This process takes just a few minutes, and then you have a delicious butter that can be added to any sauce or pastry and can be used for sweet or savory dishes.
How to freeze Vareniki?
To freeze your vareniki, first freeze them on a floured surface, such as a baking pan. After they are completely frozen, you can transfer them into a freezer bag. They will stay fresh for up to three months.