July 04, 2010

Ukrainian Cherry Dumplings

I have received a complete farewell package at the Boryspol International Airport in Kyiv: getting stuck due to the indefinitely delayed flight, paying for 30 kilos of excess luggage, having my three carry-on bags rummaged thoroughly as apparently they were so stuffed with stuff that left the X-ray scanner blind. This was Ukraine not letting me go with peace after 21 months of my dedicated service to its regional development. 

Ukrainian Cherry Dumplings, or Vareniki
I am pleased to say though that it is not the impolite airport security that will make my memories of the country. It is in Ukraine I have rediscovered and learnt to celebrate my Slavic roots which got choked in the post-Soviet Russia but luckily continue thriving in the Western Ukraine where I got to spend two years. For me Ukraine will always be the land of vyshyvanka, a richly embroider shirt, and cheeky red boots, poetic language and Cossack ballades, syrnyk, or baked cheese cake, and deruny, potato fritters. And definitely the land of vareniki, or Ukrainian take on dumplings. I could not leave the county without having learnt how to make them. And as late June is the beginning of the cherry season here the cherry dumplings is a must specialty for any seasonal menu.

I would like to go briefly into the theory of the matter first. Dumplings, momos, manti, ravioli, khinkali, pelmeni, vareniki and alike come from the same family of food that essentially is about boiled or steamed dough stuffed with vegetables, cheese, berries or meat. This makes an easy to prepare and quick to eat earthy countryside meal that I enjoyed at the hole-in-the-wall eateries on the Himalayan foothills in Sikkim and Dharamsala, hosted family meals in Cappadocia region in Central Turkey, family-run restaurants throughout Italy, cafes of Krasnoyarsk in the Eastern Siberia, my grandma house in the Volga region in Russia, and anywhere Western Ukraine. What I like about the Ukrainian take is the use of berries for stuffing. And cherries is such a brilliant idea as it you end up with a dessert-like feel of the juicy cherries little marinated and only slightly cooked which still becomes a very filling meal. This sounds just perfect for summer when it you want less cooked food, skipping meals and rather eating desserts.

I can’t promise you will become a big fan of this cherry dumplings recipe unless you have some Eastern European roots or strong desire to feel like an Eastern European for once eat least. Because apart from finding the flavor somewhat novel you would have to deal with the authentic Eastern European way to remove the cherry pits so to get the dish taste as it really should. Well, I guess even in the Soviet Union we were not totally deprived of cherry pitters but apparently there were not enough of them. This fact created a very family-binding routine that I was looking forward to every summer when the cherries ripened in the grandma’s garden. The routine was to get together at place with tiled walls (usually the kitchen), strip down to your underwear or beachwear, get a metal safety pin and sit down around a big bucket of cherries. The whole family then would get messy tirelessly removing pits from the hundreds of cherries with the end of the pin. The boys of the family preferred the cherry pits throwing to this activity: you take a moist freshly removed cherry pit, place it between the pads of the thumb and index finger and release it using the index finger as a trigger. Ultimate fun for the everybody including the moms who had to clean everything and everybody after the pit removing and throwing. The pit-less cherries would then go for tasty jams and cherry dumplings.

Ukrainian Cherry Dumplings Recipe
Summer dessert and a complete meal with juicy cherries.

Ingredients (4 servings):
500 g cherries
4+2 tbsp sugar
1.5+1.5 tbsp potato starch
2 glasses whole-wheat flour
2/3 +1/3 egg
2/3+2/3 glass of water
Salt to taste

1. Prepare the cherries: Wash, discard the stems and remove the pits using either a cheery pitter or a metal safety pin. In the latter case hold the cherry with the three fingers of one hand and take a safety pin in the other one. Carefully but firmly drive the side of the pin with the loop (not there it closes) into the stem end of the cherry and get to the bottom of the pit. Now drive the pin up and in the opposite direction – voila, here is your cherry without a pit! Set aside the pits mixed with 2 tbsp of sugar. Mix in 4 tbsp of sugar into the pit-less cherries and also set aside.

Ukrainian Cherry Dumplings, or Vareniki

2. Make the dough: Make the flour into a hillock on the table or a large round bowl. Make a hole in the middle to make your hillock into a volcano, add the 2/3 egg there and start mixing it with the flour working with your index finger that will be making circles larger and larger as the dough becomes thicker. Mix water and salt in a glass and start pouring it in the crater of your flour volcano - from making circles with your index finger you will progress towards using the whole palm to shape your dough into a neat ball. While you would need to arrive to a smooth substance you don’t want to overdo it or the dough will not be as soft. Once done set the dough aside for 20-30 minutes to rest.

3. Make the dumplings: Season the clean tabletop with some flour and put the dough ball on the seasoned surface. Flatten out the dough with pressing your palm in the middle of the ball and then roll out the dough by working with the rolling pin from the middle to the edges. Make the dough about 2-3 mm thin: the thinner dough will tear apart when you will be stuffing the dumplings and thicker one is not that nice to eat. Take a round biscuit cutter (or a glass) with the diameter of approximately 4 line-up cherries and cut the dough into the rounds. Now discard the juice from the cherries (but keep it) and mix in 1.5 tbsp potato starch to the cherries so they don’t get too juicy in the dumplings and make them a mess. Take one dough round, line up three cherries right in the middle of it and use the remaining egg to slightly moisten the inner edges of the dumpling-to-be. Now pull the opposite edges in the centre of the dough round towards each other and press to seal them. Take the dumpling with your both hands – with folded side down and edges up - and work from the middle using the pads of all your fingers to press on the edges from the both sides and ultimately seal them. Make sure you seal well so the dumplings do not open while boiling. Place the sealed dumpling on a plate or cutting board seasoned with flour so they do not stick. Continue to make as many dumplings as your dough and cherries allow.

Ukrainian Cherry Dumplings, or Vareniki

4. Cook the dumplings: Pick up a large bowl and fill in with lots of water. I do mean lots of water. Add some salt to the water and bring to boil. Throw a batch of the dumplings in and as they surface indicating they are cooked take them out with a large perforated spoon, rinse with hot water and put on a large plate. Continue with another batch and so on.

Ukrainian Cherry Dumplings, or Vareniki

5. Cook the kissel: Now we recall that we have some pits and cherry juice left and they make a wonderful material for kissel, a sweet drink resembling thin jelly, in this case used as a sauce for the dumplings. Combine the pits, the cherry juice, 2/3 glass of water and 1.5 tbsp potato starch in a small pen and bring to boil. Simmer on a low flame and keep stirring for about 5 minutes.

6. Serve: Cherry dumplings are best served cold with the warm kissel and a dollop of sour cream on top. They tend to go quickly and in no time an empty place and expecting eyes will make you start the process again. So consider making more from the beginning.

Ukrainian Cherry Dumplings, or Vareniki

I am looking forward to hearing how it went with the cherry dumplings or to you sharing your favorite take of these boiled dough cuties.

10 Responses to Ukrainian Cherry Dumplings:

Deeba PAB said...

Thank you for stopping by Olga. You inspired me right back using one of my favourite stone fruits - cherries! I have so many Ukranian connections, and now you. A very good friend of mine, Uliana, is from Lviv, but now lives in Sydney.We visit them once in a while. Another very good friend has just been posted out of Kiev and is en-route to Tanzania ... and regales me with tales of Ukraine and plies me with little blue sachets of vanilla sugar!!
We visited Moscow twice but many years ago. Didn't manage the visa for Ukraine at the time, else would have gone there as well. Those were different times ... but the connect will always remain!

Olga Tikhonova said...

Thanks for taking a look at my blog Deeba! It is very interesting to hear about your Ukrainian friends - the world is not that big afterwards! And as for me I spent a year living and working for an NGO in Delhi in 2007 - it was definitely one of the most memorable years in my life and I look forward to coming back one day

Theresa said...

oh! They are so cute! They remind me of 3 peas in a pod...but much more delicious. =)

Jurgita said...

Oh gosh, vareniki look like perfection!

I'm planning to make vareniki (or like we call them 'virtinukai') Lithuanian style:) with blueberries, however I must try them with cherries, too! Can I use frozen cherries?

Olga Tikhonova said...

To Theresa: I love the comparison)
To Jurgita: Glad to see you here and thanks for sharing the Lithuanian name of the dish) You can totally use frozen cherries: since they are likely to give more juice you would need to increase the specified amount of starch (which some people replace with semolina or simply flour) which you add to the cherries that go into the stuffing. As for the blueberries - as they are more likely to get messy than cherries I wonder if you also add something like starch to the filling? or there are other tricks?

Anonymous said...

These look absolutely delicious! I loved having fruit dumplings in the Czech Republic (knedliky there!) and have been meaning to make some. I'll have to try these soon!

Apu said...

Dumplings looks wonderful!!

Dgrub said...

Your dumpling looks really good but I don't like cherry. So I may give it a try with a new fruit. Thanks for sharing.

Magic of Spice said...

These look great...I just did some plumb dumplings:) You have a lovely site here...

Olga Tikhonova said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.
To Dgrub: you can replace with blueberry, or apricots, or plum (check out the recipe from Magic of spices), or grated apple... I am curious to know how yours will turn
To Magic of Spices: I am traveling in Croatia and they told me that plum dumpling would be a very traditional thing here. I am very intrigued and I am glad you've posted a recipe

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