Gratuluję! That translates to congratulations in Polish, and I say that because you’re here to learn how to serve the delectable Polish dumpling and comfort food, pierogi.
Fun fact in the service of cultural accuracy: “pierogi” is technically the plural form in the Polish language, while only one of them called a “pieróg,” (pronounced pye-ROOG), so calling them “homemade pierogies” is a bit like calling multiple noodles of pasta “spaghettis.”
In America, they are commonly known as pierogies and that plural form is often used interchangeably with pierogi. Though, out of respect for the culture and an attempt to correct our misnomer, I will refer to them as pierogi from here on.
But I digress…
What Are Pierogi Exactly?
This classic comfort food is the globally recognizable authentic Polish dish. It is also known as Polish dumplings because this traditional Polish food is basically its own take on the dumpling cuisine. The Italian dumpling is ravioli. The Japanese dumpling is gyoza, and the same goes for a variety of dishes around the world.
What distinguishes this Eastern Europe version from other dumplings around the world? Besides having its own holiday National Pierogi Day (October 8th, so get ready), it has a half-circular shape made from either noodle flour or pastry dough. While that may sound similar to other dumplings, traditional pierogi have a unique flavor profile (which we’ll discuss soon).
Its legacy goes back to the 13th century, arriving in the Polish territories from the Ukraine area in the Far East. The Polish cookbook Compendium Ferculorum published in 1682 then introduced the delicious recipes to the western world, including the United States.
What Do Pierogi Taste Like?
Pierogi are traditionally stuffed with potatoes and quark cheese, which give them an earthy flavor and make them a very filling comfort food. But today, home cooks and chefs use a wide variety of ingredients, from savory to sweet.
Whether it’s an earthy flavor or something savory or sweet, the flavors vary depending on the cook’s favorite things. The best results are up to the personal taste of the whole family eating them because the truly great thing about pierogi is that anyone could make this simple dish their own.
Whether it’s the way you cook it, what you put into it as a filling, or what dipping sauce you use, there are a number of different ways to serve this as a delicious meal or good side dish.
Here are all the different ways people serve pierogies, whether it’s for the perfect side dish on special occasions or the main dish for your family dinner. At the end, I’m also going to tell you how to make your own pierogi dough and how to cook it (frozen or fresh).
How Are Pierogies Traditionally Served?
Pierogi are traditionally served with simple toppings like melted butter, sour cream, fried onions, or pork rinds. They are typically served in pairs (which is why they are always referred to in the plural form) as either an appetizer or main dish.
The fillings and toppings traditionally vary by region and personal taste. However, today, they also vary widely due to modern culinary experimentation and creativity.
It’s actually pretty hard to go wrong in choosing what to fill inside the dough. A part of the pierogi nostalgia for the Polish people is the experience of surprise at the moment they bite into it.
What flavors await them inside that first bite? Is this a meal pierogi with meat fillings? Or is it more of a dessert kind of pierogi filled with something sweet?
In Poland, the different regions have their own customary favorite fillings. Some fill the pierogi with fish, or with Polish sausage and cheese, or with grains such as lentils.
First, let’s start with the classic, which is ironically named the Russian pierogi.
A pierogi ruskie (which translates to Russian dumplings despite no actual Russian origin) contains potatoes and quark cheese. To make these potato pierogi, you just need to mash the potatoes by boiling them first, then fill the mashed result inside the fresh dough.
The kind of cheese you use for this particular pierogi recipe is farmer’s cheese, also known as Polish twarog cheese. More popular in Europe, the mild white farmer’s cheese is a dry curd cheese that might prove difficult to find at an American market.
There are recipes to make twarog cheese yourself, or you can substitute for ricotta cheese. This will result in a different flavor of course, but so would using cream cheese and they would all still taste incredible.
Sweet vs. Savory Pierogi Fillings
If you’re making a cheese pierogi with a light cheese filling, you can mix in fresh fruit such as blueberries and cherries to create a sweet filling.
For a savory, more protein-filled pierogi, you can fill them with meat. Just about any meat will do, including beef (even ground beef), chicken, veal, duck, lamb, or cooked bacon.
But the filling is only a little bit of what gives the pierogi its unique flavor profile. We haven’t even gotten to the toppings yet.
Pierogi Toppings and Sauces
If you’re not used to hearing about toppings on dumplings, then strap in. There are plenty of pierogi topping examples that are simple and traditional, such as fried onions, sautéed onions, sweet caramelized onions (okay, ALL the onions), pork rinds, apple sauce, good ol’ butter, and of course, a huge dollop of sour cream.
But here’s the beauty of the pierogi given its customizable, flexible nature, from options for fillers to the various methods they can be cooked. Toppings give an opportunity for any culture to fuse their flavor profile with that of this Polish delicacy.
The sky, and in this case our taste buds, are the limit.
Bake it in breadcrumbs. Sprinkle it with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese and fresh basil. Dip your pierogi in Greek yogurt, ranch dressing, or honey mustard (but not all at the same time).
Cover it in sliced onions, jalapeno, and hot sauce for a spicy version. Top it with roasted tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and garlic if you won’t be kissing anybody that night. Cover it in butter, steamed broccoli, and melted cheddar cheese if you want to trick your mind into thinking you’re eating healthy.
It might seem like I’m throwing the kitchen sink at you with all these ingredients, but everything mentioned are popular toppings and sauces for pierogi.
Go sweet with brown sugar or cranberry relish or maple syrup, or more creative with salsa or alfredo sauce or chili sauce. Who knows? You might stumble on a combination that will result in a new family favorite best dish.
For me, there’s something so gratifying about pan-fried cheese pierogi sprinkled with sugar. I mean, come on.
If you go through the trouble of making the pierogi yourself from scratch, you have the advantage of being creative. So get to it!
Speaking of making it from scratch… I’m going to tell you how to at the end. But I think you’re probably wondering right now what to serve with pierogi. So, let’s cover that first and those who want to learn how to cook pierogi from scratch can hang out until the end.
What to Serve with Pierogies?
As the main element of a meal, you can pair pierogi with your favorite vegetable, salad, or soup. As a side dish, a rule of thumb is to serve pierogi as a potato replacement in any of your favorite meals. Another great option is as a pasta replacement.
But to go beyond the rule of thumb, let’s consult the experts in Poland on their staple food and how to serve it in special ways.
In the colder months, including for Christmas Eve dinner, it’s popular in Poland to eat pierogi covered in sauerkraut and a side of wild mushrooms.
While toppings are popular on pierogi, pierogi could also technically be a topping itself. Place some pierogi atop a cheesy hot dog! People do this! I promise.
Pierogi doesn’t even need to be served in dumpling form at all. Instead of lasagna, you can make a just-as-filling pierogi casserole.
Ultimately, how to serve pierogies really comes down to what you put into it, literally and metaphorically. You can let your shopping do the work for you by buying the pierogi pre-cooked and then customize them with toppings. Or go all out with making the fresh dough yourself so you can let your imagination really run wild.
Pierogi may be a traditional Polish dish, but at the end of the day, it’s supposed to give you a taste of home. So whether you want to honor the dish’s Polish roots, or introduce a little of your cultural flavor, may each bite bring you and your loved ones a little closer together.
How to Make Pierogi
One of the easiest ways to make pierogi is, well, buying it pre-made at the store. And honestly, you can find some really tasty ones and save yourself from making pierogi dough from scratch.
Not that I discourage making your own pierogi! It’s actually fairly straightforward even if you’re not a “dough nut.” You barely even need an exact recipe, so I’ll bring you through the instructions real quick.
How to Make Pierogi Dough (Quick & Easy)
You just need some all-purpose flour and add that and salt to a large bowl. Then you add hot (but not boiling) water and some melted butter to the dough – enough to make the dough pliable and shapeable.
You could add one egg if you feel comfortable doing that, but this isn’t necessary. Then mix it all with a wooden spoon, and knead it until it’s all soft and smooth. For this step you could either use your hands or rolling pin.
To follow a more specific recipe to make pierogi dough, you would need a big enough work surface and ideally some equipment like a kitchen scale, stand mixer, pastry cutter, and slotted spoon to use while boiling the pierogi in a pot.
Or…you can simply buy frozen pierogies or pre-made refrigerated ones to cook at home.
How to Cook Pierogi
There are a number of ways to cook pierogi. Your options to cook delicious hot pierogi are pan-frying, baking in the oven, slow cooking, deep frying, microwaving (meh.), and air frying.
I wrote an entire article on how to cook refrigerated fresh pierogi, the handmade kind, or the frozen stuff: How to Cook Frozen Pierogies (& Fresh!). I’ll give you a quick rundown here if you don’t want to read the whole article…
Two of the most common ways to cook pierogi are boiling and pan-frying.
The easy way is to boil, which involves adding some salt to some water in a pot and bring it to a boil on high heat. Then place the pierogi into the water until they float to the top of the water. Then reduce the heat and let them cook for 4 more minutes if you were cooking frozen pierogi, or 3 minutes if cooking with the fresh kind.
If you want to serve crispy perogi, then pan-frying with olive oil is the method for you. Heat a large frying pan on medium heat and grease it with butter. If you have toppings that need cooked (like some that we discussed), then cook them first for a few minutes. Then add the pierogi to the large skillet and fry them until they’re golden brown.
While it’s certainly quick and easy to buy pre-cooked or frozen perogi, there’s one huge advantage to making the dough yourself. You, not the store, get to decide what to put inside, as the filling.
Hot vs. Cold Pierogi
Pierogis are like pizza in one significant way. They can be enjoyed eaten hot or cold. Thankfully, they also reheat well.
Meat dishes are best served hot with fresh toppings. But cold leftovers the next one to two days have their own convenient, tasty charm. Pierogi also freeze and reheat well!
One last tip for you. When you serve pierogi, be sure to say “Smacznego!” It’s the Polish equivalent of “Bon Appetit”!