Dumpling Day (Barefoot Books, Concord, MA, 2021), a children’s book described by its author Meera Sriram as “For little kitchen helpers everywhere,” is a book for a family to treasure, and to have handy, especially for a rainy day when the young ones need some positive “entertainment” by cooking up a delicious treat.
Barefoot Books, a small publisher, has a very worthy mission: “At Barefoot Books, we celebrate art and story that opens the hearts and minds of children from all walks of life focusing on themes that encourage independence of spirit, enthusiasm for learning and respect for the world’s diversity. . . [with the goal] to educate our children as the caretakers of tomorrow.”
Dumpling Day equally credits not only the author of its “words,” Meera Sriram, but also the “art” by the illustrator and graphic designer, Inés de Antuñano, and the “recipes” by Laurel P. Jackson. Together these three creative women have brought a wonderful picture book to life that can be appreciated by a reader of any age. And what home cook, young or old, can’t appreciate the book’s invitation: “Join 10 families cooking delicious treats to share, from Indian samosas to Italian ravioli, in this celebration of food and friends!”
In the final pages of Dumpling Day, the recipes for the ten dumplings spotlighted from around the world are included in easy-to-follow recipes. The ten types of dumplings, beautifully illustrated as they are prepared by 10 distinctive families, are for (1) spicy samosas (India); (2) apple dumplings (USA); (3) stuffed wu-gok (China); (4) fufu balls (Nigeria); (5) crispy gyoza (Japan); (6) golden bourekas (Israel); (7) warm tamales (Mexico); (8) shish barak (Syria); (9) pelmeni (Russia); and (10) ravioli (Italy).
Two wonderful pages of Dumpling Day show colorful plates of each type of dumpling ready to share on a picnic table. And a very educational page locates the regions of the world, not just a single place, where the “dumplings come from,” as well as some vocabulary words from various languages for the “helpers” who prepare the various dumplings.
Reviewing the ten recipes, the recipe for Russian “pelmeni” caught this home cook’s eye.
Pelmeni, vareniki and pierogi are all similar types of dumplings that are found in Central and Eastern Europe. A company that started as “a food service for Eastern European immigrants,” NetCost World of Food, on its website, describes the “history” behind these very similar dumplings: “It’s believed that these little parcels of exquisite flavor are a variation of Chinese dumplings that were brought to Russia and Europe by the Mongols during their rapid westward conquests.” Fascinating.
But with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine raging, instead of using Dumpling’s Day recipe for pelmeni, I decided to google for a recipe for the very similar Ukrainian dumpling called vareniki.
Interestingly, the recipe I discovered on the website of 196 Flavors, 196 Countries/ A World Of Flavors, noted that the half-moon shaped dumplings that are boiled in salted water, “Vareniki or varenyky is a staple dish in Russian and Ukrainian cuisines.”
No surprise that the ingredients for the dough of Dumpling Day’s pelmeni and for 196 Flavors’ vareniki differ only slightly, but there are differences. The pelmeni recipe’s specified four ingredients: (1) all purpose/plain flour, (2) eggs, (3) salt, and (4) lukewarm water. The vareniki recipe specified five ingredients: (1) sifted flour, (2) eggs, (3) salt, (4) milk (not water); and (5) vegetable oil (no oil is included in the pelmeni recipe).
Eggs are important to each of the recipes noted above for pelmeni and for vareniki. Users of this website know that eggs have been a subject of some concern of late. Last month, we reported on the need to know where your eggs come from with the nearly 20,000,000 layer chickens that have been “culled” nationwide as a consequence of the outbreaks of avian influenza in the U.S.
And the just-published picture book, Eggs From Red Hen Farm, Farm to Table with Mazes and Maps by the author and illustrator Monica Wellington (Holiday House, New York, New York, 2022) is a perfect addition to an afternoon of cooking up a recipe that requires eggs. Eggs from Red Hen Farm artfully answers the important questions of (1) Where do eggs come from? and (2) How do they get from farmer to consumer? This creative picture book uses wonderfully detailed pictures, with young readers very likely to be stimulated by the help of maps, math and even some economic concepts.
Users of this website who have seen our recipe posts know that we try to use ingredients sourced from local farms and also choose to use organic ingredients whenever possible as well as whole grains instead of refined grains. The recipe below uses Farmer Ground whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose white flour, eggs from a favorite local farm, freshly ground sea salt, and organic kefir milk from a local farm that pastures its cows.
And it was important to this home cook that 196 Flavors’ vareniki recipe answered the question of “What fillings are used?’ in a very generous fashion:
“The traditional vareniki recipe uses potato as a filling. However, in Ukraine, they can be prepared with several kinds of fillings. The most common savory fillings include potato, cottage or farm cheese (tvarog), sauerkraut, plum (and other fruits), potato and cheese, cabbage, boiled beans, peas, meat, fish and buckwheat. Vareniki can also be served as a dessert. In this case, the fillings are fruit or soft cheese. They can be stuffed with sour cherries, blueberries, sweet cottage cheese, blueberries or even red berries (strawberries or raspberries). Some vareniki recipes mention the presence of apples or plums. For added flavor, smetana (sour cream) can be added to the dough to make it lighter.”
Vareniki (Ukrainian dumplings) half filled with sauerkraut and other half with Morello Cherry fruit spread (makes approximately two dozen)
2 cups whole wheat flour (sifted, but wheat germs sifted away added back after sifting)
2 eggs lightly beaten
1/2 cup warm kefir milk (at 97°F/36°C)
2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
sauerkraut sufficient to fill half of the dumplings (approximately 1/2 cup)
Morello Cherry fruit spread to fill half of the dumplings (approximately 1/2 cup)
Combine sifted flour, salt, eggs, milk and 2 tablespoons of sunflower seed oil.
Knead a homogenous dough (for five minutes or so). Cover and let stand 30 minutes, away from heat.
Divide the dough into 2 pieces and roll out each piece of dough to a thickness of 1/8th inch
Using the rim of a wine glass (since I didn’t have a useable cookie cutter), cut circles about 3 inches in diameter.
Place 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of filling, Morello Cherry fruit spread or sauerkraut, in the center of the circles of dough, fold them in half to form a semi-circle and pinch the edges with wet hands.
Heat up a large amount of boiling water.
Immerse the vareniki in simmering water and cook them for 3 minutes.
Drain with slotted spoon.
This home cook admits that in the past, he hasn’t ever sifted flour in his cooking. This first time experience with sifting was tricky, since I avoid highly refined flours and always choose to use Farmer Ground organic, all purpose whole wheat flour for most recipes requiring flour. So after sifting, which took more than 10 minutes using a small recently purchased inexpensive sifter, I emptied the sifted out wheat germ back into the dough batter. (Comparing photos of the dumplings illustrating 196 Flavors’ recipe, my dumplings are much browner given my choice of whole wheat flour.)
I also limit salt intake, and chose not to boil the vareniki in salted water and also reduced the amount of salt from 1 teaspoon suggested by the 196 Flavors’ recipe to 1/2 teaspoon salt.
(Frank W. Barrie, 5/13/22)