Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, Katharine Hepburn. Jimmy Stewart, Steve McQueen, Cary Grant. Jim Morrison and Elvis. Clyde Barrow and John Dillinger. Chief Wyandanah, Henry David Thoreau, Amelia Earhart. John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway.
England, Ireland, Scotland. Sweden, Russia, and Poland. Germany, France, North America. And Ukraine.
Like most Americans, my family is from all over the world.
But the connection I feel to my Eastern European heritage is particularly strong. I can’t fully explain this pull towards Eastern Europe. But it’s there; I sense it every time I visit these countries. And I’m drawn to read about their histories.
With the current tragedy in Ukraine, I value my roots in this part of the world more strongly than ever.
As exciting as it is to have a blood connection to the famous names listed above, I feel a much deeper pride in being the great-great-granddaughter of Ukrainian immigrants whose long-ago decisions and dreams shaped the life I know today.
Ukrainian Piroshki: Family History & Inspiration
The following recipe honors the brave people of Ukraine, and my Ukrainian great-grandmother, Stella.
Stella was a first generation American. Her parents immigrated from Ukraine through Ellis Island, just after the turn of the century.
Here’s a little bit about their inspiring story.
Stella’s father Anthony, my great-great grandfather, was brilliant.
Fluent in Ukrainian, Russian, German, Polish, and later, English, Anthony was a city clerk in Zydaczow, Ukraine. His beautiful writing and ability to read in multiple languages was an invaluable skill set.
Anthony was also loyal and a risk-taker: to help a friend whose fiancée became pregnant before their marriage, Anthony forged the public record of his friend’s wedding date, moving it up several months. Anthony’s edit made it appear that conception of the baby occurred inside of wedlock. The noble—yet illegal—act saved Anthony’s friend and the child from disgrace.
It also changed the course of Anthony’s future.
When the forgery was discovered, Anthony was banished from his village.
According to Stella, after his banishment, Anthony went to Russia. In the streets of Moscow, he blatantly disregarded the communist regime’s ban on religion by reading the Bible aloud, on a podium no less.
Anthony’s daring earned him a living, as most of the Russian, faith-starved passersby were illiterate. Other than Anthony’s recitations, they had no way to hear or read the Bible.
When he’d saved enough money, Anthony immigrated to America, settling in New York.
It was in New York that Anthony married a young, beautiful seamstress whom he’d known in Zydaczow. Her name was Roze. A gifted linguist herself, Roze was fluent in Ukrainian, Polish, and German.
Not long after the birth of my great-grandmother Stella, Anthony and Roze moved their young family to Los Angeles, where the entrepreneurial couple opened a successful grocery store.
For all her 102 years on this earth, Stella was smart and sharp as a tack. As a girl, she helped her father make change in the grocery store. She skipped grades in elementary school until another bump up would have put her a grade above her eldest brother.
In addition to her smarts, Stella loved to cook. From Roze, she learned how to make piroshki, a recipe from “the old country.” The time intensive process behind this Ukrainian dumpling has been passed down by the women in my family ever since.
Piroshki: A Family Tradition
For as long as I can remember, piroshki have been a part of just about every special occasion in my family.
My great-grandmother, at 95 years-old, even insisted on making piroshki herself—by hand, for the reception following my wedding. I will forever treasure her heart-felt sacrifice of love and labor. No other gift from my grandma could have had more meaning.
I learned how to make piroshki from my great-grandmother Stella, my Grandma Sally, and my mom. Now, as my mom and I teach my own daughter her culinary heritage, Stella must be proud to see the piroshki tradition passed down to a sixth generation.
A Few Things!
Piroshki vs. Pierogi
Many sources say piroshki are made with leavened dough, while pierogi are made with unleavened dough. The dumplings in the recipe that follows are made with unleavened dough.
But I’m still calling them piroshki, just as the women in my family—back to my Ukrainian great-great-grandmother, always have.
I’ll never be able to call this family recipe by any other name.
New and Old Piroshki Tradition
For the most part, the piroshki dough recipe below stays true to Stella’s family recipe. I made a few minor changes, and added paprika. But that’s it.
My filling, on the other hand, isn’t traditional at all.
I fused my piroshki heritage with new recipe traditions in my own home, and used the same filling from my viral Grilled Potato Spinach Quesadillas recipe: potatoes, spinach, and cheddar.
Yes, these are Grilled Potato Spinach Piroshki.
I think Stella would be proud of the similarities and the differences.
Take a look at my Sweet Piroshki with Amarena Cherries & Nutella for another unique spin on this traditional Ukrainian dish.
I recommend using a 2 cup, glass pyrex bowl as the template for each piroshki round. It makes the perfect size piroshki in my book.
My Favorite Piroshki Tools
My favorite spatula for Grilled Potato Spinach Quesadillas is also my favorite spatula for Grilled Potato Spinach Piroshki. Technically, it’s a cookie spatula. But its small size makes it easier to control where things land. You can find this spatula here on Amazon [aff. link], or here in my new Amazon store.
And here’s my favorite fryer skimmer for getting the piroshki out of the boiling water, before frying [aff. link].
Grilled Potato Spinach Piroshki
For the dough:
- 6 Tbsp butter, melted
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup almond milk, or milk of choice; buttermilk is most authentic
- 3 cups flour
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- ¼ tsp paprika
For the filling:
- 1 ½ pounds potatoes, I prefer Yukon gold and I do not peel them
- ¼ cup almond milk, or milk of choice
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp mascarpone, optional, but highly recommended
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp onion salt
- ⅛ tsp pepper
- 2-3 cups spinach, fresh
- 2 cups cheddar, freshly grated
- Canola oil, for frying
- Extra flour, for rolling out the dough
Make the dough
- To a large mixing bowl, add the melted butter and eggs. Whisk together until the eggs and butter incorporate, then add the milk. Whisk again until you’ve got a mostly smooth mixture.
- Now add the flour, salt, and paprika. Knead until the dough comes together. It will be smooth and pliable. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour. You may need to add up to 1 cup more flour depending on the weather, but start slow, only adding a Tbsp or two at a time.
- Divide the dough into 4 equal parts, cover, and let the dough rest for at least 10-15 minutes.
Make the potato filling
- While the dough rests, you can make the potato filling.
Boil the potatoes
- Peel the potatoes if not using Yukon gold, then cut them into halves. If they’re large potatoes, cut them into quarters.
- Place the potatoes in a large soup pot. Fill the soup pot with water so that the potatoes are submerged, and bring to a boil. Boil for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are soft. A fork should easily pass through each potato.
Drain, season, and mash the potatoes
- Drain the potatoes, and put them back in the pot. Now add the butter, milk, mascarpone, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper. With a handheld mixer or a potato masher, mash the potatoes until creamy and mostly smooth.
- Now add the spinach to the potatoes. The potatoes will still be very warm, and the spinach will wilt. Use a spatula to mix the spinach into the potatoes until it’s wilted down and is evenly distributed throughout.
- Potato filling is done, set aside.
Roll out the dough
- Flour a clean workspace. Take 1 section of dough, and roll it out until the dough is about ⅛ of an inch thick.
- Use a 2 cup glass pyrex bowl, or any similar sized bowl, to cut out the dough rounds for the piroshki. You will get about 6-7 piroshki rounds from each of the 4 dough sections.
- (Refer to photo in the article above for this and the following step, if needed.)
Compile the piroshki
- Measure about 1 Tbsp of potato filling onto each piroshki round. Spread the filling so it mostly covers one half of the piroshki dough round. Don’t spread filling too close to the edges of the dough. Doing so will make it difficult to seal the edges when we fold the other half of the dough over the filling.
- Now sprinkle about 1 ½ tsp of cheddar over the potato filling.
- Next, cover the filling with the other half of the dough, pinching the edges together. If the edges don’t adhere, dip you index finger in water, rim the dough edge with water, and crimp the edges again. Using a very small amount of flour with the water can also be helpful.
- Repeat the process of rolling, cutting, and compiling the piroshki with the remaining 3 sections of dough. (You can also freeze the remaining dough for later use.)
Boil the piroshki
- Fill a large soup pot about ⅔ of the way full with water. Bring the water to a boil.
- Carefully lower a few piroshki into the boiling water. I recommend boiling 3-6 piroshki at a time. As soon as they float to the top, cover the pot, lower the heat, and simmer the piroshki for 5 minutes.
- Remove the piroshki from the water with a slotted spoon or fryer skimmer. Pat lightly with a paper towel to remove excess water, then place the boiled piroshki on a baking sheet to dry.
- Repeat the boiling process with the rest of the piroshki.
- At this point, you can fry the piroshki, or freeze them to fry later.
Fry the piroshki
- Add a few Tbsp of canola oil to a skillet, preferably nonstick. Turn the heat to medium, and let the oil warm, about 1 minute.
- Keeping the pan on medium heat, add a few piroshki to the pan, and fry for about 3-5 minutes, until golden brown.
- Flip the piroshki with your spatula, and fry the other side until golden brown, another 3-5 minutes.
- Place the fried piroshki on a plate lined with a paper towel to remove excess oil.
- Repeat the frying processes until all the piroshki have been fried.