One of the most popular Polish comfort foods steps onto the grand culinary stage this weekend in Northwest Indiana.
Food fans should ready their palates as Pierogi Fest rolls into Whiting from Friday through Sunday. The 18th annual celebration of all things pierogi will be teeming with pounds of the doughy favorite as well as live entertainment, family activities, contests and the famous Pierogi Parade kicking off the fest at 7 p.m. Friday.
Sarah Hildebranski, executive director of The Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce, said the fest continues to grow in attendance every year. In 2011, 250,000 food lovers visited Whiting during the three-day event. Hildebranski said she expects just as many if not more people this year.
"We get a lot of calls from people from all over the country who plan their vacations around festivals," she said.
For Hildebranski, there's just something about the delightful dumpling that draws food lovers.
"There are a lot of different ways you can make them," Hildebranski said, referring to the techniques of either boiling, frying, sauteing or baking the popular pocket. "So people have options."
And if anyone is in a quandary about what flavors to pack them with, Hildebranski said there's nothing wrong with experimenting.
Think of a pierogi as a blank food canvas in a sense.
"In effect, you can put anything in a pierogi," she said.
The company Mrs. T's Pierogies is a good example of that way of thinking. On the company's website (www.pierogies.com) there are a variety of examples of inventive recipes using the pierogi as a key ingredient.
In Mr.s T's kitchen, pierogies go beyond just the potato, cheese or sauerkraut renditions and get everything from a Mediterranean or Asian to Latin and French touches.
Home cooks also looking for additional recipes and more information about pierogis can check out the website www.pierogies.net for a wealth of information on how to cook them, assorted recipes, ways to stuff them and other tips.
During Pierogi Fest this year, attendees can sample the tasty dumpling from a variety of booths. Hildebranski said they've booked 72 food vendors, including 20 pierogi vendors, which is the most they've had at the event.
"There'll be other food too," she said, adding that everything from hot dogs, pizza, Polish sausage and fair food such as elephant ears, to Mexican fare, Italian dishes and lots more will be part of the mix.
"And this year's theme is the 'Year of the Halupki' so we're having a Halupki Cook-off," she said.
The Halupki (stuffed cabbage) Cook-off is 6 p.m. Saturday and is open to both vendors and the general public.
On Sunday, there will also be a pierogi-eating contest at 3:30 p.m. and a pierogi toss at 3 p.m.
Hildebranski, who grew up in Whiting, has attended the fest often throughout her life. But, after stepping into the role of executive director of the chamber just last year, the 2011 Pierogi Fest was Hildebranski's "baptism by fire" in the planning role of the popular event.
"It was a little overwhelming but we have a really great staff so it made it easier," she said.
Hildebranski said she's proud of Whiting's place on the popular culture/ food map.
"Whiting is a small and close community. And the fact that people around the world are seeing Whiting and it's known for something quite crazy I think is amazing," she said.
Home cooks who'd like to try their hand at some innovative pierogi recipes can easily turn out tasty creations by whipping up the following recipes.
Effortless Chicken and Dumplings
1 (16-ounce) package frozen Mrs. T’s pierogies
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 (12-ounce) jar roasted turkey gravy
1 cup mixed frozen vegetables
DIRECTIONS: Boil pierogies as package directs. Drain. Meanwhile, heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat; add chicken pieces; cook until well-browned on all sides, stirring occasionally. Add turkey gravy and mixed vegetables; heat to boiling, over high heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer 5 minutes until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in pierogies; heat through.
Makes 4 servings.
Pierogies Cordon Blue
1 (16-ounce) package frozen Mrs. T’s Pierogies
4 ounces sliced cooked ham
4 ounces sliced Swiss cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 bunch asparagus
DIRECTIONS: Saute pierogies as package directs. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut each slice of ham and Swiss cheese in half. Wrap each pierogi with a slice of ham and then cheese. Place wrapped pierogies, seam-side down in shallow baking dish. Bake 20 minutes or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Meanwhile, steam asparagus. Serve pierogies with asparagus.
Makes 4 servings.
Polish Shepherd's Pie
1 (16-ounce) box Mrs. T’s potato and cheddar pierogies
1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (10-ounce) package frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil pierogies as box directs. Cook ground beef in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, until well browned on all sides, stirring occasionally. Remove beef to medium bowl with slotted spoon. Add onions and garlic to drippings remaining in skillet; cook 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Add diced tomatoes with their liquid, salt, oregano, black pepper and ground meat mixture. Heat to boiling over high heat; simmer, uncovered, about 5 minutes to blend flavors. Stir in vegetables. Grease 2-quart casserole or baking dish. Spoon beef mixture into casserole. Sprinkle with cup Cheddar cheese; top with cooked pierogies, placed in rows. Sprinkle with remaining Cheddar cheese. Bake 30 minutes or until cheese is melted and mixture is hot and bubbly.
Makes 6 servings.
Source:: Mrs. T's Pierogies