The recipe I’m going to share is Varenyky. That’s the Ukrainian name for them, but they’re also called pierogis or dumplings, and you can buy them in any supermarket. I picked this because growing up in Queens, my best friend’s family was Ukrainian. And we went there quite often, and currently with the war going on, it just brought back a lot of different feelings.
I recently found out that my grandmother was from there—from Ukraine. I didn’t even know that because it was part of a different country.
It’s a very flexible dish to make because you can make it sweet or savory. Kind of like JJ’s [Salami and Eggs] —anybody can make it. You can make it gluten-free, or you can make it with flour. You can make it vegan or vegetarian, or you can add meat to it.
You boil the potatoes, or you make whatever your stuffing is and then you roll it out. So you’re using a lot of different senses. And it doesn’t have to be perfect— the shapes don’t have to be perfect. You could be creative and pick a glass to make the shape or a cookie cutter.
But it reminds me of when I was a kid. It reminds me of family. It reminds me of different cultures. You know, when I think about Queens, I think about how on your block could be 20 different kinds of people and you just didn’t think twice about it. But that is not something that’s everywhere. And so it reminds me of growing up.
When COVID started, we could not celebrate one of the holidays together. And at the time, my son was living in San Francisco. My daughter was living someplace else. And what I said was, “Let’s all make something that reminds you of growing up, a meal that we all ate together, or a meal that matters to you. But don’t tell each other what you’re making. Just make something and then we’ll get on Zoom at a certain time, and we’ll eat together, but we’ll share what we made.”
And everyone made pierogies and broccoli rabe! Some people had different things along with it, but everybody had those two things. You know, it gives me the chills — you don’t realize what your kids are remembering, but certain things just really stick with people. And this was one of them.