Most cuisines have dishes which encase meat and/or vegetables in a dough made of wheat or rice. Many Latin American countries have “empanadas” and the English-speaking Caribbean has curry spiced “roti”. The British have their “pasties”, the French have their “crepes” and the Chinese have their “dumplings”. I am probably missing a lot more.
In Northern Europe, “Piragi” are the most common dish of this type. The recipes vary widely from country to country and there is no agreement on the spelling. You see “pierogi”, “perogi” and “piroshki” and the one we will use, “piragi”. These little meat or vegetable pies are most common in Poland and the Baltic countries of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. My wife’s family is from Latvian and I have been served these little treats during the holidays for many years. Only recently did I start to make them myself.
The recipe below, which makes about 75 little pies, can be easily doubled or tripled if you are preparing for a big party. We have found the recipe useful throughout the year. They make a great hors oeuvre for a cocktail or dinner party. After they are baked, they can be frozen and reheated in an oven. They are a great accompaniment to a glass of wine and the evening news.
Latvian Piragi are made from a rich yeast dough that is filled with ham and onions, brushed with butter and baked in the oven. In many respects, the technique is similar to making Parker House rolls but adding a filling.
Required time: About four hours including time for dough to rise two times. This is not a 30 minute dish!
Yield: About 75 piragi
Ingredients for the dough:
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 Tbsp. yeast
- ¼ cup warm water
- 4 Tbsp. butter (one-half stick), cut into small pats
- 2 eggs
- 2 Tbsp. sugar
- 6 cups of flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
- Heat the milk to near boiling, remove from heat and dissolve pats of butter in the milk
- Let milk cool in a large mixing bowl and then add eggs, sugar and salt. Mix well using an immersion blender or electric beater.
- Add flour and yeast, mix with a wooden spoon and knead by hand until dough becomes warm and smooth.
- Clean the mixing bowl, grease with butter and add the dough. Cover and let rise for about two hours.
Ingredients for the Filling:
- 1-1/2 lbs. ham, finely diced or ground
- 1 large Spanish or yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp. salt and pepper
- Sauté the onions in the olive oil until they just begin to soften, about 2-3 minutes.
- Mix the onions, ham, salt and pepper in a bowl and pack down firmly to compress mixture.
- Melt one stick of butter for brushing
- Grease two baking sheets
- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
- Punch down the risen dough, divide in half and roll out each piece on a floured surface to about 1/4” thickness.
- Using a ruler or other measuring device, cut 2” squares and set aside. You may have to re-roll the edges and scraps. You will have about 75 squares.
- Working on a floured surface, take each square and gently roll to about twice its size.
- Add 1 Tbsp. of filling in the center, fold over and press the edges together with a fork.
- Put piragi on baking sheet leaving enough room for them to rise.
- Cover and let rise for one hour.
- Brush with butter and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
- When done, brush lightly with butter and serve
Although the piragi are best served straight out of the oven, they freeze amazingly well. Let them cool, put them in a zip-lock bag and throw into the freezer. Whenever you want a few, take them out of the bag and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. They will defrost and reheat like magic.