I'm here today to prove that cheap meals can be high quality. Do you, like me, love carbs on carbs on carbs? Do you have 4+ hours to kill today? Does the idea of making a big batch recipe that can freeze for 6 months and provide you with a host of quick meals for days to come appeal to you? And would you be pumped if the 12+ meals cost you about $15 total? If you answered yes to all of the above, then this first recipe is for you. (If not, skip ahead to the Scallion Pancake recipe for a less time intensive yet equally delicious and cheap meal.)
My Mom’s Mom, Babcia (Polish for Grandma) introduced us kids to pierogi when we were very young. If you’re unfamiliar with pierogi, they are Polish dumplings and they are delicious. “Bop” would serve them at every Christmas dinner, and sometimes, if we were good, we’d get them for snacks when we’d go visit her. While the process is pretty time intensive and would benefit from an assembly line, I was able to knock the whole recipe out myself (because quarantine). If you have some helpers at home, you could likely finish these a little faster than my 4.5 hour time.
Anyway, while flipping through Good and Cheap, one of my favorite cookbooks these days for many reasons*, I saw a recipe for pierogi and decided it was time to try my hand at making them and hopefully do my heritage proud. While I didn’t follow Leanne’s recipe to a T (partially due to the ingredients I had on hand, and partially due to my memories of how Bop’s used to taste), I owe her a debt of gratitude for inspiring me to take a shot at making them myself.
If you, like me, have a glut of time on your hands right now and are doing your best to make meals that are delicious and inexpensive, please do yourself a favor and make these. They're cheesy and starchy, creamy and crispy, filled with flavor and quite filling to boot. They’re the bee’s knees.
And in case you’re short on time, I’ve also included another SUPER CHEAP recipe for scallion pancakes. These have always been a favorite Chinese appetizer of mine, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to recreate them. Turns out, they’re not nearly as hard to make as you might think from the instructions, and they are incredibly delicious. Are you sensing a theme here? They make deliciously cheap meals!
And, if you have started regrowing your scallions from scraps, they're even cheaper than the $1.25/serving I estimate using average Nashville prices. (Seriously y’all. Try regrowing them, even just in water. It’s INSANE. Nature is neat.) While the recipe does take about an hour start to finish, keep in mind that half of that time is spent letting the dough (and you) rest.
The pancakes are crispy, laminated, savory bits of goodness served with a tangy dipping sauce. While I used to eat these as an appetizer, I certainly didn’t mind eating a whole plateful as my meal. Joe didn’t seem to mind it either! In fact, he said he would happily eat them every day of his life. I’m not sure I agree (because there are just so dang many delicious things to eat!), but I can assure you I was very sad when my plate was empty.
I highly recommend you try these out yourselves. You’ve got nothing to lose and all the tastiness to gain! And if you want a truly outrageous cheap meal, follow Wilson Tang's lead and turn these into buns for your hot dogs. I know I'm going to. Till next time friends, I wish you good eats.
Potato and Cheese Pierogi with Caramelized Onions
Potato, Cheese and Caramelized Onion Filling
- 2 lb Potatoes of Choice peeled and boiled till fork tender
- 2 C Shredded Cheese of Choice (I used TJ's Quattro Fromaggio mix)
- 2 C Caramelized Onions* (see recipe note)
- 2 tablespoon Dijon Mustard (optional)
- 1 teaspoon Dried Thyme (optional)
- 1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (optional)
- 1 teaspoon Smoked Hot Paprika (optional)
- 4 Scallions, Chopped (optional)
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- In a large bowl, combine, AP flour and salt. Make a well in the middle and slowly add in eggs and water.Mix until a smooth dough forms - it will be relatively sticky. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let rest while you make your filling.
- In a separate large bowl, combine remaining ingredients.
- Split dough in half, keeping one half covered in the bowl. Liberally flour your sparkling countertops and place the dough in the center. Using a floured rolling pin, roll dough outwards, spinning frequently to make sure it’s not getting stuck on the counter. Apply more flour to your surface as necessary. The dough should be about ⅛” thick.
- Using a roughly 3” biscuit cutter, round cookie cutter, mason jar lid or even a cup, cut as many rounds from your dough as possible, saving the scrap dough to re-roll with the resting half.
- Scoop out about a tablespoon of your filling and put it in the center of a round. Fold the dough around the filling, creating a half moon shape. Pinch the edges sealed, being sure to keep the filling inside. Then use a fork to crimp the edges shut.Lay the completed pierogi on a large plate or cookie sheet, using a tea towel to keep them covered. Don’t make the mistake that I did and lay completed pierogi on top of each other or they will stick together and potentially pull apart all of your hard work. Use parchment or another tea towel to start a new layer as needed.Repeat steps rolling, filling and crimping until all of your dough is gone.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and add enough salt to make the water taste like the ocean. In batches of about 12, add your pierogi to the boiling water, stirring occasionally, until they rise to the top (1-3 minutes). Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, remove boiled pierogi and put on another plate or cookie sheet. Continue until all pierogi are boiled. Once pierogi are cool, you can portion them out into freezer bags, removing as much air as possible from the bags. Label and date them before freezing. They will easily last 6 months, and you can pan fry them directly from frozen.
- Heat a medium-large saucepan (depending on how many you’re making) over medium heat. For 12 pierogi, I added in about a tablespoon of butter. When the butter begins to bubble, add your pierogi. Cook until golden brown, then flip and cook until the other side is equally golden and delicious.
- Serve with a drizzle of melted, salted butter, a dollop of greek yogurt (or sour cream, traditionally), and a handful of scallions, chopped.Enjoy every carb-y moment. You earned it.
- Frozen pierogi can last for up to 6 months in the freezer.
- Boiled pierogi will last for about a week in the fridge.
- In order to fully release all of the flavors of your onions, I highly recommend caramelizing them until they are a deep brown. I started with 8 Yellow Onions, sliced thinly. In a dutch oven, I melted 3 tablespoon butter over medium heat until just bubbling, then added the onions and several big pinches of kosher salt. Stir occasionally, letting the natural sugars of the onions caramelize, first to a lovely golden brown, and then, if you’re patient, to the coveted dark rich hue of cooked bacon. (Any leftovers can be frozen for up to 3 months!)
Chinese Scallion Pancakes
- In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade, add flour and salt.With the processor running, slowly drizzle in ¾ C boiling water.Process for 10-15 seconds, until dough forms a ball that rides around the center of the processor. If your dough doesn’t come together, add 1 tablespoon boiling water at a time until it only just comes together.Transfer to a floured work surface (I use my big cutting board here for easier cleanup) and knead a few times until dough is smooth. If your dough feels too sticky, sprinkle flour on top of the dough and work it in. Try not to overwork the dough, stopping kneading as soon as possible. Shape into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, covering with either a damp towel, plastic wrap, or bee’s wrap being careful to keep the moisture in. Rest 30 minutes, or up to overnight.
- Make sauce by combining soy sauce or tamari, rice vinegar, 2 tablespoon scallions, fresh ginger, agave, and sesame seeds.Set sauce aside at room temperature.
- Divide dough into 4 equal pieces, shaping each into a smooth, round ball. Keep any pieces you aren’t working with covered until you need them. On a floured work surface, roll out the ball in a circle until about ⅛” thick, or about 8” in diameter. Using a pastry brush, brush a thin layer of toasted sesame oil across the top. Roll into a cigar shape, keeping the roll as tight as possible. Now roll into a nautilus shell shape, tucking the tail underneath.
- Squish the shell gently with the palm of your hand and then roll it out with a rolling pin to the same thickness as before. Brush with another thin layer of toasted sesame oil. Sprinkle with ¼ remaining chopped scallions. Roll into a cigar shape, keeping the roll as tight as possible. Now roll into a nautilus shell shape, tucking the tail underneath. Squish the shell gently with the palm of your hand and then roll it out with a rolling pin to the same thickness as before. One pancake down! Repeat with the remaining 3 pancakes.
- Heat ¼ C neutral (vegetable, grapeseed, canola, peanut) oil in a cast iron or nonstick pan over medium high heat (if your stovetop is like mine and basically has three temperatures, I’d stick to the medium side) until shimmering. Add one pancake, gently shaking the pan back and forth so it doesn’t stick. When golden brown, flip it and cook until golden brown on the second side. Remove pancake to paper-towel lined plate to drain excess oil, then sprinkle with salt while still hot. Repeat with all pancakes.
- Slice into quarters and EAT WHILE THEY’RE STILL HOT, dipping into sauce for all that flavor. Enjoy!
- If soy isn't part of your diet, try swapping in either coconut aminos or Bragg's liquid aminos instead.
- Scallion pancakes can be made ahead and frozen for up to 3 months. To reheat, lightly pan-fry in a small amount of oil.
*Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown is a cookbook designed to inspire delicious meals on the average SNAP (a.k.a. food stamp) budget of $4 per person per day. That’s right, each meal gets about $1.40 of assistance, if you’re trying to eat 3 squares a day. Can you imagine feeding your family on a budget that tight for all of your meals? Leanne Brown could. Best of all, for each copy of her book that is purchased, one is donated to a SNAP family. The recipes are awesomely diverse, use a lot of pantry ingredients, and like the title promises, makes good food cheap. As we reel from the current economic situation, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking to slash their food budget while keeping their family nourished and not even remotely culinarily bored.