Cherry vareniki (half-moon-shaped dumplings) in Ukraine are typically made with sour cherries, known as vishnya. They are nostalgic for many from the region — including my family — and were famously novelist Nikolai Gogol’s favorite food.
My family immigrated from Soviet Ukraine to Seattle, and after almost a decade of building a new life in America, my parents were able to buy their first home. It had an enormous garden, with an established cherry tree. Soon after moving, when I was a very small child, my grandparents came to visit us from out of town. That summer, the cherry tree was loaded with fruit. I vividly remember picking glossy, red cherries off the tree with my grandmother and brother by my side. There was more fruit than could be eaten fresh, and my grandmother decided to use some of the harvest to make a large batch of cherry vareniki. We sat outside and ate bowls of the dumplings – pillowy and bursting with tart, sweet fruit.
Vareniki are similar to pierogi or pelmeni; the dough is tender and soft, and the filling is only lightly sweetened so that the flavor of the fruit shines. This dish straddles the line between sweet and savory; topped with smetana (sour cream), one can eat cherry vareniki either as a main course or as a dessert. When using sour cherries, I eat my vareniki as a savory dish; you can get sour cherries fresh for a few weeks each year, otherwise I pick them up frozen or preserved from Eastern European or Russian markets. When I fill the vareniki with Bing or Rainier cherries, I enjoy these dumplings as a sweet treat.
I love to serve cherry vareniki with a simple cherry sauce made from the extra filling, topped with big dollops of sour cream to balance out the sweetness. Like any kind of homemade dumpling or ravioli, vareniki take some effort to make, but are unquestionably worth the work. They’re ideal to make with a group of friends. This recipe makes about 50 vareniki, but you can double or even triple the recipe as needed.
- Vareniki freeze extraordinarily well, offering a way to preserve the best of fleeting cherry season for future bowls of sweet dumplings. Freeze uncooked in a single layer, then transfer them to a bag or airtight container for three months.
For the dough:
- 3 cups + 2 Tbsp (400 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting or as needed
- ¾ cup water
- 2 Tbsp sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 tsp kosher salt
For the filling and sauce:
- 1½ lb (680 g) cherries or sour cherries
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- juice of ½ a lemon
- sour cream, for serving
- Start by making your dough: In a large bowl, combine the 3 cups of flour, water, sour cream, egg and salt. Mix until a shaggy dough forms, then transfer to a clean surface and knead until very soft, smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. If the dough is very sticky, add additional flour 1 Tbsp at a time until it’s easy to knead and doesn’t stick to your hands.
- You can also make this dough in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment by adding all of the ingredients to the bowl, and mixing on the lowest speed until a shaggy dough forms. Turn up the speed to medium-low, and mix until smooth and soft, about 4-5 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to a bowl and cover it with a lid or plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
- While the dough is resting, start on your filling. Wash, dry and pit all of your cherries. If using a cherry pitter, cut the cherry in half after removing the pit. Add the cherries to a bowl with ½ cup of sugar, and let them sit and start to release their juices for a minimum of 30 minutes, or as the dough rests.
- Once your dough has rested for an hour and your cherries have been sitting for at least 30 minutes, you can begin shaping your vareniki.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment, and heavily dust it with flour.
- Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Liberally dust both your rolling pin and your surface with flour. Roll out each piece of dough very thin, almost as thin as pasta; if you lift it up the dough, light should come through it.
- Cut out 2-inch rounds of dough using a water glass or biscuit cutter, lightly flour the rim of the glass or cutter before making rounds. Gather up the scraps into a ball and reserve to re-roll the dough one time, after that discard any scraps. Fill each round of dough with about a teaspoon of cherry, about 1-1½ cherries. Seal the dumplings into half-moon shapes, if needed dab the edges with water to help it stick, but the dough should be sticky enough to press together on its own. Using the tines of a fork, press the edges of the dough to ensure they’re properly sealed.
- Transfer the formed dumplings onto the lined baking sheet. Reserve any remaining cherries for sauce. Repeat the process until you have used up all of the dough, and then place the dumplings in the freezer for a minimum of 15 minutes before cooking. While your vareniki are in the freezer you can bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- While the water is coming to a boil, add the remaining cherries to a small pot. Bring the cherry mixture up to a boil, lower the heat and simmer the cherries for 10-15 minutes or until they are very soft and broken down. In a small bowl, combine 1 tsp of cornstarch with the juice of half a lemon. At the end of cooking the cherries, add the starch slurry, and simmer for an additional minute or until just thickened. If the sauce thickens too much, you can always thin it with water.
- Add vareniki, in batches if needed, to the pot of water (be careful not to overfill). Once the vareniki float to the top, simmer them for an additional 5 minutes. If using frozen vareniki, it may take a few minutes longer for them to float to the top. Remove the vareniki from the pot and serve immediately.
- Top the vareniki with sour cream and cherry sauce.