~Slovak Grated Potato & Onion Dumplings (Haluski)~
Potatoes have been a staple in the Eastern European diet for centuries. When Columbus discovered potatoes on Hispaniola (an Island in the Caribbean), he could never have imagined how they would eventually revolutionize eating habits globally. In the harsh, unforgiving climates of Eastern Europe in particular, the starchy potato got cooked and used in every imaginable way -- it literally saved generations from starvation. In the process of creating a long list of delectable potato dishes, these resourceful people experimented with their "exotic" tuber and found they could make vodka (an alcoholic beverage), potato starch (similar to corn starch), confectioners' syrup (similar to corn syrup), and, hog feed (similar to corn feed) too.
When the Eastern Europeans (like two of my great-grandparents and three of my grandparents) came to America, their potato recipes came with them. Four generations later, I got to grow up glibly eating all sorts of amazing potato dishes -- the thought of them as peasant food served for sustenance never once entered my mind. Haluski is an example. When my mom made them, they were a special treat to go with our meat and vegetables -- hard for a kid to imagine they were once served as a stick-to-your-ribs meal because there was nothing else in the larder to eat. I especially enjoyed leftovers reheated in a frying pan the next day for lunch.
Slovak haluski differ from Polish haluski. Both are Eastern European but:
While both are classic Eastern European potato dishes, and both are generically referred to as "haluski" (ha-loosh-key), the Slovaks and the Poles will tell you in stereo that both dishes, while decidedly delicious, are distinctly different. Slovak haluski are dumplings prepared with grated raw potatoes, sometimes grated onion, flour, eggs salt and pepper. The freeform dumplings are dropped from a spoon into boiling water to cook, drained and dressed with butter and onions or bacon and chives and sometimes a bit of crumbled Farmer's cheese.
Polish haluski is a dish of butter-braised shredded or chopped green cabbage, onions, salt and pepper combined at the end with potato dumplings (which are often made from cooked and mashed potatoes rather than raw grated potatoes), or (as the dish became Americanized), al dente cooked and drained 1/2" wide egg noodles. Dumplings or noodles, the choice is yours.
Making my sautéed butter and onion "dressing".
Contrary to popular belief, not everything tastes better with bacon. The choice is yours but I much prefer butter and onions to dress my dumplings over bacon and chives. Bacon and chives are very popular (some folks crumble some Farmer's cheese over the top too), but, for my taste, the smokey bacon just masques the flavor of the dumplings. Butter and onions, on the other hand, which enrobes and slowly soaks into the dumplings, enhances the flavor.
8 ounces salted butter (2 sticks)
2 cups finely-diced onion
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Note: This will yield 2 cups of "dressing". While it sounds like a lot of cholesterol and calories, a little does go a long way. It dresses a lot of haluski, which no one has ever claimed to be lo-cal diet food.
Remove from heat, cover and set aside while preparing the dumplings as directed below. Briefly reheat dressing prior to tossing with cooked haluski.
Making my potato & onion dumplings.
Everyone makes these a bit differently, but, one thing everyone does: after the potatoes are grated, as much liquid as possible needs to be removed from them. If you add grated onion, the same is true for them. Some folks use a kitchen towel or cheesecloth. I simply wrap them up in paper towels and squeeze until I've removed as much liquid as I can. There's more. I gave up on the traditionally used hand-held box grater and/oror food mill a long time ago. In the case of haluski, yes, you can successfully use your food processor to make short work of pulverizing them (instead of grating them), if, you read and follow my instructions carefully. Be brave:
4-6 ounces onion, about 1/2 of a medium-sized onion
2 large eggs
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
~Step 1. Break eggs into a medium bowl and add the sea salt and white pepper. Using a fork, whisk the salt and pepper into the eggs and set aside. Chop onion into chunks, place in work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, and, using a series of 30-35 on-off pulses, process to small bits and pieces -- not a smooth purée. Using a large rubber spatula, transfer onions to a shallow bowl lined with 5-6 layers of paper towels. Gather the paper up around onions and firmly squeeze, to release as much moisture as possible. Stir the onions into the beaten eggs. Discard paper towels and liquid.
~Step 2. Peel the potatoes and chop them into 3/4"-1" pieces. Depending on the size of your food processor, in two-three batches (it is important not to overcrowd the work bowl), place a batch of potatoes in work bowl of food processor fitted with a steel blade. Using a series of 30-35 on-off pulses, process to small bits and pieces -- not a smooth purée. With each batch, using a large rubber spatula, transfer the potatoes to a shallow bowl (use the same one from the onions) lined with 5-6 layers of paper towels. Gather the paper up around the potatoes and firmly squeeze, to release as much moisture as possible. With each batch, add and stir the potatoes into the onion/egg mixture, discarding the paper towels and the liquid. Add the flour, in 2-3 increments, using the rubber spatula to thoroughly fold and stir until a sticky dough-like mixture forms. Set aside for about 5-10 minutes, to allow the gluten in the flour to absorb any excess moisture.
~Step 3. While potato mixture is resting, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil in an 8-quart stockpot and add 1 tablespoon of sea salt. Return butter and onion "dressing" to low heat and briefly reheat without returning it to a simmer. Remove from heat and set dressing aside.
Tip from Mel before cooking: It is important to keep all of the haluski even-sized, so they all cook evenly. Before starting, I always cook one as a test for time and texture. If the test dumpling does not hold together properly (this can happen if you haven't squeezed enough of excess liquid from the potatoes and/or onion), stir in another tablespoon or two or three of flour.
When water comes to a boil, in well-rounded tablespoonfuls, using the aid of your index finger, drop rounded tablespoonfuls of dough into the boiling water. I do this in batches of 8-12, as it's important to keep the water boiling while giving the haluski plenty of space to swim. Within the first 30-45 seconds, if any haluski have not floated to the top, gently loosen them with the aid of a long-handled spatula (they won't be stuck, they just need a nudge). Cook 8-9 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, thoroughly drain and transer to a large bowl. Ladle just enough "dressing" over the top to lightly coat. Repeat this process until all haluski are cooked and dressed. Using the large rubber spatula, gently stir and serve immediately.
Speical Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 2-quart saucepan w/lid; vegetable peeler; food processor; paper towels; fork; large rubber spatula; wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot; ordinary tablespoon; long-handled spatula; large slotted spoon or Asian spider
Cook's Note: There are many ways to make dumplings, and to learn how to make another classic Eastern European potato-free dumpling, click into Category 4, 12, 19 or 20 to get my recipe for ~ Hungarian Galuska (Small Soft Eggy Dumplings) ~.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016