These dal pierogi are plump dumplings stuffed with a blend of turmeric and cumin spiced lentils and creamy mashed potatoes.
If you've been following me on Instagram like, at all, the past couple of months you'll know I've been obsessed with making pierogi. I have a huge bag of them in my freezer (right next to spaghetti sauce and carnitas), ready to go for quick dinners.
Pierogi are hearty and filling and a brilliant way to breathe new life into your leftovers.
You might think my love of pierogi is because I'll always be a Pittsburgher at heart, but my childhood memories of pierogi are the frozen potato-and-cheese filled Mrs. T's brand, usually served pan-fried with some jarred gravy.
Those are good, but I had authentic Polish pierogi on a trip to Poland a few years ago and haven't been able to go back to the pre-made ones since.
It's kind of funny then, that I was in Pittsburgh last year when I first tried dal, a thick Indian soup (stew?) made of lentils. I always assumed I hated lentils, but the comforting warmth and bold flavors of dal have shown me the error of my ways.
If my first incorrect assumption was that I hated lentils, my second was assuming that dal and pierogi were hard to make. I was so sure dal required several spices and seasonings I didn't have in my pantry, and I was so sure my inability to make ravioli would prevent me from succeeding at making pierogi, that I didn't even think to look into either.
Wrong! So wrong!
Last year, I was thrilled to find a handy chart and several super easy recipes for a very basic dal in Indian-ish, Priya Krishna's fantastic cookbook. Aside from the lentils and cumin seeds, I had literally all of the ingredients for the basic dal in my pantry already.
The pink lentils cook quickly with turmeric and a bit of of salt, and are finished with a squeeze of lime juice and fresh cilantro. But it's a condiment called chhonk, made by toasting cumin seeds in hot ghee (or oil) with red chili powder (I use cayenne) and dried red chilis, that takes dal to the next level.
The very first time I made dal at home, I made it as a side dish and it was so good that I can't even remember what our entree was; we had barely finished eating it when we started talking about making dal again. And it was then that Jimmy looked at me and said, "Hey, I bet this would be pretty good in pierogi."
So I learned how to make pierogi. And reader, he was right.
Served with some chhonk-infused caramelized onions and a cool lime-yogurt dipping sauce? You could literally eat dal pierogi for weeks and never get bored. The cumin and mild chili flavors from the chhonk run through the dal pierogi from the dough to the toppings, and the golden turmeric of the lentil potato filling shines whether you pan fry or boil them.
how to make dal pierogi
Please don't be scared by how much detail I'm about to go into here. This is a really simple recipe, but there are four different components — the dough, the filling, the sauce, and the onion topping. They all share similar ingredients and flavors, and the dough and filling can be made in advance, meaning you don't need to make everything at once.
When I make these, usually either the dal or the mashed potatoes are leftovers from a previous meal. But I wrote the recipe and instructions as though you're starting from scratch, because I don't know what you'll be working with. So don't be overwhelmed. You got this.
the basic dal filling
The first thing you need to know is that the filling for dal pierogi can be made in advance — it's easiest to handle right out of the fridge when it's firmed up. It's part mashed potato ("aloo" means potato) and part dal. The dal brings the flavor, while the potatoes add structure.
The second thing you should know is that you can totally adjust the ratio of potatoes to dal to suit your personal taste. I usually do a 60/40 ratio of dal to potato, but if you want more potato and less dal — you do you. I wouldn't go much less than ⅓ potato, because you need to be able to roll the filling in your hands and the dal is too soft on its own.
What matters most is that you end up with enough filling for the amount of dough you're making: about 3 - 3.5 cups.
Before you roll and cut your dough, use a 1 teaspoon measuring spoon to scoop rounds of the filling and roll them into balls in the palms of your hands. Arrange them on a plate or tray and put them in the fridge so they stay firm while you work on the dough.
Listen up: I know 1 teaspoon is going to seem small and you're going to be tempted to make them bigger, but this is one of those times when you need to just trust the recipe. I've found that a touch more than 1 teaspoon is more than enough filling for one pierogi — bigger than that and your pierogi will burst when you cook them.
the pierogi dough
The dough needs a minimum of 1 hour to rest at room temperature before you roll it out, but will stay good in the fridge for up to 72 hours. This dough is an adaptation of Epicurious', though I removed the egg to make it vegan-friendly, and increased the amount of oil and water to make up for it. I've also added cumin and red chili powder to mirror the flavors of the chhonk.
Resting and rolling: Once your dough has rested for at least an hour, divide it in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll and stretch the dough until it's ⅛" thick (approx. 15" across).
Once you get it to about ½" thick, you can stretch it by placing one hand gently in the center of the dough and using your other hand to pick up an edge and gently pull away from the center, letting the dough slip through your fingers as it stretches. Finish by rolling it again to ⅛" thickness all the way across.
how to shape pierogi
To shape pierogi, hold one of the thin circles of dough in your non-dominant hand at the place where your fingers meet your palm. Place a round ball of filling in the center of the dough and gently close your hand to fold it in half.
It will probably look like it's not going to reach, but it will. Use your dominant hand to pinch the dough together at the top of the semicircle. You might need to stretch the dough just a little to get it to meet at the top.
Pinch firmly to seal, then continue gently pinching the dough around the filling on either side until sealed. Finally, you'll flatten the pierogi slightly between your palms to create a half-moon shape.
Arrange the shaped dal pierogi in rows on a baking sheet dusted with rice flour or corn starch (though all purpose flour will work).
To freeze, put the whole sheet tray in the freezer for 20-30 minutes, then transfer the frozen dal pierogi to a large airtight container and return to the freezer.
Some pierogi troubleshooting notes
- If your pierogi dough is too floury, you might need to use a little bit of water to get the dough to stick to itself and seal, but I've found the dough is usually soft, stretchy, and hydrated enough that a firm pinch is all you need. If you do need water, just dip your pinkie finger in a small bowl of water and run it along the edge of the pierogi before pinching.
- If the pierogi filling squishes out while you're pinching, that's okay. Try to push it back in and if you can't, just pinch firmly to seal the dough to itself and push any excess filling out. The important thing is that the dough sticks to itself and seals tightly.
- If you're having trouble getting the dough to meet around the filling when you first fold it in half, you can stretch your dough rounds out a little before adding the filling.
As in the spaghetti post, these prices come from my local mid-priced supermarket.
I make dal so often now that I always have cayenne, chile pods, cumin seeds, and lentils in my pantry, plus I bake and cook a lot so flour and onions are a given, but I included them on the list as though you're buying everything for the first time. Not included on the list are true pantry staples like butter, oil, salt, and pepper.
|Pink / Split-red / Masoor Lentils||$2.29 / 1 lb bag|
|Red chile powder or cayenne||$0.99 / 1.5 oz bag|
|Turmeric||$3.59 / 2 oz bottle|
|(2) Limes ($0.49/ea)||$1.00|
|Dried red chile pods||$1.69 / 2 oz|
|(1) 1lb russet potato ($0.99 / lb)||$1.00|
|Greek yogurt or sour cream (8 oz cup)||$1.50|
|(1) whole onion ($1.49/lb)||$1.12|
|Cumin seeds||$0.99 / .75 oz bag|
|Ground cumin||$3.99 / 7 oz bottle|
|Flour (small bag)||$2.29 / 2 lb bag|
|Fresh cilantro||$0.99 / bunch|
If you're buying everything you need to make ~50 dal pierogi you can expect your grocery bill to be around $20-25. If you have any of these ingredients in your pantry already, even better.
And, because the recipe only calls for small amounts of some of these ingredients, you're not just buying what you need for this recipe, but for future recipes (more dal and chhonk!) as well.
A few quick recipe notes
- My preferred rolling pin — I like this small wooden one that I got at an asian market. It's lightweight and very easy to use.
- A great 2.5" round cutter — I love this set because the cutters fit neatly into the tin and the sizes are clearly listed on the lid. I have one just like it that's color coded but unfortunately, it's been out of stock for a while.
- This very small pot for making chonnk — These pots, often called "butter warmers" are great for easily and quickly toasting spices. I also use mine to poach eggs and when I want to heat up just a small amount of a sauce or soup for lunch.
- These whole cumin seeds ($5.79 for a flat pack with free shipping) — These can be a little tricky to find, but most grocery stores should have them.
- Some dried red chili pods ($5.49 for a 2 oz bag that will last a while) — There's a lot of varieties of dried red chilis out there. I usually use thai or arbol chilis, but any small, whole dried small red chili pod you can find will work fine.
- Pink lentils — aka split red lentils, aka masoor dal. Most grocery stores should have these in stock but, if they don't, you can order them online. Different lentils have different cooking methods so if you really can't find the pink ones, consult Priya's dal cooking chart to adjust your cook time for whichever lentils you do buy.
UPDATE 9/10/2020 — I've added a steaming step to the pan-fry method of cooking pierogi which results in pierogi that are crispy and nicely browned but still soft and tender. It is truly the best way to cook pierogi, imo.
aloo dal pierogi
- ½ cup pink lentils
- 1½ cups water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 2 tablespoon ghee (or olive oil)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- pinch cayenne (or red chile powder)
- 1 dried thai chile pepper (or Arbol chile)
- juice from ½ a lime (approx 2 teaspoon) (save the other half for the yogurt sauce)
- 1 teaspoon fresh cilantro (minced)(or 2 teaspoon dried cilantro)
- 1½ lbs russet potatoes (or 1½ cups mashed potatoes)
- 360 grams all purpose flour (3 cups)(plus more for dusting)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne (or red chile powder)
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup water (you might need an extra ½ tablespoon)
Onion topping and yogurt sauce
- 1 white or yellow onion (cut in half, ends removed, and sliced lengthwise)
- 8 tablespoon butter (olive oil if you're vegan)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- pinch cayenne
- 1 cup plain greek yogurt (or sour cream)
- juice from ½ a lime (approx 2 teaspoon)
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon fresh cilantro (minced)
- Mix flour, salt, ground cumin, and chili powder together in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour. Pour water and oil into the center of the well.
- Use a fork to begin whisking the water and oil together, slowly incorporating flour from the sides to create a thick doughy mixture.
- When the dough has formed a thick paste, switch to a large wooden spoon or attach the bowl to your electric mixer with dough hook attachment on a low speed. Continue stirring or mixing until all the flour has incorporated and a soft dough has formed.If the dough seems dry, add an additional 1 teaspoon water.
- If kneading by hand: Turn the soft dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead with your hands (folding over itself, rotating 90 degrees, folding over, rotating 90 degrees, repeat) and dust with flour as needed until the dough is smooth and elastic.If using a dough hook: Increase the speed to just below medium and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. If the dough sticks to the side of the bowl, scrape it down and gently dust in a bit more flour until a smooth, elastic dough forms.Tuck the dough into a ball and let rest, covered, at room temperature for 1 hour.
- If making pierogi right away proceed, proceed to making the filling. If not making pierogi right away, the dough will stay good up to 3 days in the fridge in an airtight container or wrapped in plastic.
Aloo dal filling
- Mash your potatoes: If using instant mashed potatoes, follow package directions. If using whole russet potatoes, pierce them 5x on each side with a fork. Place in a shallow bowl of water, microwave for 5 minutes, flip carefully, add more water if needed, and microwave 5 more minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove skin and mash with a fork. Set aside.
- Make the dal: Add lentils, salt, and turmeric to a pot with 1.5 cups of water. Bring to a vigorous boil. Stir gently to prevent lentils from sticking to the bottom. Reduce heat to medium high and let the lentils cook for 4-6 minutes. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon lime juice.
- Make your chhonk: Heat 2 tablespoon oil or ghee until shimmering in a very small pot on the stove. Add 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (they should almost immediately start fizzing and popping in the oil), pinch of red chili powder, and whole dried red chile. Swirl and stir until very fragrant and toasted. DO NOT WALK AWAY! The cumin seeds burn easily.After 30-40 seconds of fizzing, pour the chhonk directly from the small pot into the dal and stir to combine.
- Add dal to mashed potatoes in a mixing bowl and continue mashing and mixing until smooth. You should have approximately 3-3.5 cups of dal/potato mixture. Stir in cilantro, and adjust salt and pepper to taste.Refrigerate until ready to shape.
- Use a 1 teaspoon measuring spoon to scoop portions of the chilled dal filling and roll them into balls in the palms of your hands. Refrigerate the filling until ready to form pierogi.
- Divide your pierogi dough in half and cover whichever half you aren’t using. On a lightly floured surface, roll and stretch your dough to about ⅛″ thickness. Use a 2½″ (2.5″) circular cutter to cut as many rounds of dough out as you can. Save any scraps to re-roll later.
- Lightly dust a sheet pan with with flour or corn starch. You’ll put your shaped pierogi here once they’re done. The flour helps keep them from sticking to the pan and to each other.
- Take one circle of dough and hold it in the palm of your non-dominant hand. Place a ball of dal filling in the center, and cup your hand to fold the dough in half around it. Use your dominant hand to pinch the dough together at the top. You may need to stretch the dough just slightly to get it to meet at the top, but it should be soft enough that it stretches easily. Continue pinching firmly down each side of the pierogi around the filling to seal.
- Turn the pierogi on its side and gently flatten between your palms to encourage the filling to spread into any gaps, and pinch the seams again to make sure they’re secure and there are no air pockets inside.
- Repeat with the rest of the dough and rest of the filling, working in batches if you need to.
- Place the finished pierogi in rows on the sheet pan. They can touch slightly, but if you’re planning on freezing them don’t let them overlap too much or they’ll stick to each other. If not cooking immediately, freeze on the sheet tray for 20-30 minutes before transferring to an airtight container and returning to the freezer.
The onion topping & yogurt dipping sauce
- Onion topping: Melt butter in a small or medium sauce pan over low-to-medium heat. As soon as the butter is melted, add of the onions and stir to coat.Cook the onions over low-to-medium heat for 20-30 minutes until soft and golden brown. Stir more frequently the longer they’ve been cooking.About halfway through the cook time, add the cumin seeds, pinch of cayenne, a pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper.
- Yogurt sauce: In a separate small bowl, combine greek yogurt or sour cream with ground cumin, salt, cayenne, pepper, cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice. Stir to combine and adjust seasoning to taste.
- To pan fry: Heat 2-3 tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add desired number of pierogi, taking care not to crowd the pan. Cook 1 minute per side until just lightly golden brown. Then, add ⅛ cup of water to the pan and cover immediately with a lid to steam for 2-3 minutes. Serve with onion topping.
- To boil: Bring a large sauce pot of generously salted water to a rolling boil. Gently drop desired number of pierogi in (again, taking care not to crowd the pot). When pierogi begin to float up from the bottom, set timer for 5 minutes and reduce heat to a low medium. Use a slotted spoon to transfer cooked pierogi to serving platter or bowls and top with onion mixture.
- Serve with dollops of yogurt sauce, a garnish of chopped cilantro, and lime wedges.
- Priya recommends leaving a wooden spoon inserted in the pot of dal to break the surface tension and prevent the pot from boiling over but this has never worked for me, so keep an eye on it so it doesn’t boil over!
- When you shape the filling 1 teaspoon is going to feel small but it is more than enough. Resist the urge to make them bigger than this!
- The instructions for cooking are the same whether you’re cooking pierogi from frozen or fresh — fresh ones will cook just a tiny bit faster, so consider shortening the cook time by 1 minute.
- For the purposes of this recipe, I’ve cut Priya’s basic masoor (pink) dal recipe in half, but if you wanted to make the full recipe and reserve half of it for the pierogi and half of it to eat right then and there, honestly… that’s exactly what I usually do. Go for it.