Very Varenyky--Cooking in Ukraine

Growing up in the heart of German Mennonite country in central Kansas (as well as having a husband who is of Mennonite heritage), I'm no stranger to homemade glorious filled dumplings.  In my neck of the woods, they're called varenika.  They're stuffed with cottage cheese and smothered in ham gravy, and are well worth the time and work it makes to prepare them (and they are pretty time consuming at that!).

Of course, the origin of these tasty treasures is in Ukraine, where the Mennonites took up residence after fleeing from persecution in the Netherlands and Switzerland in the 1700s (only to later cross the pond and arrive in the Sunflower State in the 1870s).  Thinking I knew everything I needed to know about the stuff, I instead got schooled pretty quickly about this proud Ukrainian dish.  For one, they are known as вареники (varenyky) here.  Second, they can be stuffed with a variety of fillings from cheese, potatoes, and cabbage, to cherries and berries.  Thirdly, ham gravy?  What ham gravy?  Finally, compared with the Mennonite version back on the plains of Kansas, they are quite simple to make.  

While living in Ukraine, I was invited by my Russian teacher, Nadia, and her friend Ira to try my hand at them (although, admittedly, I spent a bit more time taking blog pics than actually helping out.  Details):

Fresh sheep cheese from the local market is my favorite filling!  We also made ones with капуста (cooked cabbage):

Lovely ladies and varenyky masters:

Whereas I can usually only gorge on about 3 or 4 varenika at a time back home, Ukrainian varenky are much smaller (and aren't flooded by a sea of ham gravy...which is actually just a little bit disappointing):

After filling and pinching, just drop them into boiling water with a little oil for about 8 minutes...

And voilà!

The perfect comfort food in a comfort-food based society!  And while Ukraine tends to always be in some kind of argument with its giant neighbor to the east over things such as gas lines, NATO, land, and which country truly invented borscht, even the Russians themselves will admit that Ukraine has a pretty good thing going with the awesomeness that is varenyky.