Uszka with clear barszcz (beetroot soup) is the stuff that many Poles look forward to on Christmas Eve. What are uszka? Translated into English, ‘uszka’ mean ‘little ears’, not an especially appetising description of these lovable dumplings, I’d say.
Uszka are tiny dumplings filled with wild mushrooms, that are traditionally eaten with clear beetroot soup on Christmas Eve’s dinner (Wigilia) in Poland. The sweet, velvety taste of beetroots highlights the earthy, deep flavour of wild mushrooms in a way that is quite unforgettable.
I see uszka as an act of love. Making them is a lengthy and elaborate affair, that starts from preparing the mushroom filling (for which hand-picked wild mushrooms are often used), a few-step process itself, then making a pierogi dough, and finally – wrapping the filling into the thinly-rolled dough, thus creating teeny tiny dumplings that are nothing short of being masterpieces.
What is bewildering for me is that even now, when ready-made uszka are widely available in supermarkets, there are still many households in Poland where uszka are made from scratch. And, similarly to kimchi mandoo that are eaten in Korea to celebrate the beginning of a New Year – they are only prepared once a year here, on Christmas Eve.
Seeing my Mum, my Nan, my aunties, and now my sister and friends, undertaking an (uneasy!) task of uszka preparation, regardless of their culinary skill or feelings towards pierogi making, reassures me that world cannot be such a bad place. As long as there are people who care enough to commit a good few hours of their time to prepare foods that, apart from sustenance, are there to bring smiles on the faces of their loved ones, the life is worth living.
This year, I happened to be the one appointed to prepare enough uszka to feed five adults and two kids on Christmas Eve, and I found myself stressing about the responsibility of such an important task. After messaging my Mum, however, with a request for a recipe for uszka filling – I was reassured. I hoped, however, that my version of uszka will live up to everyone’s expectations of the flavours of Wigilia. And it was exciting. It had finally started to feel like Christmas.
USZKA AKA TINY DUMPLINGS WITH WILD MUSHROOMS
for the dough (same as pierogi)
pinch of salt
drop of oil (not necessary but helpful)
for the filling
dried wild mushrooms, soaked overnight
1 onion, finely chopped
1-2 tbsp butter
HOW TO MAKE?
1. Boil the mushrooms with a pinch of salt, few peppercorns and a bay leaf. When boiled, drain and set aside.
2. Fry the onion with butter until translucent and fragrant.
3. Prepare the meat mincer. Mince the mushrooms and fried onion, mix together in a bowl. Season to taste.
4. I recommend making the filling a day ahead, extra time will allow flavours to mix nicely.
5. Prepare the pierogi dough. Prepare a pastry board (or another flat surface). Add flour onto the board, make a well in the middle and add the egg with a little bit of salt. You can add a splash of oil if you want.
6. Pour hot water on the flour and mix everything. Be careful not to burn yourself.
7. Knead the dough until it’s firm and smooth. Shape into a ball, cover with a clean kitchen cloth and set aside to rest for at least 10-15 minutes.
8. Roll out the dough thinly and cut out circles (I used a small glass, but a cookie cutter will do, too).
9. Working with one circle at the time, add a teaspoon of filling in the middle, fold the circle in half and cover it to meet the other side of the circle. Stick the edges together. Remember to ‘close’ it tightly, otherwise, they will open up while boiling.
10. Grab the opposite ends of the dumpling and stick them together.
11. Working in small batches, boil in salted water 2 to 3 minutes, until they float. Remove from water onto a strainer or, using a slotted spoon, into a bowl with cold water and then drain.
12. Serve with clear beetroot soup (barszcz).