You'll find filled pastas or dumplings in cultures all around the world, from translucent won tons to relatively hearty ravioli and agnolotti. Pierogies fall on the hearty side of the scale -- filling peasant fare designed to fuel a hard day's work in the fields. They're found under varying names across Eastern Europe, especially Poland and Ukraine, and in those parts of the Midwest with a strong Eastern European tradition. If you're unfamiliar with pierogies, try them first with a few of their traditional accompaniments.
Head of the Class
Cabbage is one of the great staples of Eastern European cuisine, so it's frequently partnered with pierogies. You could simply serve boiled or steamed cabbage alongside the dumplings, but that doesn't make for a very memorable meal. More often, the cabbage -- red or green -- is braised slowly, typically with a splash of wine or vinegar to complement its sweetness. Simmering apples and onions with the cabbage provides a similarly bright flavor to counter the often-stodgy pierogies.
Cabbage in the form of sauerkraut is another common accompaniment for pierogies, but don't use it straight from the jar. Cook it for at least an hour or two, to soften it and mellow its taste. Include onions, apples and a piece of fresh or cured pork for an especially rich flavor.
Pierogies are relatively bland, so they benefit from the addition of high-impact, savory accompaniments. Fried onions -- or better, caramelized onions -- are a nearly perfect choice, pairing well with almost any other topping or side dish. Crisp bacon is another universal option, crumbled as a topping over the pierogies and side dishes. Use sausage -- another go-to option -- sparingly for its flavor, or in large pieces as a side dish. Strong-tasting kielbasa is a traditional choice, though some prefer the milder flavor of a farmer-style sausage. Shredded cheese is another appealing option, one of many less-traditional or non-traditional alternatives.
Sauce It Up
Pierogies are frequently served with a dollop of sour cream at American tables, but in Eastern Europe it's more typically made into a sauce. Eastern-style sour cream, or smetana, is hard to find outside of specialty shops, so you might need to use regular sour cream or Mexican-style crema.
Start by gently cooking onions in butter, and then add flour to transform the fragrant butter into a sauce-thickening roux. When you stir in the sour cream, this starch thickener stabilizes the cream so it won't curdle and separate from the heat. Finish the sauce with a handful of chopped chives, and spoon it over your pierogies. For a less rustic version of the sauce, strain out the onions before you add the chives.
Compare and Contrast
Consider your pierogies' fillings when you're deciding on the "fixin's" to go with them. The most common store-bought varieties are filled with potato or with a cottage cheese mixture, but artisanal or homemade pierogies are less predictable.
As a rule, try to avoid sides or garnishes that duplicate the filling. If your pierogies contain cabbage or sausage, for example, don't fill your plate with more of the same. Substitute beet or turnip greens, perhaps, or fresh-picked green beans.