Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Moving Target: My "Russian" Meat Pie Recipe

One of the top favorites in my family is the "Russian Meat Pie" that I developed some years ago based on impressons of "pirog" (plural = "pirogi"), the large, savory, stuffed pastry made in Russia and nearby countries. (The smaller pies in that lineage are better known under the cool-sounding Russian name, "piroshki".) My meat pie was originally a crescent-shaped turnover with a cream-cheese or butter crust, and I also made the mushroom- and even the cabbage-filled versions. But over the years the pastry has evolved into the two-crust American pie shape, and it remained a frequent request of several of my kids for birthday and home-from-college meals or now on their visits home.

There's a problem, however, in this happy story. I do not have a written recipe. Or rather, I actually have a number of varying recipes I've recorded as I had to recreate the dish ad hoc from memory and imagination, and on occasion thought to record it as I made it. There is a core principle to the pie filling, and always a familiar flavor, but the ingredients and the seasonings have fluctuated considerably.

But... Lisa to the rescue! "Russian meat pie" is her most common guest dish, and her version of the recipe, now including a couple of her tweeks to my original, is what I sketched out to her over the phone some time ago when she asked how to make it. It is her and her guests' -- if you can believe them -- favorite. So I got the recipe back for "my" pie, like a recovered fossil. And this time I am standardizing and recording it.

Before getting to the recipe, a quick story. Shortly after the break-up of the Soviet Union and as the Czech Republic became independent of it, a young government physician from Prague who had work there similar to my own spent several months training with me in Atlanta. "Jaro" enjoyed cooking too and hanging out, and one time I made the pie for him, figuring that a Slavic meat dish smothered in sour cream would feel like home. He did indeed like it. But when I told him, innocently, that it was Russian, he stopped eating and said he couldn't stand anyone or anything Russian. At that point I claimed that actually my pirog was the Polish rather than the Russian version, and he was OK with that, since the Poles, like the Czechs, were western Slavs with similar bad Soviet experiences.

One final note: As mentioned, I used to make a fairly tedious crust with cream cheese and butter. But more recently for simplicity I've cheated (sometimes) with a commercial rather than a from-scratch crust. One brand in particular, Pillsbury, available refrigerated at the supermarket in packs of two, seems superior. It has a nice texture and taste, but it does contain lard (as did my mother's best homemade pie crusts). Warm the crusts up to room temperature before taking them out of their plastic sleeves. On a floured surface gently roll them before lining or topping the pan, so as to smooth them out.

One final, final note: A dry medium-bodied red wine, such as a Spanish red, or Chianti, or pinot noir goes well with this. As does a nice hoppy beer, like Pilsner Urquell. A simple salad is warranted, too.

"Russian" Meat Pie Tim/Lisa

For two 9-inch pies:
4 pie crusts, commercial (e.g., Pillsbury) or homemade
2 pounds lean ground meat (1 pound each pork and turkey, or all pork or beef)
1 quite large onion, peeled and cut in chunks
4 large carrots, peeled and cut in chunks
1 stick celery, cut in chunks
1/2 pound mushrooms, rinsed
2 cloves garlic
2-1/4 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Large pinch of thyme or marjoram
3 tablespoons ketchup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 medium-large potato
2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill or 2 teaspoons dry dill weed
Milk for glaze
Sour cream for serving

Fry the meat in its own juices until just beginning to brown. In a food processor, finely grind the onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms, and garlic, part at a time. (Do not wash the food processor yet.) Add the vegetables to the meat and continue to fry, adding a little olive oil if too dry. When the vegetables are softened, add the salt, spices, herbs, and sauces (but not the dill), and simmer, covered but occasionally stirring, for 20 to 30 minutes.

Peel and cut up the potato and puree it in the food processor with a little water to make a thick slurry. Add this to the meat-vegetable mixture, and cook 3-5 minutes, stirring often, until well thickened. Taste and add salt to taste. Remove mixture from the heat, and stir in the dill. Let the filling cool. (It can be refrigerated for several days -- use a zip-lock bag -- or frozen, if desired.)

Line each of the two 9-inch pie pans with a crust, letting the excess hang over. Fill the pies with the cooled meat mixture, then lay a second crust on top. Seal the edge by pressing down with a fork dipped in flour then cutting off the excess crust, or by doing a twist and pinch edge. Brush the top of the crust with milk, then sprinkle with a little dill weed or paprika. Make several decorative cuts in the top crust as vents.

Bake at 375 degrees (360 if convection) for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 (340, convection) and finish baking for about 30 minutes.

Serve warm accompanied by sour cream.


Anonymous mandy Davis said...

Awesome!!! Now I have this recipe! I had this pie at Lisa's house after a long walk in the cold (carying a sleeping two year old) and it was amazing. Thank you! Can't wait to eat it again.

6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


question for you:

what's my alternative if i'd like to make this but have no food processor?

by the way,
i have started blogging again.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Tim Dondero said...

Nabeel: The items can be diced with a good knife on a board. The food processor is for connvenience, and is not essential.


2:29 PM  

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