My "Russian Meat Pie” remains a top favorite in my family

My "Russian Meat Pie” remains a top favorite in my family

The meat pie I make, patterned after a Russian “pirog,” started authentically enough as a beef or pork-stuffed, crescent-shaped turnover with a traditional cream-cheese crust. But the filling evolved, and the shape, for convenience, morphed to an American-style two-crust pie. I used to make from-scratch pie crust, but eventually cheated and used the store-bought variety. Yet the dish remained the major request for birthday and home-from-college meals. Occasionally now I switch back to the crescent-shaped turnover, which appears much more authentic.

Photo: Maria Dondero
A Russian pirog is a large baked pastry, while the more familiar smaller baked (or sometimes deep fried) Russian pastries, sport the cool-sounding diminutive name “pirozhki.” To confuse matters for Americans, the similar-sounding “pierogi,” so adored in ethnic communities in heartland cities like Pittsburgh and Chicago, are actually Polish, not Russian, and are boiled stuffed dumplings that are sometimes subsequently fried. They’re all good!

Sour cream dolloped on as the Russian pie is served is well received. A simple green salad is a fine accompaniment.

I like to pair a medium-bodied dry red wine, like a Chianti, Spanish red or Pinot noir, with the pie, though a mildly hoppy beer like Pilsner Urquell goes well too.

The recipe makes four Russian-type crescent turnovers or two 9-inch double-crust American-style pies. This is enough for a crowd, who always seem to show up when I mention the pies.

4 pie crusts, homemade or commercial (refrigerated and boxed, not in disposable pie pans)
2 pounds lean ground meat (pork, beef, turkey, or mixture)
1 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
2-1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
2-1/2 teaspoons paprika
1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon thyme, savory 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

In large pot, fry meat in its own juices until just beginning to brown.

In food processor, finely grind (but do not purée) onion and carrots, celery, mushrooms and garlic, part at a time. (Do not wash food processor yet.) Add vegetables to the meat and continue frying, adding a little oil if too dry. When vegetables soften, add salt, spices, herbs (other than dill) and sauces. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 20 to 30 minutes.

Peel and cut potato. Puree it in food processor with a little water. Add to meat-vegetable mixture. Cook 3-5 minutes, stirring often, until well thickened. Taste and add salt as needed. Remove from heat. Stir in dill. Cool.

Crescent shape: roll each commercial crust a little to smooth them out. Or roll out homemade crusts to about 10 inches diameter as usual. Place one quarter of the filling on half of a crust. Brush the edge of the crust with a little milk, and fold the open part of the crust over the filling. Crimp the crust together and transfer the half moon over to a large baking pan. Shape the half moon slightly so as make a crescent. Repeat for the other crusts.

Double-crust pie: for commercial crusts, roll gently on floured surface to smooth them. Or roll out homemade crusts to about 10 inches diameter as usual. Line two 9-inch pie pans, letting excess crust hang over. Fill pies with meat mixture. Lay a second crust on top. Press down edge with a fork dipped in flour. Trim off excess crust, or do a twist-and-pinch edge.

Brush crust with cream or milk. Make several decorative cuts in top crust as vents. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and finish baking for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Serve warm with sour cream.

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