With dozens of parishes vying for your Friday-night fish fry dollars during Lent, a church has to be creative if it's going to distinguish itself from the competition.
For a small Catholic parish in Creighton, the answer comes in the form of dough-wrapped mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and sweet cabbage. It's called pagach (pronounced puh-GHACH), and for generations it's been a traditional dish for Slovakians eschewing meat during the six-week Lenten period.
A few years ago, someone -- no one remembers who -- suggested adding the Hot Pocket-like side dish to the fish-fry menu at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church at 787 Freeport Road. It's proven so popular, supply can't keep up with the demand.
"People love them," says Dee Vidra, a long-time parishioner who with four or five other hardworking volunteers kneads, fills and bakes 75 or so of the potato-stuffed bundles the day before each of the church's seven fries, using the time-honored technique she learned from her mother. "We had them on Wednesday, and they totally sold out. People are already asking for them again."
She says it's not just old-timers who are loading the $3 dough pockets onto their trays along with baked or fried fish sandwiches. "The younger generation doesn't know about them, but out of curiosity, they ask for them, too."
The recipe belongs to the Rev. Miroslaw Stelmaszczyk, a native Pole who served for many years at Holy Family before being transferred this past fall to a parish in Bridgeville. But it could have come from any number of the congregants, many of whom grew up eating the dish during holidays and other special occasions, she says. "It's a remembrance of what was done years ago. Women are recreating recipes that their parents made."
Pressed for the popular recipe, she demurred. The money raised from their pagach sales, after all, help maintain the church. But she did recite the list of ingredients: flour, yeast, margarine, eggs, salt, sugar and milk. Fillings include a mixture of potato and cheese, potato and sauerkraut, or shredded cabbage.
It's the addition of sugar that give pagach the distinctive, slightly sweet flavor that differentiates them from another Eastern European side dish, pierogies. (Holy Family's dedicated volunteers make those, too, during Lent to the tune of 12,000 over the course of five weeks.) That, and the yeast.
"Pierogi dough is made for pinching," she explains. "Pagach dough rises."
Paired with a salad, pagach makes a great (and filling) dinner option for vegetarians. Or maybe, like Ms. Vidra, you just want a taste of history.
"My mom used to make them, so for me it's sentimental," she says. "She loved to make them and her daughter loves to do it, too."
This comes from Indiana's Charlotte Pribish Conjelko, who is an Orthodox Christian Carpatho-Rusyn.
1 cup water plus ¼ cup lukewarm water
4½ teaspoons plus 1½ teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2½ tablespoons canola oil (or butter if not fasting)
1 package active dry yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour
For potato filling
2 cups diced potatoes, cooked and mashed
Salt to taste
½ cup grated cheddar cheese, if not fasting
½ pound cabbage, cored and chopped
Salt to taste
1 to 2 tablespoon canola oil (or butter if not fasting)
In medium saucepan, bring 1 cup water, 41/2 teaspoons sugar, salt and oil to a boil. Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast and 11/2 teaspoons sugar in 1/4 cup lukewarm water and set aside.
Place flour in bowl of a stand mixer or regular bowl and add the sugar-water mixture and the yeast-water mixture. Mix until well incorporated and then knead until smooth, about 7 minutes by machine and at least 10 minutes by hand. Transfer to a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled.
Punch down dough and turn out onto a floured surface and divide into 2 portions. Cover with greased plastic and let rest 15 minutes.
On a parchment-lined baking sheet, roll one portion of dough into a 9-by-13-inch rectangle or 12-inch circle. Spread either the potato filling or cabbage filling on dough to within 1/2 inch of edge.
Roll the second portion of dough on a lightly floured surface and place on top of the filling and pinch the edges together to seal. Prick top all over with fork to allow steam to escape. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Let bread rise, covered with greased plastic for 30 minutes. Bake 30 minutes or until browned on top and bottom. Cool on a rack.
Potato filling: Season mashed potatoes with salt. If it's not a fast day, add grated cheese to hot potatoes and mix well. Allow potatoes to cool before placing on dough.
Cabbage filling: Saute cabbage in oil or butter and season to taste with salt. Allow to cool before placing on dough.
-- Charlotte Pribish Conjelko, easteuropeanfood.about.com
Gretchen McKay: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.