Just about every culture has some traditional dish that’s composed of a filling wrapped in some kind of dough. Regardless of what area of the world you end up in, there’s always a stuffed pasta or pastry waiting for you; a reliable dish in a sea of variables to fill up on. Some, like ravioli, pierogies, and dumplings, are wrapped in a pasta dough made from flour and water or flour and eggs. Others, like Cornish pasties, samosas, and empanadas, are cut with a fat like butter to become flaky, layered pastry doughs. This type of dish almost always takes a bit longer and more care to prepare than other meals, and they’ll almost always feature the style and intricacies of the hands that made them. The effort shows through in the end, when the scooping and crimping and patting result in a perfectly presented meal. Here are 6 international variants on the same theme, all with the same basic end goal: comfort food wrapped up in a self-contained package for good days and bad days alike.
If you like tools and their efficiency more than the hand-rolled approach, almost all of these (excepting the Cornish pasties and empanadas) can be assembled with a ravioli or dumpling press like this set that features 3 different sizes.
1. Mushroom Ravioli
Oh, pasta. Smooth and slippery and so comforting. This ravioli from Martha Stewart is filled with the earthy flavor of dried porcini and fresh mushrooms and cheese. You can either make your own pasta dough with this recipe from the Food Network or buy fresh pasta sheets. It is best served simply, tossed with olive oil or butter warmed with sage, and dusted with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
- 1 pound fresh pasta dough or pasta sheets
- Butter or olive oil for serving
- Fresh sage or thyme for serving
- Grated Parmesan for serving
- 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 cup hot water
- ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for serving
- 2 medium shallots, finely chopped
- ¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 pounds assorted fresh mushrooms, such as button, cremini, and shiitake, brushed clean, trimmed, and coarsely chopped
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- ½ cup ricotta cheese
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more for serving
Directions: In a small bowl, combine porcinis and water. Let stand until soft, about 30 minutes. Strain, reserving ¼ cup of the soaking liquid. Coarsely chop mushrooms; set aside.
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add shallots, and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in parsley, and cook 1 minute more. Add fresh and dried mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms first release their liquid and then liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes. Add the reserved soaking liquid. Cook, stirring, until liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes more. Transfer to a bowl, and cool briefly before stirring in Parmesan and ricotta. Season with salt and pepper.
Spread semolina on a baking sheet; set aside. If working with fresh pasta dough, cut dough into 8 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping remaining pieces covered with a glass bowl. Using a pasta machine, roll through the widest opening, brushing very lightly with flour. Fold dough in half crosswise; pass through machine again. Roll dough through remaining settings until it is about 1/16-inch thick, using as little additional flour as possible.
Place sheet on a lightly floured surface with the long side parallel to the edge of work surface. Place 8 heaping teaspoons of mushroom filling along the top third of the sheet about 2 inches apart. Moisten pasta around each mound of filling, using a pastry brush dipped in water. Fold the dough up and over the filling to enclose; press around filling to seal. Cut between mounds with a plain pastry wheel. Use a 2½-inch fluted round cutter to cut out ravioli, centering filling. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Chill until ready to cook.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add about 6 ravioli per serving, and cook until tender but al dente, about 2 minutes. In a skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 teaspoon of oil with 1 sprig of thyme or a couple leaves of fresh sage for each serving. When ravioli are done, use a slotted spoon to remove from boiling water. Drain well, and transfer to skillet. Toss in butter, and divide among warm bowls. Top with shaved Parmesan and freshly ground pepper.
Pierogi are the Eastern European dumpling. They’re most commonly stuffed with potato and cheese, though sometimes they contain little odds and ends of flavor like these from Food52 do with their caramelized onions and mushrooms. The base is a simple enriched dough; then the pierogies are pan fried so they’re chewy on the outside, a welcome textural contrast to the creamy mashed potato. They’re wonderful dipped into more yogurt or sour cream, whatever you use to enrich the dough. If you aren’t a fan of either mushrooms or caramelized onions, leave them out. Pierogi are infinitely customizable; as long as they have potato inside with no crazy spices, they’re considered pierogi.
- 2 cups full fat plain or Greek yogurt
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2¼ cups flour plus more for kneading
- 2 yellow onions, chopped
- 1 pound white mushrooms, trimmed and finely diced
- ¾ pound potatoes for mashing
- 4 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Sour cream or Full-fat Greek yogurt for serving
Directions: Start making the dough. Beat the yogurt, the egg, and the salt together with an electric beater on low until smooth and creamy. Slowly add the flour, beating until smooth. The dough will be very sticky.
Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a well-floured work surface and knead in enough flour until the dough is smooth and workable. It will be tacky but not so sticky that you can’t work with it. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for 2 hours to firm up.
While the dough is chilling, start the filling. Chop the onions. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet and sauté the onions until caramelized a deep brown, caramelized but not burned. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
In the same skillet, melt another 2 tablespoons of butter and add the chopped mushrooms. Salt and pepper the mushrooms and sauté until they are tender and all the liquid exuded by the mushrooms has evaporated, 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. While you are cooking the onions and mushrooms, peel and quarter the potatoes and place in a small pot. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until soft and mashable, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and place in a large mixing bowl.
If you want the filling a bit richer, melt the extra 2 tablespoons of butter and add to the potatoes. Mash and whip the potatoes until smooth and fluffy. Fold in the cooked mushrooms and the caramelized onions until well blended. Salt and pepper again to taste.
Take the dough out of the fridge and work with half at a time. The other half keep in the fridge.
Keeping both your work surface and the surface of the dough well floured, gently roll out the dough to a thickness of about ⅛ inch, gently lifting it up to flour underneath and turn. Keep your hands floured.
Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter carefully cut out circles. Place a mounded teaspoon of filling just off of the center of each round of dough. Gently pull the wider half over the mound of filling and place the side edge-to-edge with the side with the dough. Press to seal. As you form the pierogi, place them on a floured or lined and floured plate or baking sheet until you are ready to cook.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Once it is boiling, lower to a simmer and drop in the pierogi just 6 or 7 at a time. Allow to cook for 6 to 7 minutes. They should float to the top and, when lifted out with a slotted spoon, should look puffy. Cook the rest in batches. Place on towels to drain. To fry, heat olive oil or a mixture of butter and olive oil in a skillet and fry the pierogi for a few minutes per side, in batches, again, not overcrowding. They should be golden on each side.
3. Pork Dumplings
Like with ravioli, you can either make dumpling dough or you can buy dumpling wrappers. These are easily acquired at any Asian market but also sometimes available at various grocery stores. These pork dumplings from Steamy Kitchen are made with store-bought dumpling dough because really, folding and pleating all the dumplings is hard enough!
These dumplings are boiled. If you like chewier dumplings, pan fry them. It’s also very important to salt, squeeze, and drain the water out of the cabbage, because you’ll get soggy dumplings if you don’t.
- 12 ounces napa cabbage leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- ½ cup minced Chinese chives or green onions, white and green parts
- ⅔ pound ground pork
- ⅛ teaspoon ground white pepper or freshly ground black pepper
- 1½ tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 package frozen round dumpling wrappers, defrosted at room temperature for 30 minutes
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ½ cup water
Directions: To make the filling, put the cabbage in a food processor and process until cabbage is finely minced. Remove the cabbage to a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Let cabbage sit for 10 minutes. In the meantime, return the food processor bowl to the stand and add the ginger, chives, pork, pepper, soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil. Pulse 4 times to mix the ingredients well. Set aside.
Use your hands to grab a handful of the cabbage and squeeze and discard the excess moisture. Place the dry cabbage back into the large bowl and add the pork mixture. Fold the cabbage into the pork mixture.
Mix together the slurry of cornstarch and water. Take one dumpling wrapper and spoon a scant 1 tablespoon of the pork mixture onto the middle of the wrapper. Dip one finger into the slurry and line one interior edge of the dumpling wrapper like the adhesive on an envelope. Don’t get too wet, because the dumpling won’t stick. Bring up the bottom side of the wrapper, fold up and press to shape into a half-moon shape, encasing all of the filling. Place on baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap and repeat with rest of dumplings. Make sure that the dumplings do not touch each other on the sheet.
When all dumplings assembled, you can cook immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to several hours. To cook, half-fill a large pot with water and bring to boil. When boiling, gently slide in a third of the dumplings. When water returns to a boil, turn heat to a simmer and gently cook for 6 t0 8 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and repeat with remaining dumplings. Serve with hot chili sauce.
4. Cornish Pasties
A Cornish pasty is a hand pie filled with meat and root vegetables. The Cornish Pasty Association has strict rules about the filling because of course there is an official association and of course they have strict rules, but no one will tell if you add a little something here and there. At least, we won’t. The crust can be a shortcrust dough like a pie dough or puff pastry. The pasties are crimped with a pretty edge and shaped like a “D.” The pasties are brushed with milk and/or egg; milk will brown the pastry dough to a matte finish, while egg will make it gleam. This recipe from Serious Eats is not 100% conventional, but with leek and carrots and thyme, it is a bit more exciting. Just don’t tell the CPA.
- 1 recipe pie crust — use your favorite or use Serious Eats’ recipe
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 small leek, finely chopped
- ½ pound hanger steak, chopped
- 1 parsnip, finely chopped
- 1 potato, chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 2 sprigs thyme, chopped
- Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
- 1 egg, beaten
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Melt butter in skillet and add onion and leek; cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. In a bowl, combine steak, parsnip, potato, carrot, and thyme, and toss to combine. Once onion and leeks are cool, add to mixture and mix. Season with salt and pepper.
Roll out pastry into ¼-inch-thick sheet. Cut into 4 circles about 5 inches across. If all circles cannot be cut out of initial sheet of pastry, re-roll pastry and cut out remaining circles if necessary.
Spoon between ⅓ and ½ cup of filling mixture onto one half of pastry circle. Brush edges with beaten egg and fold other half over filling. Seal by pressing gently with a fork or your fingers. Place on prepared baking sheet and repeat with remaining pastry and filling. Brush all pasties with beaten egg.
Place in oven; when pastry begins to brown, turn oven down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for an additional 25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Serve with strong ale.
5. Punjabi Samosas
There are a few styles of samosa, but probably the most popular and widespread is the northern or punjabi samosa. These spicy triangular packages of potato and vegetables wrapped in flaky, fried pastry crusts are just so good. You can, of course, bake them as well. We’ll share both cooking alternatives in this recipe from Veg Recipes of India.
The spice list for samosas is long and sometimes hard to track down. If you can’t find mango powder, it can be replaced with a squeeze of lime juice.
- 2 cups or all purpose flour
- 4 tablespoons ghee or oil
- 5 to 6 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon carom seeds
- Salt to taste, about 1 teaspoon
- Oil for deep frying
- 3 medium-size potatoes
- ¾ to 1 cup green peas/matar, fresh or frozen
- 1 green chili + ½ inch ginger, crushed together to a coarse paste
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ¼ teaspoon red chili powder
- ½ tablespoon oil
- Salt, to taste
- ¼-inch cinnamon
- 2 black peppercorns
- 1 clove
- 1 green cardamom
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon mango powder
Directions: Combine the flour, carom seeds, and salt in a bowl. Add ghee or oil and mix well to get a breadcrumb-like consistency. Adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of water at a time, knead into a cohesive dough. Set aside, covered with a damp towel for 30 minutes and prepare the filling.
Peel, chop, and boil the potatoes and peas to cook thoroughly. In a small pan, dry roast all the spices but cumin until fragrant and then pulverize in a spice grinder to a fine powder.
Heat oil in a pan and add the cumin seeds, fry until fragrant. Add the chili-ginger paste and sauté for approximately 30 seconds. Add the peas, red chili powder, and the freshly ground spice powder and cook for 2 minutes. Add the potato cubes and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten with a rolling pin into a circle about ⅛-inch thick. Cut directly down the center to produce two semicircles.
Brush the straightedge side with a little water, fold it in half, and align the two straight sides so they overlap to form a cone shape. Squeeze the edges together to make a tight seal. Place approximately 1 generous tablespoon of filling inside each cone, leaving the top edge clean. Moisten the inside top rim of the cone and press the edges together to make another tight seal. Place the samosas on a tray until ready to fry. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
To bake, cook in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the samosas are golden.
To fry, heat about 3 inches of oil in a deep saucepan. Fry several samosas at a time, being careful not to crowd them. When 1 side turns golden brown, flip it over to brown on the other side. Drain on paper towels.
6. Beef Empanadas
Empanadas are like savory Latin turnovers. They’re often filled with some kind of meat, be it fish, chicken, beef, or game like rabbit. Latin American empanadas like these from the Food Network are hand pies, whereas the original Galician hand pies are double-crusted pies served in slices. We much prefer the ease of the smaller, self-contained version. As with samosas, you could bake them, but where’s the fun in that?
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- Pinch salt
- ½ cup lard or shortening
- 1 egg
- ¾ cup chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 tablespoon garlic salt
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- Oil or shortening, for frying
Directions: Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the lard with a pastry blender or 2 knives until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg and then whisk in the stock. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and knead until a dough forms. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the empanada filling. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the ground beef and garlic salt and cook until the beef is cooked completely. Drain the grease and set the beef aside.
In the same pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the tomato paste, vinegar, cumin, chili powder, oregano, seasoned salt, garlic, bell peppers, and onions. Cook until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the beef and let them love each other with fire over low heat for about 5 more minutes. The mixture should be moist but not dripping wet.
Lightly flour a work surface and roll out the dough to ¼ inch thick. Cut out 4-, 5- or 6-inch rounds, depending on how large you prefer. Add some meat filling to each empanada and fold the dough over in half to enclose the filling. Use a fork to press and seal the edges closed. You can refrigerate the uncooked empanadas for up to 3 hours.
Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Fry the empanadas until golden brown, 6 to 7 minutes.