Some call it a pudding, others call it a casserole. Depending on the ingredients, it can resemble both. Some call it Jewish comfort food, and others consider it celebration cuisine. It’s a popular item at a sabbath dinner.
Kugel is one of those flexible dishes that can take on a savory or sweet tone and sometimes a little of both. Its roots are in Europe, dating back centuries. There are different versions found throughout Eastern Europe, but many people associate the dish with German cuisine.
How you pronounce kugel depends on your European address.
Members of Temple Beth Hatfiloh say it can be said as que-guhl or koo-guhl.
On March 26, the Olympia temple will feature kugel in its annual cooking competition that’s one of the events at Blintzapalooza, a one-day blintz, bagel and book sale that raises money for nonprofit organizations (see box for event details).
The kugel cooking contest is open to anyone. All a contestant has to do is drop off the dish at 11 a.m. at the temple on March 26. All kugels, whether modern or traditional, sweet or savory, are open to the competition. They can even be nondairy, vegan, paleo-friendly or gluten-free.
It turns out that the world of kugel is wide open, as is this competition.
A PUDDING? A CASSEROLE?
“Kugel is a staple of a traditional Jewish holiday table whether it’s a lokshen (sweet noodle) kugel or potato kugel. Sometimes on Passover there’s a matzo kugel,” said temple member Barnett Kalikow, who said the term kugel is Yiddish.
In her research, temple member Elizabeth Siegel Browning came across a reference to kugel being a Yiddish word related to the description for the round vessel in which kugel was steamed in a soup pot (as opposed to today’s method of baking it). Today, home cooks are more likely to make it in a square casserole dish.
Most people who have had the most traditional style of kugel pudding will know it as a slightly sweet custard dish with noodles and warm spicing. “What makes a kugel is eggs and starch at their most basic,” said Browning.
A popular version also is one made with potatoes and served for Passover, with potatoes in lieu of noodles, Browning said, because, “You can’t have noodles on Passover (per Jewish dietary guidelines). That’s when the potato ones came in.”
Kalikow said a kugel is the first cousin of a tzimmes, which is made with “root vegetable, carrots, sweet potatoes and sometimes squash that are made into a sweet casserole.” The casserole frequently is sweetened with honey or brown sugar, and raisins.
RECIPES FOR EVEN THOSE ON THE PALEO DIET
Temple member Cathy Wasserman has shared her Bat Mitzvah Lokshen Kugel, the most common sweet kugel and the one many Jewish families affiliate with mention of the dish.
She’s become known for sweet lokshen kugel in her circles because it’s a dish she’s made for bat mitzvah celebrations. It’s also the dish she made for her kids when they were growing up. The recipe comes from a family friend and is the same one her mother made when Wasserman was a child.
Wasserman is no purist when it comes to kugel, but she said her experience with the casserole/puddings has gone the traditional route. “When I was growing up, I grew up with noodle, potato and matzo kugel. Those are the big three, in our book,” said Wasserman.
She was interested in branching, so she went looking and found a recipe with millet and dried fruit from Martha Rose Shulman in The New York Times. Wasserman has included her adaptation of the recipe here.
That kugel is made with millet grain instead of noodles. The millet recipe has a pudding-like base with cottage cheese, eggs and milk. The original recipe called for a different mix of dried fruits, but she switched her versions to dried apricots, apples and currants. “It’s a really flexible recipe, you could do dates, figs or another fruit,” she said.
Browning also has explored well beyond traditional sweet noodle pudding kugel. She shared a recipe here for an unusual carrot kugel from celebrated Jewish food website The Joy of Kosher by Jamie Geller. This is one of those kugels that will be new to many. “It kind of tastes like a carrot cake, like a carrot muffin almost,” she said.
She also shared a recipe for a savory kugel. She adapted the recipe from a paleo-friendly and gluten-free cookbook, The New Yiddish Kitchen by Simone Miller and Jennifer Robins. The recipe is a combination of sweet potatoes, zucchini, carrots and spinach with eggs and almond flour.
“I was surprised at how good it turned out,” said Browning, who said that the ingredients also just happen to be paleo-diet friendly.
A few things to know about kugel: The leftovers are terrific, said Browning, and they freeze well, too.
Where: Temple Beth Hatfiloh, 201 Eighth Ave., Olympia.
When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. March 26
Featuring: Combination used book, bagel and blintz sale.
Raising money for: Nonprofit community organizations Planned Parenthood’s Thurston County Teen Council, CIELO, Nisqually Land Trust and League of Women Voters of Thurston County.
Cost: Free admission. Books, bagels and blintzes individually priced.
Information: 360-754-8519, bethhatfiloh.com.
Kugel competition guidelines
Drop-offs: Bring entries to the temple by 11 a.m. day of event.
Winners get: Awards prepared by artist Jean Mandeberg.
Entries: Can be sweet, savory, traditional, dairy, nondairy, contemporary or any kind of modern version.
Bat Mitzvah Lokshen Kugel
For the pudding:
12 ounces wide egg noodles
2-3 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup sugar
6 ounces cream cheese
½ pound cottage cheese
¾ pint sour cream
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Salt, to taste
Cinnamon, to taste
For the sauce:
2 cups frozen raspberries or strawberries
Sugar, to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 pan with butter. Boil water in large pot. Add noodles and cook until they are just done or slightly chewy. Drain noodles well, and return to pot with butter. Mix so that butter melts. Set aside.
In a large bowl or food processor, beat eggs and sugar. Add cream cheese and mix well. Add cottage cheese, sour cream, milk, vanilla, pinch of salt and mix well. Add in noodles. Pour mix into greased pan. Sprinkle cinnamon or cinnamon sugar on top.
Bake for 1-1 ½ hours until egg mixture is cooked, and top is slightly golden.
While kugel is cooking, make sauce by cooking frozen berries in saucepan with sugar, to taste. Add a bit of water to cover bottom of pan. Cook until berries fall apart slightly and sugar is dissolved, about 15 minutes.
Notes: This recipe works best when the dairy ingredients (or at least the cream cheese) are at room temperature prior to mixing. This recipe is also delicious made with low-fat dairy products.
Sweet Millet Kugel with Dried Apricots, Apples, and Currants
2/3 cup millet
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 cups water
Salt to taste
1 cup cottage cheese
¼ cup low-fat milk
¼ cup honey or agave
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup diced dried apricots
1/2 cup diced dried apples
½ cup currants
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Heat 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat in a heavy 2-3 quart saucepan. Meanwhile, bring the water to a simmer in another saucepan or in the microwave. Add millet to heavy saucepan with butter and toast, stirring, until it begins to smell fragrant and toasty, about 5 minutes. Add boiling water and salt to taste, and return to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 25 to 30 minutes, until liquid in saucepan evaporates and grains are fluffy. Transfer to large bowl.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2-quart baking dish. In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, blend cottage cheese until smooth. Add milk, honey or agave, eggs, vanilla and nutmeg and blend until smooth. Scrape into the bowl with the millet.
Stir together millet and cottage cheese mixture. Stir in apricots, apples, currants and lemon zest. Scrape into the prepared baking dish. Cut the remaining butter into small pieces and dot the top of the kugel with them. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the kugel is set and beginning to brown on the top.
Remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes (longer if possible) before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Source: Adapted by Cathy Wasserman from a New York Times recipe from Martha Rose Shulman
Ashkenazic Carrot Pudding
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg or ground ginger
½ cup (1 stick) margarine or unsalted butter softened
½ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoon lemon or orange juice
1-2 teaspoons grated lemon or orange zest
2 cups grated carrots
½ to ¾ cups raisins, figs, or chopped nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees grease a 2-quart baking pan or ring mold. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar until light and creamy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the egg. Add the flour mixture, lemon or orange juice and zest. Stir in the carrots, and if using, raisins.
Spoon into prepared dish. Bake until golden, about 45 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Source: Elizabeth Siegel Browning adapted recipe from the Jewish recipe website, The Joy of Kosher by Jamie Geller
Savory Sauteed Veggie Kugel
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 zucchini, shredded or julienned
1 large sweet potato, shredded
1 cup shredded carrots
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup baby spinach, chopped
1 tablespoon chives, minced
3 tablespoons almond flour
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet over medium high heat, drizzle the olive oil. Add the zucchini, sweet potato, carrots, onion, salt, garlic powder and black pepper to the skillet.
Saute the ingredients on medium high for 10-15 minutes, shifting the vegetables regularly so that they do not burn. You want them to soften and for any excess moisture to evaporate prior to baking. Turn the heat to high if there is residual liquid in the pan.
After the vegetables are cooked and starting to brown slightly, remove them from heat allowing them to cool for a few minutes so that they do not cook the eggs.
Once slightly cooled, add the eggs one a time and stir into the vegetable mixture. Then add the spinach, chives and almond flour. Once combined thoroughly, pour mixture into a greased, 8×6 inch casserole dish. You may use a larger casserole dish, but you’ll need to adjust the baking time accordingly.
Bake the mixture, uncovered, for around 45 minutes or until the center is set. If you choose to use a larger casserole dish, you may need less baking time. Allow the kugel to cool slightly before slicing into squares and serving.
Grandma Bearson’s Potato Kugel
2 1/2 pounds potatoes
1 large onion
¼ cup oil
¼ cup matzo meal
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Grate the potato and onion together.
Combine eggs and oil and add to the potato/onion mixture.
Mix together the matzo meal, salt and pepper. Add to the above mixture.
Pour into 1.5-quart baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 1 ½ hours or until brown.
Source: Sharon Perrin from the Temple Beth Hatfiloh cookbook