Unlike my husband, I did not grow up with kugel. I may have heard of it, but I can’t even swear to that. I finally tasted it at a gathering in Kansas City sometime after I married into the family, but wasn’t quite sure what I thought. For him, though, it’s a major flavor from his childhood – one of those atavistic pleasures.
For those not in the know, a kugel is a traditional Jewish dish. Baked casserole-style, it’s a carb- and fat-bomb usually made from egg noodles, cottage cheese, butter and sugar, with any number of additional ingredients, including but certainly not limited to: sultanas, cherry pie filling, apple pie filling, corn flakes, apricots, nuts, carrots, pineapple…you name it. Despite being quite sweet in most of its incarnations, it’s often served as a side dish with meat. The sweet-savory blend is reminiscent of old Middle Ages recipes, and it’s surprisingly addictive.
I recently made kugel myself for the very first time, and the first thing I did was consult the family recipe books. Jon’s mother used to make kugel, but we didn’t have her recipe. We did have Jon’s grandmother’s recipe, which inexplicably leaves out the noodles (her brisket recipe leaves out the brisket, so go figure). There was also a “chiffon” kugel recipe that used beaten egg whites to lighten the custard. In the end, I committed familial heresy and used a recipe from the food blog Smitten Kitchen. I did, however, cut it in half to avoid eating kugel for a solid month. And I left out any and all fruit that might have tried to creep in.
For a first try, I think it worked very well indeed (Jon agrees). We did a slow-braise brisket (with local Angus beef, Frank’s Red Hot chile sauce, and powdered onion soup mix, thankyouverymuch), and it was a fabulous contrast with the sweet creamy kugel. The friends we had over to help us out brought some lovely fruity red wines, and we amused ourselves figuring out which wines to drink with the brisket and which went better with the kugel and the pear pie that came after.
Noodle Kugel (a reasonable quantity)
adapted from Smitten Kitchen, and an assortment of family cookbooks
- 1/2 pound wide egg noodles
- 1 pound full fat cottage cheese
- 4 eggs
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 1 stick butter, melted
- 1 tsp vanilla
- sprinkle of salt
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Bring a pot of water to a boil, and cook the egg noodles until halfway done, about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl until fluffy. Stir in the sugar, then the rest of the ingredients. Add the noodles and toss well. Pour everything into a 9×9″ baking pan and bake for about an hour (depending on your oven). When the custard is set and the kugel is turning golden on top, take it out and let it cool a bit before cutting into it. Serve warm or at room temperature.