Saturday, November 30, 2013

Jewish Comfort Food: Noodle Kugel

Thanksgiving eats: Kugel's on the right, but where's the turkey? (Photo by Nagisa Kamae)

With appetizers, side dishes and amazing desserts, turkey sometimes seems beside the point at Thanksgiving. This year, our bird was extra large at 22 lbs. for only nine people (plenty of leftovers!). Plates filled quickly with side dishes: cornbread stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, mashed sweet potatoes, green beans with almonds, cranberry orange nut bread, salad, and noodle kugel--not to mention an amazing apple pie a la mode for dessert (we skipped the pumpkin pie!).

The kugel was my contribution, along with a strange-looking menurkey--a menorah shaped like a turkey--to commemorate Hanukkah arriving on the same day as Thanksgiving, supposedly for the first time since 1888!

Our menurkey! (Photo by Nagisa Kamae)
Kugel, a German word that means "sphere" or "ball," is a pudding-like casserole that is usually made of noodles or potatoes, eggs and dairy products. The noodle versions--called lokshen kugel for the Yiddish word for noodles--can be savory or sweet--and there are many variations, with heated debates erupting, often at the holiday table, over whose kugel is "the best"! I won't weigh in on that. I've tasted amazing kugel--and, like so many recipes, the last one I ate is usually the best.

Depending on the amount of sugar you add, and whether or not you use raisins or other fruit, a kugel can be almost dessert-like or have just a hint of sweetness and work well with a meal. For Jews who keep kosher and don't want to mix milk and meat, it might serve as the focal point of a brunch, along with bagels and lox. At our Thanksgiving, however, it worked just fine as a side. Leftovers, if any, are excellent for breakfast!

Here's the recipe I made, adapted from one I found on the food blog, The Shiksa in the Kitchen. It uses ricotta instead of cottage cheese (which some will consider a sacrilege), and includes dried cranberries and raisins. I used only raisins, but you could add cranberries or other dried fruits, such as apricots or apples. I softened the fruit in a mixture of grape juice and water instead of the rum the recipe called for, but feel free to use the alcohol, which will mostly boil off in cooking. For those who prefer a less dessert-like kugel, the fruit is optional, and the amount of sugar can be reduced.

Holiday Kugel

(Adapted from The Shiksa in the Kitchen)

About 15 servings

1 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 cup apple or grape juice (optional)
1/2 cup water (optional)
12 oz. wide egg noodles
1 cup cream cheese, softened*
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
6 large eggs
2 cups sour cream*
1 cup ricotta*
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt


3/4 cup cornflakes, crushed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (or more, to taste)
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup walnuts or pecans (optional)

*You can substitute low-fat versions of any of these, though nonfat isn't recommended.


1. Preset oven to 350 degrees F. Put dried fruit, juice and water (or rum) in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then simmer on low for about 15 minutes. Drain and allow to cool.

2. Cook noodles until soft, taking care not to overcook. Rinse in cool water and drain well.

3. Using a mixer, food processor or blender, mix together (on low to medium speed for mixer, pulsing for food processor or blender) cream cheese and sugars until well combined.

4. Add eggs one at a time, incorporating each before adding the next. Add sour cream, ricotta, butter, vanilla, cinnamon and salt, and mix until smooth.

5. Combine noodles with the liquid mixture. Add raisins, if using. 

6. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.  Pour mixture into the dish making sure to spread it evenly on the dish. At this point, if you're having guests later in the same day or the next, it's possible to cover the uncooked kugel and let it sit overnight, baking the next day. Some kugel recipes actually recommend this step.

7. If you're using the cornflake topping, crush the cereal with a rolling pin. Then add cinnamon, sugar and nuts, if using. Sprinkle evenly on top of the casserole. Some variations call for using crushed graham crackers instead of cornflakes. You can also just use cinnamon and sugar--or no topping at all!

8. Bake for 60 minutes, turning halfway through. The kugel should be golden brown on top and the center should be firm. Let the kugel rest for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing. It can be warmed in a low oven before serving.

If you've got a family recipe for kugel you wish to share, please feel free. I make no claims to making "the best," as undoubtedly the one your mother or grandmother served will trump mine any day! And that's as it should be. 

1 comment:

  1. I can attest to the fact that this kugel was delicious. Thanks, Ruth.