A Casserole Close to the Soul



When most people contemplate breaking the Yom Kippur fast, they dream about bagels layered with cream cheese and lox. I, on the other hand, crave the warmth and comfort of kugel. I actually snub platters of smoked fish in favor of eating square after square of luscious noodle concoctions.

I am an avid collector of kugel recipes, enthralled by this casserole so close to the Jewish soul. From what I've gathered after perusing hundreds of recipes, kugels have gone through several stages — and are still evolving.

When you mention the word "kugel" to American Jews, the image of custard-based noodle puddings with crackling toppings comes to mind. Creamy kugels are relative newcomers to the genre. To qualify as a kugel, a recipe starts with some whisked eggs and a starch, such as bread, noodles, potatoes, rice, flour or matzah meal. After that, anything else a cook adds to the mix is fair game.

Whenever I host the break-the-fast meal, I always serve more than one kind of kugel. I'm also constantly inventing new recipes throughout the year.

"What makes this a kugel, rather than a fancy version of macaroni-and-cheese?" my husband asked the day he tasted my Mac-and-Cheese Kugel, brimming over with mushrooms and broccoli.

"It's hard to say where a casserole ends, and a kugel begins," I replied.

Over the course of history, there have been all kinds of kugels. The word itself derives from German, and means "ball" or "round." Often made with flour, early kugels puffed into domes inside bakeware. They were obviously not prepared in today's shallow glass pans.

Relying on bread and flour, the first kugels were savory, calling for onions and salt. About 800 years ago, their flavor and popularity improved when cooks in Germany replaced bread mixtures with noodles or farfel. Eventually, eggs were added, later followed by cottage cheese and milk, creating the custard-like consistency so common in today's dessert-like fare.

Kugels are perennially popular at Yom Kippur and offer real advantages. They can be prepared in advance and quickly reheated. With the economy still in turmoil, serving a variety of kugels can augment the usual smoked-fish menu with less expensive alternatives.

Best of all, they add a homemade touch to a meal that draws families together and brings closure to an important holiday.

Apple-and-Plum Kugel With Gingersnap Topping

8 oz. wide egg noodles (half a 16-oz. bag) 
vegetable oil 
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for coating baking pans 
1 Gala apple, cored, seeded, skinned and sliced thin 
2 red plums, pitted, skinned and sliced thin 
1/8 tsp. cinnamon 
1 Tbsp. sugar, plus 1/3 cup 
2 eggs 
1 container (15 oz.) ricotta cheese 
1 cup sour cream 
zest from 1/4 lemon

Make the noodles according to the package directions, adding a few drops of vegetable oil into the boiling water so noodles don't stick.

Drain the noodles in a colander and cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, on a medium flame, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium-sized frying pan.

Sauté the apple and plums in butter, sprinkling cinnamon and 1 tablespoon sugar over the fruit. Stir occasionally until fruit wilts, about 10 minutes.

Cool to room temperature.

Coat 7×11-inch baking dish with butter. Preheat oven to 350°.

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs until light and frothy. Add the ricotta cheese, sour cream, 1/3 cup sugar and lemon zest, beating until well-combined. Gently stir in the noodles and fruit.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the gingersnap topping (recipe below) over kugel, and bake until casserole bubbles and top browns.

Cut into squares. Serve immediately, or cool to room temperature, refrigerate and reheat until warmed through.

Makes 15 squares.

Gingersnap Topping

7-10 gingersnaps (commercially baked, supermarket variety) 
3 Tbsps. unsalted butter, melted 
1/8 cup sugar 
3/4 tsp. cinnamon

With the metal blade of a food processor, pulverize gingersnaps in 2 to 3 batches until they yield 1/3 cup.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the ground gingersnaps with the remaining ingredients. Mix with a fork until well-combined.

With fingers, sprinkle evenly over the top of kugel.

Rice Kugel

This is a rice-pudding lover's dream!

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil 
1 cup long grained rice, uncooked 
4 cups 2 percent milk 
2/3 cup sugar 
1/2 tsp. salt 
unsalted butter for coating 
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract 
1/8 tsp. cinnamon 
2 room-temperature eggs, beaten

Heat oil in a large (preferably nonstick) pot. Stir in rice until coated with oil and translucent, about 1 minute.

Add 21/4 cups water, stirring to blend.

Cover pot and simmer on a medium-low flame, until water is absorbed by the rice, about 20 minutes. Remove pot from heat. Let rice rest in the covered pot for 5 minutes.

To the rice pot, add 3 cups of milk, sugar and salt. Simmer on a low flame, stirring occasionally, until thick, creamy and a little stiff, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, coat a 7×11-inch baking dish with butter.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Remove the rice pot from heat.

Blend in the vanilla, remaining 1 cup of milk and cinnamon.

Stir in eggs until completely combined.

Bring to a simmer for 3 minutes, stirring constantly until thickened.

Spoon into a prepared baking dish. Even off the kugel's surface.

Sprinkle the crumb topping (recipe below) on the kugel's surface. Bake until kugel bubbles, about 25 minutes.

Cut into squares. Serve immediately, or cool to room temperature, refrigerate and reheat.

Makes 15 squares.

Crumb Topping

3 Tbsps. unsalted butter, melted 
1/3 cup graham-cracker crumbs 
1 Tbsp. sugar 
1/2 tsp. cinnamon 
1/4 tsp. allspice

Combine all of the ingredients with a fork.

With fingers, sprinkle on top of kugel.

Arugula-and-Couscous Kugel

This kugel tastes like the frittata you'd like to serve to break the fast, if time permitted after returning from services.

1 box couscous (yielding 2 cups or 5 servings) 
unsalted butter for coating the pan, plus 2 Tbsps. 
2 cups tightly packed arugula leaves, about 6 bunches with roots and stems removed 
3 leeks, green parts discarded, chopped coarsely 
kosher salt to taste 
12 eggs 
12 oz. goat cheese at room temperature 
4 oz. cream cheese at room temperature 
black pepper to taste

Prepare couscous according to package instructions.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Coat 9×13-inch baking pan with butter. Rinse the arugula in cold water and pat dry on paper towels.

On a medium flame, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and sauté the leeks in a medium-sized frying pan. Sprinkle with salt and stir occasionally until wilted, about 3 minutes. Reserve.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until light and airy.

Add the cheeses; beat again.

Add in the cooked couscous, black pepper and leeks, mixing until blended.

Stir in the arugula. Pour the mixture into prepared pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until edges brown and a tester inserted in the center comes clean and the top feels springy to the touch.

Cut into squares. Serve immediately, or cool to room temperature, refrigerate and reheat until warmed through.

Makes 24 squares.

Mac-and-Cheese Kugel

This is a kugel kids of all ages will love.

1 lb. macaroni 
2 drops olive oil, plus 3 Tbsps., or more, if needed 
1/2 lb. white mushrooms, sliced thin 
kosher salt to taste 
1 bunch (11/3 lbs.) broccoli 
butter to coat pan 
6 eggs 
1 pint reduced-fat sour cream 
1 lb. cheddar cheese, shredded (packaged is fine) 
11/4 cups Parmesan cheese 
paprika for dusting

Prepare macaroni according to instructions on the box, but add 2 drops of olive oil to the boiling water. Drain and cool for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil on a medium flame.

Add the mushrooms and then sprinkle with salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms begin to brown.

As mushrooms cook, cut off the broccoli's thick stems and discard. Break off each broccoli floret. Cut larger ones in half.

Add the broccoli to the mushrooms. Stir occasionally, until wilted but still partially crunchy. Add more oil, if needed.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Butter a 9×13-inch baking pan.

Place eggs in a large mixing bowl and beat on high speed until frothy. Mix in the sour cream until blended.

Add the cheddar cheese and 1 cup of Parmesan, and mix until incorporated.

With a long-handled spoon, mix the macaroni, cheese mixture and broccoli mixture in a large vessel until completely blended. Your macaroni pot will probably be deep enough.

Move the macaroni mixture to the prepared pan and spread it evenly.

Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese over the top. Dust with paprika.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until casserole bubbles and top browns.

Makes 24 squares.

Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. E-mail her at: [email protected].


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