In her renowned cookbook, Jewish Cooking in America, Joan Nathan shares the memories of "Jewish homesteader," Sophie Trupin, recalling her life as a Jew on the American frontier: "I was busy in the kitchen, carefully scooping out the eggs encased in layers of hardened coarse salt. I then began peeling pounds of potatoes, which my mother would grate on the fine side of the grater. My mother was making a huge potato kugel, made from fresh potatoes, onions, eggs, a little flour, and baked with plenty of goose fat. It wasn't Friday night, but my mother put a white linen tablecloth over the oilcloth-covered dining table."
Sophie's austere frontier life likely resembled that of her ancestors in Europe, where her mother's kugel recipe originated. According to food historian Rabbi Gil Marks' Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Jews have been making these starchy baked puddings since the seventh century.
But it was the Jews of Rhineland who perfected the notion of cooking bread dumplings inside Shabbat stew, and eventually outside of the stew pot in round, covered dishes. Kugel got its name from the word koogel (German for "ball"), which referred to the kugel's shape.
Today, inter-family debates rage over the best kind of kugel. Some people swear by a savory potato kugel, filled with sautéed onions and schmaltz. Others prefer a rich lokshen (noodle) kugel, stuffed with cheese and either sweetened with raisins and cinnamon, or made savory with sour cream. Still others scoff at any kugel except the simultaneously sweet and peppery Yerushalmi kugel, which Marks says was popularized by the Hasidim of Jerusalem in the late 18th century, who migrated to Israel from Eastern Europe.
Two things remain constant across all kugels--the first is a basic set of ingredients: an absence of water or liquid, a starchy base, and the use of eggs or fat (butter, schmaltz, etc.) as a binder. The second is that kugel is regarded as a beloved, "special" food, served on Shabbat and many Jewish holidays.
The annual Kugl Kukh-Off competition in Los Angeles and books like Nina Yellin's The Kugel Story (which features 175 different kugel recipes!) attest that--even centuries after its introduction into the Jewish culinary canon--the love of a good kugel is something which all Jews can agree on.
This deliciously healthy twist on traditional potato kugel has all of the "Jewish soul-food" street cred as the standard recipe, without all the heavy baggage.
Adapted from Aviva Allen's The Organic Kosher Cookbook<<< Less
6small sweet potatoes, grated 3apples, peeled, cored, and grated 1 cupwhole wheat flour 1 cupraisins 2 teaspoonsground cinnamon 1 teaspoonsalt (sea salt is best) 1 1/2 cupswater 2 Tablespoonsmaple syrup 2 Tablespoonsbutter or margarine
1 1/2 cupspecan halves, chopped Pinch of salt Pinch of ground cinnamon Pinch of ground ginger