A few years ago I was a judge at a Kugel Cook-off and even a million calories later I was still in love with the dish. Who isn’t? Of all the iconic Ashkenazi specialties, kugel is the most beloved.
Really. I mean, you don’t hear about brisket cook-offs or gefilte fish cook-offs, do you?
It’s always kugel, a food so popular that someone actually wrote a master’s thesis about it (Avery Robinson, for his M.A. in Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan).
Kugel is more than simple comfort food though, more than a dish that evokes fond memories of the old days with bubbe (Yiddish for grandma). It’s also a simple dish and easy to cook. And it’s extremely versatile.
We’ve always preferred noodle-based kugels, and when my children were young I made one almost every week for Shabbat dinner, more or less the way my mother and grandma had made it: savory, with fried onions and maybe mushrooms. A few years on I realized I could include cooked vegetables too, which made it a little healthier. When I needed a good brunch-y dish I would mix in leftover meat or chicken. Of course, at other times, I made dairy-based noodle kugels filled with cheese. I’ve made noodle kugel with all sorts of seasonings and sometimes with a crispy top. In my first kosher cookbook, Hip Kosher, there’s a recipe for a raisin-curry kugel with a cheddar cheese crust.
I like tweaking a recipe to see what else I can do with it. Now that autumn is here and my thoughts turned to the rich wine-reds, burnished golds and sunset oranges of fallen leaves, my most recent kugel reflects the season. It’s made with skinny noodles, studded with winter squash and dried cranberries, suitable for a side dish to a meat meal. It’s colorful and crispy-topped, and would be a beautiful addition to the Thanksgiving menu.
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup orange or cranberry juice
5 Tbsp vegetable oil or melted margarine
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups diced butternut squash
12 oz thin or medium egg noodles
3 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, optional
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Lightly oil a 9”x9” baking pan (or similar size).
Place the cranberries in a bowl, pour the juice over them and toss. Let rest for at least 15 minutes.
Heat 2 Tbsp of the vegetable oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Add the diced squash, stir a few times and cook for another minute. Set the pan aside.
Cook and drain the noodles and put them in a large bowl.
Add the squash mixture and cranberries (plus any liquid) to the noodles, and mix the ingredients. Stir in the remaining vegetable oil and the eggs. Add the sugar, salt, cinnamon and optional cayenne pepper and mix well.
Spoon the noodle mixture into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until lightly browned and crispy on top.
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.
Prounounced: KOO-gull (oo as in book), Origin: Yiddish, traditional Ashkenazi casserole frequently made with egg noodles or potatoes.
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.