easy noodles and cream cheese recipe jewish dinner Shavuot
Photo credit Sonya Sanford

The Easiest Jewish Comfort Food of My Childhood

The Eastern European answer to boxed mac and cheese — and so much tastier!

Noodles and cottage cheese was the defining dish of my childhood. I think of it as the Eastern European version of boxed macaroni and cheese — a culinary staple of youth. Whenever I bring up noodles and cottage cheese in conversation, it always elicits a strong reaction: either there is an immediate enthusiastic nostalgia associated with it, or instant confusion and/or disgust. I’ve found little neutrality on the subject.

The polarity of responses inspired me to do more digging on the subject of this dish’s origins. At first, I thought noodles and cottage cheese must have started out as deconstructed kugel. Sources cite that noodle kugel originated in Germany about 800 years ago. The point at which cottage cheese entered the picture remains unclear. There is no evidence that kugel birthed noodles and cottage cheese or vice versa. In fact, in our home we had noodles and cottage cheese, but we never had noodle kugel. While the origins of the dish are murky, noodles and cottage cheese is still fairly commonly eaten across Eastern Europe in and out of Jewish kitchens from Poland, to Hungary, to Russia. Both my parents grew up in the former Soviet Union, and both remember being fed this dish, albeit with farmers’ cheese (a close cousin of cottage cheese). In the United States it can be found being prepared in many Jewish American kitchens, even in the homes of families that have lived here for a few generations.

In Yiddish, the dish is called “lokshen mit kaese,” and you can track down recipes made with homemade lokshen (noodles). That said, recipes are generally scarce and arguably they’re not needed. The dish’s essential components are obviously noodles and cottage cheese; but preparations vary with the addition of fried onions, or sour cream, or butter, or copious amounts of black pepper. In non-kosher cases you’ll find that bacon is often added. The type of pasta that is used is up to the cook. You can make it with bow-ties, macaroni, penne, fettuccini or whatever you prefer. It tends to fare best when made with a pasta shape that has nooks and folds that can grip onto the cottage cheese, and with a cottage cheese that is smaller in curd.

When I was growing up, my mom would make noodles and cottage cheese several times a week, and often the leftovers went into a Tupperware for my lunch the next day. She had a unique style of making this minimalist dish. Her preferred noodles were penne or fusilli, and her preferred technique was to drain the pasta, add it back to the hot pot, add cottage cheese, and lastly she’d add tons of grated Parmesan – her not-so-secret ingredient. She would stir everything together until a makeshift cream sauce formed around each noodle. She developed a reputation among my friends for making the best noodles and cottage cheese.

It wasn’t just at home that I enjoyed this dish. I vividly remember my first sleepover at a friend’s house. We never actually went to sleep, and her parents came into her room multiple times to scold us for giggling and staying awake. The next day we groggily played until we were fed lunch. We sat down to the table and were served big heaping bowls of noodles (shells) and cottage cheese. After a sleepless night, being served such a familiar dish away from home was instantly comforting. I ended up spilling the entire contents of the bowl all over my lap and onto the floor, much to the chagrin of my friend’s parents. This was not the first time shame was linked to this dish.

I grew up going to Jewish day school, but for high school I attended a public school that had only a handful of Jewish students. It was there that I uncomfortably learned that not everyone thought noodles and cottage cheese were so great. I’ve always been curious about food that can bring us shame and comfort in equal measure: I’ve often found that foods that we were mocked for eating when we were young are often the source of great pleasure as adults. Those of us who come from immigrant families might have been made fun for our family’s “strange” or “smelly” foods. By and large, immigrant food tends to be food that has come from necessity. We use what we have and make the most of it; that includes organ meat, all the fish parts, funky flavors, strong spices, fermented vegetables and inexpensive dairy products. And that same food that we might get teased for is often the food that we love the most. OK, so noodles and cottage cheese is not nearly as daring as a fish head stew or a cow tongue sandwich, but it’s still not a mainstream dish.

Why do so many people think it’s so strange? Is it cottage cheese’s inherent bad rap? Is it due to mixing something cold with something hot? Is it the lack of flavor? I needed to make it again, and I needed to make it for someone who had never tried it before. Conveniently, my husband never grew up eating noodles and cottage cheese.

I went to the store and picked up a container of small-curd 4% cottage cheese and a box of bow-tie pasta. Once the pasta was cooked and drained, I put it back in the hot pot. The second the cottage cheese touched the bow-ties, a familiar smell hit me, taking me back to my parents’ kitchen. I instantly got hungry. Stirring the cottage cheese into the noodles, a sauce started to form. I seasoned it with generous amounts of salt and pepper, and a spoonful of sour cream. I filled two small bowls, and while still standing over the stove my husband and I took our first bites. For him, a fan of both pasta and cottage cheese, it was clearly disappointing. “That’s it? I don’t know about this…” he thoughtfully chewed. But he kept eating. He finished the small bowl, and then he had some more. That’s when I realized part of the appeal of noodles and cottage cheese: It grows on you. On its own, it’s not very exciting, but its cumulative effect is satisfying. For me, I took that first bite and instantly felt warmth. It tasted like home.

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Noodles and Cottage Cheese

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4.9 from 31 reviews

Noodles and cottage cheese, a cherished Eastern European dish with German origins, evokes either enthusiastic nostalgia or confusion among those who encounter it. The simple yet beloved recipe features noodles and cottage cheese as its core, often accompanied by black pepper.

  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 (16 oz) package pasta (penne, bow ties, egg noodles, etc.)
  • 1 (16 oz) container small-curd cottage cheese
  • 34 Tbsp sour cream (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • fried onions, Parmesan cheese and/or chopped parsley, to garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta according to the package instructions.
  2. Once cooked, drain the pasta well and add it back to the hot pot.
  3. Add the cottage cheese to the pasta and stir until all of the noodles are well coated.
  4. Add sour cream, if using, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until well combined.
  5. Serve hot, and if desired garnish the dish with fried onions, Parmesan cheese and/or chopped parsley.
  • Author: Sonya Sanford
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Quick
  • Cuisine: Ashkenazi

67 comments

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  • Ellen Reilly

    Really enjoyed your article! My Grandma who immigrated from Austria, made egg noodles with cottage cheese. I occasionally make my own shortcut lunch version with leftover noodles which I reheat briefly in boiling water and drain into a shallow bowl. Stir in a few shakes of caraway seeds (kummel). Then I dollop the cottage cheese over the hot noodles; sprinkle a little garlic powder, nutmeg over the cottage cheese, and add a generous splash of cider vinegar over all. So I don’t make a sauce per se, but SO tasty. I just love it!

  • Irina

    Dear Sonya, thank you so much for all your stories and recipes! I too grew up in Soviet Union, (Ukraine). I remember my mom making this dish, whatever noodles she had mixed with tvorog. Thank you for evoking warm memories!






  • Fran

    You have no idea how reading your cottage cheese and noodles article brought me right back to my bubbe’s kitchen. And, it reminded me that the egg noodles in my pantry (that’s the preferred noodle we used, although I might try the bowties!) are still waiting for me to buy the cottage cheese to go with it. BTW, we always melted lots of butter on the noodles first and that’s how I’m going to make it this time. Thank you for this nostalgic story and comfort food reminder!

  • susan karpman

    Try it sweet! My childhood is egg noodles, cottage cheese and a few dollops of strawberry jam. Heaven!






    • Vera

      My childhood dish of noodles and cottage cheese was also sweet. Jam is OK but, as a purist, I would put just sugar, but not much. If I were to deviate, perhaps a little of maple syrup.






  • Rebecca Loudon

    I was served spaghetti marinara with cottage cheese on top at an Italian restaurant in Seattle several times in the 1980s and I started making my own noodles with cottage cheese and serving them to my son who love them. This was a warm reminder about how much I miss the dish and actually I can’t wait to make it again maybe the next time my son comes over thank you.
    Rebecca






  • Richard Gorman

    When I was a child and even now I have cottage cheese and noodles with sugar. I am told that my ancestors came from west of the “gefilte fish line” in Poland which distinguished having sweet rather than sweet foods like gefilte fish, lotkes,blintzes, and cottage cheese and noodles.

  • Marilyn Curtis

    Loved your story. Interesting. Good recipe. Sounds totally delicious. I have never had noodles and cottage cheese before. Will definitely make this.
    BTW, I am a Christian who loves Israel and God’s chosen people, the Jews. I love trying Israeli food, too. God bless you.

  • Hillary Wenk

    Only thing my Dad knew how to cook. It brings me great comfort when I’m down or missing him. Add a nice glass of chocolate milk made with U-bet syrup and I’m in heaven. My daughters love it too!






  • debrah block

    My grandmother added cinnamon and sugar to hers- I still have wonderful memories of sitting in her kitchen eating it.






  • Bobbi Goldstein

    Loved your story. My grandmother who lived with us for many years made noodles and cheese with pot cheese. In feeding my children I switched to cottage cheese because finding pot cheese was usually impossible. Am going to try with a dollop of jam as you mention.

  • Michelle

    I make it with egg noodles, sprinkle cinnamon and sugar and then served cold.
    It is great comfort food!

  • Leah Zielinski

    We use to put sugar and cinnamon with the cheese and noodles. Yummy 🙂
    Thanks for bringing fond memories back.

  • Sara

    In Poland we mostly eat noodles with cottage cheese sweet, with sour cream and sugar. My mom likes to add some cinnamon and sometimes some berries to it.






  • Gayle Ziv

    I had to laugh when I saw this article! I just made this dish 2 days ago! I had it for 2 nights! Haven’t had it in probably 20 years…my parents were from Poland and my dad used to make it.

  • Madeleine

    My Nana was also from Austria and she made this dish with the bowtie noodles; instead of cottage she used what we called pot cheese which was a form of dry cottage cheese and butter. We would always ask for it as…. poor transliteration from Yiddish… Luctshon (Noodles) and Caize (Cheese) and Pitter (butter) and we would always add “without the cheese.”

  • Veronica

    Just a variation of macaroni cheese – which I have always loved; apart from thinking about dietary contents – ie am I eating enough of the ‘right things?’ – I would happily eat it every day since I am never left feeling empty after a good helping of such – sometimes on it’s own, sometimes as a base for added other things like tuna or peppers. It’s actually likely the most universal, almost instant dinner going ! And I am not a natural or willing cook, so I will always look for simple & fast recipes ! Mac & cheese or whatever combo of shells, pasta & whatever cheesy variety you prefer, is the BEST for every reason there is !

  • Margie Tobin

    Growing up, my mother and grandmother, who lived with us, would make me shnoodles after an illness like a cold or flu. It was egg noodles served hot with cold canned peach slices over it. I remember every bite. As an adult, my husband and I would enjoy my shnoodles and add cottage cheese. Yum!!!! It was one of our favorite easy dinners.

  • Michelle L.

    I grew up eating Kugel! My mom’s recipe was for a sweet one. To this day I make it and the entire family loves it. Egg noodles, cottage cheese, sour cream, eggs, lots of butter, sugar, currants and cinnamon sprinkled on top. Bake till top is crispy!

  • Mike

    My mom used to make this all the time. I haven’t thought about it in ages and now I’m feeling so nostalgic.






  • Stacey Goodstein

    I grew up eating this and loved it. I have always made it for my children and they love it. I think my mother added cinnamon as I do and I also started to put in cut up apple. So they got some fruit as well.

  • Sandy

    Such a sweet memory! My husband is Italian and grew up with all sorts of “rules” for what kinds of pasta take what kinds of sauce. When I told him about this he was aghast! I was beginning to think I had imagined this delicious treat, but now….can’t wait to have him read this!






  • Lorrie

    This recipe brought back so many memories. My mother used to fry bits of bacon and add the bacon and grease to the cottage cheese and noodles. Must have been a Hungarian thing. I would like to add sugar but how much?






  • Nancy

    I love anything made with noodles, love cheese of any kind, and love comfort food. Although I haven’t tried this yet, I heard about the dish on some Facebook groups I’m on. I really enjoyed your post. I feel so sad for anyone, child or adult, whose food is looked down upon. I plan to make this as soon as I get some cottage cheese.






  • Mark David

    Tuesday, February 6th, ( 2024 )

    Dear Sonya:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful tradition.
    Again, Sonya, thank you.

    Best, Mark David






  • Jennifer

    In my family we used to call this “Pot cheese N Noodles” and it was SO GOOD both cold or hot. Good memories watching my grandmother make it while talking to herself in Yiddish or Dutch- not sure which or a bit of both!






  • Anne

    In my family we made it with pot cheese, sour cream, cooked egg noodles, lemon juice and sugar all Mixed together. Yum!

  • Amy

    My family and I spent part of every summer at a “farm” in upstate NY.
    On Sunday night the owner’s wife made an entre of
    wide egg noodles with bowls of sour cream and cottage cheese to go with it. It was so good, and a great dinner to have in the heat August!

  • Phyllis

    My grandmother and mother made this with noodles, cottage cheese and cinnamon sugar. Loved it for dinner.

  • Nancy Kasimer

    When we had our international luncheons at work, I was always assigned lukshen kugel ! Since I retired
    I miss those luncheons—so many different nationality foods served!

  • Ruth Gais

    Long long ago now, when I came home from Religious School, my mother would serve me warm elbow noodles with cottage cheese and sour cream – her favorite food from her childhood in the Ukraine. I am smiling as I remember this.






  • Jeff

    This brings back memories. My Mom would make this in the store meet months as refreshing fish. She used pot cheese and added raisins as well as cinnamon. I still make this






  • Debbie

    I discovered this dish at my College Dorm in Boston. With the exception of the noodles, you could make the dish from salad bar ingredients. We used it when we hated the hot meal offered that day. My friend Bonnie taught me how to make it.

  • Rivka Yunger Welhous

    My mom, may she rest in peace, used to make us egg noodles with cottage cheese topped with sugar and cinnamon.It was delicious!






  • rivkayuunger@gmail.com Yunger Welhous

    My mom, may she rest in peace, used to make us egg noodles with cottage cheese topped with sugar and cinnamon.It was delicious!






  • Owen Graham

    Made this a couple weeks ago and looking forward to making it again tonight. I plan to tweak it a little tonight with a little roasted garlic and a small pepper.
    I hope this doesn’t ruin it.






  • Harriet

    In my house, this dish was sweet with added sugar and cinnamon. Today it’s my comfort food.

  • Jeanne Gold

    My mother made this when were children. But she only used 3 ingredients: pasta, cottage cheese and peas. We absolutely loved it. When my children were little, I made it for them as well. It was a great summer dinner option.






  • Rich Bicoff

    My mom used to make this for me when I was a child. She called it Creamettes and cheese because that was the brand of macaroni she used. I still make it to this day. It is indeed comfort food and reminds me of my mom and my childhood whenever I make it. I usually use whole wheat elbow pasta, and add peas and mix a little bit of olive oil in. I love the idea of using fried onions and Parmesan. I’m gonna try that.






  • CM

    Anybody else eat this as a cold dish? That was how my mom made it. It makes a great hot weather meal with a bowl of borscht.

  • Sandi Applebaum

    staple growing up and still today
    egg noodles-boil/drain
    butter/margarine
    cinnamon/sugar
    mix
    add cottage cheese
    option add canned pineapple (drain juice)






  • Elise

    We always ate noodles and cheese with cinnamon and sugar- like a noodle pudding.

  • Sharon Bengis

    When I was a child we called this Grandma Noodles! I add garlic. The best.

  • Jan Isaacs-Wade

    My grandma was from Odessa and she made it for us with egg noodles, butter, salt and pepper. Heavenly!






  • Ferne Barishman

    My friend Judy was a terrible and unwilling cook. She had three recipes in her arsenal, all of which she had mastered under the tutelage of her mother who was also a lousy cook. But Judy could be counted on for Lukshin and Cheese, which she made with love and wide egg noodles, cottage cheese, sour cream, and an entire stick of unsalted butter. Salt and pepper or cinnamon and sugar were at your own discretion. I miss Judy and I miss her lukshin and cheese.






  • Tracie

    Grew up with this comfort food with a twist- the macaroni shells were fried in butter to get crispy. Then, the cottage cheese, and salt and pepper were mixed in. The fried pasta takes it to the next level!

  • Tracie

    Grew up with this comfort food with a twist- the macaroni shells were fried in butter to get crispy. Then, the cottage cheese, and salt and pepper were mixed in. The fried pasta takes it to the next level! Ultimate comfort food

  • Susan Lynn

    Yum! I haven’t thought about this dish in years. It made me instantly hungry for it as soon as I read your piece.






  • Sherrie Rosenzweig

    Reminded me of my childhood! My Mom made this.

  • Dianne

    We ate noodles and cottage cheese or farmer cheese when we could get it often. A very inexpensive meal with dairy, protein and carbohydrates all in one dish. Another use for cottage cheese, usually around the holidays, was matzah balls with cottage cheese. Hot drained matzah balls with lots of butter, and cool cottage cheese is a wonderful memory food for me. These require walnut sized matzah balls, not the oversized ones you see today in restaurants. A wonderful dish.

  • Jeff

    My mother made this with cinnamon and sugar so i’m in the sweet vs savory camp. I also remember buttered noodles that is the start of a savory sensibility. I would prepare something from noodles now except it’s too late in the day. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Cynthia

    My mother put a little sugar , in cottage cheese and bowties . She was a ” litvak” . My brother and I loved it.

  • SY

    My Grandmother , a Holocaust survivor from Hungary added nuts and sugar. It made for a great sweet delicious dish!!

  • Barbara

    This has been mine and my daughter’s comfort food our entire lives!






  • Susan Muniak

    Growing up in a Jewish household in NYC Lukshin and cheese was a staple. In our house we just added some sugar. My husband grew up in a Polish Catholic home in Cleveland, OH and the first time I made it for us his only comment was we had this all the time. And his family too just added sugar. (We use broad egg noodles)






  • Barbara R Liebmann

    Delish and I just had a wonderful lunch. Borscht & sour cream 🤩

  • Sarah

    I grew up eating noodles and cottage cheese, with just a bit of butter for flavor.
    I absolutely loved it.

    However, being poor, cottage cheese is too expensive and can’t afford it.






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