Five amazing recipes of this iconic Jewish dish.
“I had Shabbos dinner with Cohn. He served kugel…” So related the famous German poet Heinrich Heine in a letter dated December 19, 1825, to his friend Moses Moser. Moser had established a lofty journal for the study of Jewish culture, but Heine had a simpler take on what it meant to be Jewish: “I ate this holy national dish, which has done more to preserve Judaism than” all the journal issues Moser ever published, he asserted.
Kugel, one of the most iconic Jewish dishes, has the power to transport us back to memories of Shabbat and holiday tables. Over the past thousand years, it has spread to virtually every corner of the Jewish culinary world, but kugel’s origins are in Germany and – surprisingly – in China.
In the Middle Ages, the practice of cooking noodles or dumplings – dough boiled in a liquid – spread from China to Italy, as merchants traded spices and other goods along the Silk Road. From Italy, Jewish traders brought the practice of making dumplings to Germany, and soon it became popular as a Shabbat dish. Jewish housewives started dropping balls of batter into their weekly Shabbat stew, to be prepared on Friday afternoon and simmered overnight. The resulting dumpling was a delicious treat, served alongside the stew after synagogue on Saturday morning. In fact, “kugel” means ball in German, reflecting its dumpling origins.
Soon, however, Jewish women experimented with cooking kugels by themselves, varying the ingredients. In eastern Jewish communities, Jewish women incorporated local ingredients like rice, spices, and dried fruits into their kugels. In Europe, noodle kugels soon became popular. After the introduction of the potato to European soil, Jewish cooks in Eastern Europe began making kugels with the new vegetable. A popular Yiddish song captures both the limited diet of impoverished Jewish communities – and the special place that kugel held as a special Shabbat dish:
Sunday potatoes, Monday potatoes, Tuesday and Wednesday potatoes, Thursday and Friday potatoes, but Shabbos, for a change, a potato kugel.
The first published recipe for kugel in the United States seems to hail from Western Europe: a sweet noodle version, the recipe given in Esther Levy’s groundbreaking 1871 American Jewish cookbook called for homemade noodles, raisins, eggs and sugar.
Since then, kugel has undergone a transformation: pineapple, cranberries, cream cheese all feature in modern kugel recipes. Yet the classics remain ever popular and kugel is even becoming trendy. In 2015, Bon Appetit magazine even hosted a noodle kugel cook-off, reflecting a new popularity of this traditional dish.
Five Amazing Recipes
Here are five amazing kugel recipes to enjoy; please feel free to supply your own favorite kugel ideas in the comments section below!
This sweet and spicy Israeli kugel is said to have arrived in Israel’s capital in the 1700s with the followers of the Jewish sage the Vilna Gaon, who encouraged Jews to resettle in Israel. (Thanks to the Vilna Gaon’s influence, Jerusalem soon became a majority-Jewish city again, for the first time since the Roman destruction.) Traditional versions call for Jerusalem Kugel to be cooked overnight, along with the Shabbat stew; this wonderful recipe gives you the option of baking it for only hour only, if you prefer, instead.
- 6 cups water
- 2 ½ t salt
- 12 oz capellini or other thin spaghetti
- ½ t freshly ground black pepper
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup sugar
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Bring 6 cups water to boil, add ½ t salt, and cook the noodles for about 5 minutes, or according to package directions, until al dente. Drain, rinse in cold water, and place in a bowl. Add the pepper, remaining salt, eggs, and ⅔ cup of sugar. Mix well.
Heat the oil in a small saucepan and add the remaining ⅓ cup of sugar. Stirring constantly, cook over medium heat, until the sugar melts and starts to turn brown. (Keep an eye on this, for once it begins to caramelize, it darkens quickly) Pour the caramelized sugar over the pasta, mixing well. Grease a Bundt pan with vegetable oil and pour the noodle mixture in. Cover with tin foil and bake overnight.
Alternately: bake kugel in a 350 degree F oven for one hour, uncovered.
For an old Sephardic Jerusalem variation, add to the cooked pasta the following ingredients: ⅔ cup of plumped raisins (soak them in hot water for 15 minutes to plump them), 3 chopped and sauteed onions, 3 T light brown sugar, 1 clove crushed garlic, ½ t ground cinnamon, ¼ t ground nutmeg, ⅛ t ground allspice, ⅛ t ground cloves, and 1 t salt. Proceed as above.
Serves 6-8. (Adapted from The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan, Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.)
Classic Potato Kugel
This is the perfect potato kugel: crispy brown on the outside and rich and creamy inside.
- 4 eggs
- Salt and Pepper
- 4-5 T chicken fat or light vegetable oil
- 1 large mild onion, grated
- 3 lbs. (1 ½ kg.) potatoes
In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the salt and pepper, the oil, and the onion.
Peel and grate the potatoes (you may use a food processor) and stir them quickly into the egg mixture (if you don’t do it quickly, they will tarnish). Pour into a wide, shallow baking dish brushed with oil. Bake at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) for about 1 hour. Then turn the heat to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C) for 5-10 minutes, or until browned. Serve hot.
Serves 6-8. (Recipe from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1996.)
British Jewish cookery doyenne Evelyn Rose explains that this rich dairy kugel recipe was given to her by a Russian cook whose family used to make it before World War II, and represents a culinary link with the past.
- 6 oz (175 g / ¾ cup) Carolina (short-grain or pudding) rice
- 3 oz (75 g / ⅓ cup) butter
- 2 eggs
- 4 oz (125 g / 1 cup) raisins or sultanas (white raisins)
- ½ t vanilla essence
- ½ level t cinnamon
Cook the rice in a large pan of boiling salted water until very tender (about 20 minutes), then strain and allow to cool. Meanwhile, set the oven at Gas No. 3 (325 degrees F / 160 degrees C) and put the butter in an oven casserole about 3 inches (7.5 cm) deep to melt it.
Whisk the eggs, add the sugar and carry on whisking to a creamy consistency. Mix in the raisins, flavorings and rice. Swirl the butter round the casserole to coat the sides, then pour the surplus into the rice mixture. Stir until thoroughly blended, then pour into the casserole. Bake for 1 hour, until golden brown. Serve plain or with melted syrup.
(Recipe from The New Complete International Jewish Cookbook by Evelyn Rose, Robson Books, 1997.)
This easy, delicious kugel becomes an instant favorite of everyone who tastes it. I was first given the recipe long ago by a dear friend, who’d just received it from her sister and was raving about how wonderful it was. I started making it every week, and even included it in a book I wrote about Shabbat. Years later, the same friend who’d passed along the recipe to me walked into her mother’s kitchen before Shabbat to find her consulting a copy of my book; she’d discovered this wonderful Broccoli Kugel recipe in it, she explained to her bemused daughter, and often made it for Shabbat!
- 4 large stalks broccoli (or 4 10-oz boxes of frozen chopped broccoli)
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 T onion soup mix
- 4 eggs
Dash of white pepper (or black pepper if you don’t have white)
Boil broccoli until very soft. Drain, cool, and mash with a fork in a bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix until well blended. Pour into a lined 8-inch or 9-inch baking pan and bake uncovered at 350 degrees F for 1 hour. cool
Let cool, then cut into squares. Serve hot or cold.
Serves 8. (Recipe from Yvette Alt Miller’s Angels at the Table: A Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat, Continuum, 2001.)
Bubbe’s Shabbos Noodle Kugel
This amazing Noodle Kugel contains no dairy ingredients – so is suitable to serve with a meat meal – yet I’ve had guests time and again who insisted that it must be made with the richest cream and butter. I came across it in a fun children’s book about young kids who try to help their Bubbe (grandma) make her Shabbos Kugel. My kids loved it when they were toddlers, and always clamored for me to make this delicious Kugel recipe, which was included in the book.
- 8 oz medium noodles
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 4 T margarine
- 8 oz crushed pineapple
- ¼ cup honey
- Cinnamon and Sugar
Boil noodles and drain. Add rest of ingredients. Pour into greased baking pan. Sprinkle top with cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until set. Recipe may be doubled.
(Note: I often alter this recipe by combining sugar and cinnamon in with the noodle mixture, then sprinkling just a little on top before baking. The recipe leaves the amounts up to you, so you can make this Kugel as sweet as you like.)
(Recipe from Once Upon A Shabbos by Jacqueline Jules, Illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn, Kar-Ben Copies, 1998.)