Two Recipes for Noodle Kugels

Two light versions of the perennial favorite, well suited to our Mediterranean climate

Kugel with mangold and spinach
Kugel with mangold and spinach. Salty cheese replaces sugar. Dan Peretz; styling by Nurit Kariv

There’s a story about a Hasid who wanted to be close to his rebbe, Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer of Medzhibozh, known as the Baal Shem Tov (Besht), and therefore pestered him with many inane questions. One Shabbat morning he turned to his rebbe and asked: “Tell me, rebbe, why do the Jews eat kigel on Shabbat of all days?” The Besht gave him a look full of importance and replied without hesitation: “Simple, my son. Kigel in gematria [a Jewish system of assigning numerical value to a word or phrase] is Shabbat!” The Hasid thought about his rebbe’s answer, plucked up his courage and turned to him again: “But rebbe, Shabbat in gematria has a higher value than kigel.” “Did you say higher?” replied the Besht, “so add a little more kigel!”

“Kigel” in the language of Polish and Galician Jews, or “kugel” to Lithuanian and German Jews, is made in various versions from potatoes, apples, flour or noodles. It is eaten on Shabbat morning after spending an entire night in a hot oven, where it becomes brown outside and soft inside.

“Lokshen kugel,” made from noodles, was especially popular with Ashkenazi Jerusalemites in earlier times. Under the influence of their Sephardic neighbors, they made it very spicy, and it was nicknamed “Jerusalem kugel.” But like many of the foods that made their way to the hot Levant from the cold European countries, it apparently became less attractive on steamy Shabbat mornings, and was replaced by the eggplant and hard boiled eggs of the Iraqis or the jahnoun and grated tomatoes of the Yemenites, as lighter alternatives.

My teacher and mentor Shmil Holland claims that good kugel brings the Jew close to his ancestral tradition simply because after eating it, it’s very hard to walk. For those who have difficulty getting up after Shabbat morning kugel, we have prepared two lighter versions of this wonderful dish to suit the Mediterranean climate. In no way does it mean giving up the original, and these are particularly tasty versions for warmer days.

Kugel with mangold and spinach

This thick pudding is a very distant relative of the familiar and beloved lokshen kugel served on Shabbat mornings in the synagogue. Instead of raisins and apples you add fleshy mangold and spinach, and the sugar is replaced by crumbly, salty cheese. On the other hand, and in order not to undermine the caloric tradition of the dish, we have retained generous quantities of noodles, eggs and oil.

And speaking of noodles, the mitzvah of eating kugel should be meticulously observed, using pasta made from real eggs, rather than the commercial type.

500 gm. fetuccini, tagliatella or pappardelle noodles

1 good-sized bunch of mangold

1 bunch (500 gm.) of spinach

1/2 cup (120 ml.) olive oil

4 eggs

200 gm. sheep feta cheese

sea salt

ground black pepper

In a large pot, bring 6 liters of water to a boil with a heaping tablespoon of salt and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. When the water boils add the pasta and cook for about 6 minutes, until the pasta is soft and flexible, but still demonstrates resistance when you chew (“al dente” − “on the tooth”).

Strain the noodles, add a little oil and stir to prevent stickiness. Meanwhile, rinse the spinach and mangold well to remove any sand. Cut the mangold leaves with their tough stalks lengthwise into long thin strips, and transfer to a wide pot with the spinach. Cook the leaves without liquid over low heat for about 10 minutes in a covered pot, stirring occasionally. When the leaves soften but haven’t shrunk completely, remove from heat, strain and squeeze slightly. Transfer the cooked pasta and scalded spinach and mangold leaves to a large bowl. Add the oil and eggs and crumble the feta over it. Add a little salt (the cheese is salty enough) and ground black pepper and stir vigorously in one direction until the feta circles around in the bowl together with the spinach and mangold, and the oil and eggs form a shiny thick coating over everything.

Generously grease a high, round 25-cm. baking pan, preferably ceramic. Put the pasta mixture into it and flatten it with your hands. Cover with aluminum foil and place in an oven preheated to 170 degrees Celsius for about two hours. Remove the foil and raise the temperature to 220 degrees for 20 minutes, until the kugel has a hard brown crust.

Alternatively, place the covered pan in an oven heated to 110 degrees for five to six hours, or overnight. The kugel will not brown as much as the Polish version, because it doesn’t contain sugar that caramelizes and gives the noodles an amber color, but its texture becomes as soft and dense as a cloud of schmaltz. To serve, remove the dish from the pan and serve warm, without side dishes, at most a piece of smoked fish and maybe a shot of whiskey, to make room in your stomach for another slice.

Spicy carrot kugel

This orange-colored kugel is more similar to the original kugel than the previous recipe, and is similar in taste to sweet-and-spicy Jerusalem kugel. The unique method of slicing the carrots contributes additional softness to the texture, while the combination of sugar and hot peppers makes it so delicious that you can’t stop eating it.

500 gm. fetuccini, tagliatella or pappardelle noodles

800 gm. carrots

1/2 cup (120 ml.) vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 tbsp. brown sugar, or a little more for those with a sweet tooth

1 level tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. ground shata pepper; more for those who like it spicy

sea salt

ground black pepper

Prepare the pasta as in previous recipe. Meanwhile peel the carrots and continue to use the peeler until the carrots disappear entirely, and you have a high pile of thin carrot curls.

Place the pasta in a bowl and add the carrots, oil, eggs, sugar, turmeric and shata pepper. Add a generous amount of salt and pepper and stir the pasta with the carrots until they circle around together and the entire bowl turns orange.

Transfer the noodles to a greased baking pan and bake as in the previous recipe. Serve warm, with a cup of cold yogurt or soda to moderate the spiciness.