Start and End the Yom Kippur Fast With Tradition: Two Kugel Recipes

They say that all the kugel one ate in honor of Shabbat is weighed in heavenly court alongside one’s deeds and misdeeds

Poppy seed and walnut kugel.
Vered Guttman

Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabbad (1745-1812), once said: “What we achieve by blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, a person can achieve by eating kugel on Shabbat."

Someone asked: "If so, why blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah? We should eat kugel!"

“Indeed,” replied the rabbi. “That's what we do when Rosh Hashanah comes out on Shabbat; we eat kugel and do not blow the shofar!”

The kugel was born in Eastern Europe as a pastry made from leftover bread, fat and eggs. Eight centuries ago, it evolved into the lokshen (noodle) kugel we know today. Rice kugels were invented in the 16th century thanks to Ottoman influences, and the popular Polish potato kugel showed up in the nineteenth century.

Since the kugel was born out of need for a warm dish on Shabbat, when observant Jews do not cook, it was prepared overnight in a communal oven. Cooks used to seal the kugel pan with a strip of dough, or place it inside the pan of cholent, an overnight sabbath stew. The result was a steamed pastry rather than baked one. Steaming potato kugel inside the cholent was the way my grandmother used to make it, and how my mother still prepares kugel today.

For flavor and sweetness, some recipes began to add sautéed apples, cherries, berries and dried fruit into kugels. A specialty kugel from Galicia (now in Ukraine,) called mandavortchinek, combines potatoes with yeast dough. In Israel the noodle kugel took another turn, becoming peppery and caramelized, to make what is widely known as the Jerusalem kugel. And while dairy kugels, made with cream or milk, were popular during Shavuot in Europe, it seems that adding cheese to the recipe was an American invention. For the predominantly Ashkenazi Jewish American community, kugel is still one of the most popular holiday staples.

In Israel, many families call the pastry “kigel” (pronounced kee-ghel), the Galician way. Kugel is the Lithuanian version. When I asked why the word “kigel” disappeared from the American Jewish culinary vocabulary, I was told it is due to a set of pelvic floor exercises by the same name, invented in 1948 by Arnold Kegal. Here’s how languages change, right in front of our eyes.      

Are you planning to eat kugel before or after Yom Kippur? If not, note that the Seer of Lublin (Rabbi Jacob Isaac Horowitz, 1745-1815) taught that just as one’s respective mitzvot and transgressions are weighed in our final judgment in heavenly courts, so too are weighed all the kugel one ate in honor of the Shabbat. (“Holy Kugel: The Sanctification of Ashkenazic Ethnic Foods in Hasidim,” by Allan Nadler).

Potato kugel.
Vered Guttman

Potato kugel

Schmaltz, rendered chicken fat, is available at kosher supermarkets as well as at many big chain supermarkets, especially in Jewish neighborhoods.

Yields one 9”x5” loaf

Ingredients

3 lb. gold potatoes, peeled

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 yellow onions

1/2 cup schmaltz or corn oil

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup flour or matzo meal

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

1.    Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Grease a loaf pan, and set aside.

2.    Grate potatoes on a large grater (a food processor grater will make your life much easier). Transfer to a colander over a large bowl, mix with 1 tablespoon kosher salt and let stand.

3.    Peel and grate onions. Set aside.

4.    Melt schmaltz in a small pot over medium heat, add sugar, and cook until it caramelizes and turns golden brown, about 8 minutes. Avoid stirring; just shake the pot occasionally and make sure the sugar doesn’t burn.

5.    While the schmaltz-sugar is cooking, press potatoes into a colander with your hands to remove as much liquid as possible into the bowl. Then discard all liquid from the bowl, leaving any starch accumulated at the bottom of the bowl. Place potatoes into the empty bowl.

6.     As soon as the sugar is golden brown, pour it over the potatoes and mix well. Add grated onion, flour and black pepper, and mix well. Add beaten eggs and mix again. Pour into prepared loaf pan, drizzle with olive oil and bake for 2 hours so that the top is golden and crisp (the kugel will be ready after 1 hour in the oven, but two hours will yield the crispy top). Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

7.    Serve hot or warm with dill pickles.

Poppy seed and walnut kugel

The inspiration for this recipe comes from Hungarian cuisine, in which noodles are served with either walnuts or poppy seeds and sugar. Here both are combined in a savory kugel.

Spaetzle, German-style egg noodles, are available in some kosher and chain supermarkets as well as online. I find that they make the best kugels.

Yields 2 loafs or one 9”x12” pan kugel

Ingredients

1 lb. spaetzle noodles or wide egg noodles

1 cup walnuts

1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter

3 tablespoons poppy seeds

2 tablespoons sugar

1 lb. sour cream

1 lb. cream cheese

6 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 cup golden raisins

Directions

1.    Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (165 degrees Celsius). Grease pan.

8.    Boil noodles in salted water until al dente and chewy (a couple minutes less than directed on the package). Drain but do not rinse. Transfer to a large bowl.

9.    Put walnuts in a ziplock bag and break into small crumbs using a rolling pin. Put butter in a non-stick pan over medium heat and melt. Then add walnuts, poppy seeds and sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, until walnuts are golden and the mixture gives off a nice aroma, about 10 minutes. Pour over noodles and mix well.

10. Mix sour cream and cream cheese into noodles. Add eggs, salt, pepper and raisins, and mix again. Pour into greased pan and bake for 1 hour, or until center is set. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm.

This article was originally published in September 2016