Kugel Recipe From the Old Country With Step-by-Step Photos
Jewish Comfort Food
Every ethnic group has comfort foods. These familiar dishes we enjoy at home are solid, filling, tasty, and full of love. Comfort foods are not too complicated or expensive to make. And I suspect that these meals have been made for so many generations, that cravings for them are in our genetic code!
For those picturing these foods you’ve eaten since you were knee-high to a grasshopper, you may concede that some do not meet the current heart-healthy nutritional guidelines. But, man does not live by blueberry-cranberry-soy-infused bran muffins alone. We need to recognize that in addition to supplying cultural familiarity and gobs of love (the secret ingredient added during preparation), comfort foods meet another need. They meet the basic emotional need for salt and grease.
(And hey—how can our body use those fat-soluble vitamins if we don’t ingest a little fat?)
The pronunciation of "kugel" varies. It can be said “COO-gull” or “KUG- gull” or “KIG- gull,” or with the first syllable having the same vowel sound as in the word “look” or “put.”
Kugel is a dish of noodles and eggs cooked by baking or frying. There are two main categories of this dish: one is sweet and contains white sugar and fruit; the other consists of the four basic ingredients of noodles, egg, salt, and oil. The latter type is sometimes referred to as "savory kugels." However, this one is not full of herbs that I associate with the word savory. It just isn't sweet. Also, it is fried, not baked.
Learning From a Master
The photo above is my Great-Grandmother Ludmilla. I am certain that kugel was in her repertoire of dishes. But she didn’t teach me, because she passed on long before I was born. I wish I had known her, though, because family folklore has it that she was quite a formidable woman, raising a family of six children despite having a crippled leg from falling down a well in the old country.
However, I had the extremely good fortune to learn at the elbow of a Maiven who prepared this very kugel every Friday night, every Sabbath, every week. For this special night, she made always the same meal: half a grapefruit, applesauce, roast chicken, peas, and kugel. Of course, she learned how to make it from her mother, who learned from her mother, who learned it from the preceding generations of mothers. Her mother was born in Russia. She was among the many whose real name was so un-pronounceable to the immigration agents at Ellis Island that she was suddenly given a new surname as part of the privilege of entering the land of opportunity. While she couldn’t keep her name, her kugel recipe made it to the new world intact.
The beauty lies in the simplicity. Just four ingredients:
- Medium-sized egg noodles (about 8 ounces). These are made from white flour and are ¼ to 1/3 inch wide. If purchasing a 16-oz bag, use half the bag.
- 2 large eggs
- Vegetable oil (Don’t use olive if it has a discernable olive-y flavor. I go with generic vegetable oil or corn oil.)
- Table salt (The white stuff, conventional sized grains. Not fancy sea salt.)
- Large pot -> about 4 quarts (or 4 liters)
- Large spoon for stirring in the pot
- Large, heat-safe colander
- 2 spatulas
- A dinner-sized plate
- Large frying pan -> about 9 to 11 inches diameter
- A watch or clock with a second hand
- Sharp knife, such as a steak knife
- Paper towels
How to Make It
Step 1: Preparation
- Fill the pot about 2/3 full with water. Place the colander in a clean empty sink. Start heating the pot of water and bring it to a full rolling boil. Have the watch or clock where you can see it. When there are many bubbles breaking the surface, hold the bag of noodles, and get ready. You must time how long the noodles cook by the second, give or take ten seconds. Pour them in quickly and watch the clock. They can cook for only two minutes or 120 seconds. That is the critical step. If the noodles cook longer, they get too soft to stick together, and the kugel falls apart.
- At the end of the 120 seconds, take the pot from the stove and pour the noodles into the colander. Immediately rinse them with cold tap water to stop the cooking.
- You can place your frying pan on the hot burner and turn it to a very low heat. Put in vegetable oil—less than 1/4 inch.
- Now you can use that same large pot to do mixing. Shake excess water from the colander and pour the noodles back into the pot. Add the two eggs and stir to mix thoroughly. Sprinkle in a little salt—about 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon. Stir to mix.
- Now turn up the heat under the frying pan to medium-high. Do not use the highest setting. Test its readiness by getting a tiny bit of water on a finger and flicking a drop of water into the pan. Stand back when doing this. If the water sizzles on impact, the pan is hot enough.
- Quickly pour the noodle mixture into the pan. Use the spoon to spread it out and flatten it.
Kugel Frying In Skillet
Step 2: Cook the First Side
As it cooks, use the sharp knife to go around the circumference of the pan to lift the noodles away from the side. Do it just enough to keep it from sticking. This also allows vegetable oil to go up the sides, which further prevents sticking. Your goal is to have the kugel's bottom get a golden-brown crust. This part should take from 5 to 10 minutes. After 5 minutes, start to check the bottom by lifting the kugel up with a spatula.
Step 3: Flip the Kugel
When the kugel's underside is crisp and medium-brown, you must turn it to cook the top side.
I recommend the method shown in the pictures following. Use the two large spatulas to tightly hold the kugel, top and bottom. Staying over the frying pan, lift and turn the kugel. Then allow it to slide back into the frying pan upside-down. Obviously, the bottom must be sufficiently cooked together before you do this.
[The way my teacher did the flip was to tightly hold a dinner plate on the frying pan, then flip them both upside-down so that the plate and kugel were at the bottom of the stack. She then replaced the pan on the burner and slid the kugel from the plate into the pan with the cooked side now up. This did not work for me. I ended up with oil dripping all over creation.]
The 2-Spatula Kugel Flipping Technique
Step 4: Cook the Other Side
At this point, taste buds are being tantalized by the aroma of Jewish love, disguised as a wonderfully fried noodle pudding. Watch the cooking of the second side. It usually goes a little faster than the first side. Again, you use the knife to do a little lifting and checking on the progress of the bottom.
When it is finally done, use the spatula to lift it onto a plate. If you want to remove some of the oil, you can prepare that plate with a few layers of paper towel. Also, you may gently pat the top to remove grease. Then put your kugel on a serving plate and cut into pie-shaped wedges.
A Happy Belly
I could wax poetic on how this dish is as glorious as the sunrise, warm as the beach on a perfect summer day, and other glowing analogies. Let's just say that this is a very good comfort food, worthy of trying. And when you do it right, your family may rise up and praise you, calling you an accomplished cook, a person of valor.
- About Judaism
Explanation & words to traditional Hebrew prayer praising energetic, righteous, capable home-makers. These words are from Proverbs & are used as a blessing & guide for females. It could be considered the female version of Rudyard Kipling
Maren Morgan loves cooking and especially loves eating! She thanks her friend, BT, for assisting with some of the photos. If you run into any speed bumps trying this recipe, please feel free to comment below.
© 2008 Maren Elizabeth Morgan