It’s a bit like a casserole, but growing up, we always called it a Kugel (pronounced koogle where the ‘oo’ sounds like the ‘oo’ in book) and never really questioned the oddity of it — the name or what it was. That it makes the perfect gluten-free, vegan side for holidays and dinner parties only dawned on me when I created this clean and lean version.
Kugels show up at every Jewish holiday in one outfit or another. The New Year saw it as a sweet, casserole treat all noodley and cheesy topped with syrupy strawberry sauce. On Passover, it would be whipped up as a savoury dish with onions and Matzo meal. Around Chanuka, the kugel is generally comprised of potatoes and served with sour cream (because it is not a true Chanukah celebration without at least a half dozen manifestations of the potato).
The first kugels were made from bread and flour. In the 17th century, sugar was added to the mix. In Poland, Jewish women would sprinkle cinnamon and raisins into the recipe while Hungarians took the dessert to the limits and served it up with a hearty serving of sugar and sour cream. Seems to me that people just don’t know what to do with their kugel anymore, and have made it a free-for-all — throwing all optional ‘toppings’ on the table, allowing the arteries to sort out what to do with this sweet, salty, starchy, sour creamy heart attack in the making.
Rumour has it that today it is not uncommon for the bubbies in the kitchen to accessorize their kugel casseroles with corn flakes, graham cracker crumbs, ground gingersnaps or caramelized sugar and layer the dish with sliced pineapples or apricot jam. Oye vey! This cleaned-up version keeps the deliciousness while tossing out the processed yuck.
Sweet Potato Kugel