Wednesday, April 5, 2006  -  Food Section






Sweet or savory, kugel is a holiday favorite



Lisa Zwirn,

Globe Correspondent


For what is essentially a simple pudding, kugel gets a lot of play in Jewish cookery.  That's particularly true during Passover, the weeklong holiday that starts April 12 with the first Seder, which commemorates the Jews' Exodus from slavery in Egypt.


Flour and grains are forbidden during Passover so it's common to see kugels made with potatoes, or the traditional crackerlike sheets of matzo and all kinds of fresh vegetables and fruits. The most famous of these puddings -- noodle kugel -- is never on the holiday table because flour-based noodles are not eaten.


Kugel needs something to give it heft, so that when the pudding is baked in a rectangular pan, it will cut easily into squares. Grated potatoes and onions are the key ingredients for potato kugel, while combinations such as spinach and mushroom, broccoli and onion, and shredded carrots and apples are mixed with the small, broken pieces of matzo called farfel.  Instead of farfel, some use matzo meal, which is finer.  Beaten eggs go into the batter, and when the pudding is served, whether it's savory, sweet, or fruit filled, it's a side dish for brisket, chicken, or lamb.


On the first two nights of the holiday, at the Passover Seders, the dishes served after the reading of the Haggadah, which tells the story of the Exodus, are generally family specialties, passed down from one generation to the next.


When her parents hosted the Seders in their Chestnut Hill home, Newton resident Julie Sall found the holidays particularly meaningful, an evening filled with "stories, history, and Jewish culture."  Sall's grandfather, a rabbi in New York, would lead the Seder and her grandmother, who served as national president of the women's organization Hadassah, made many of the dishes, including gefilte fish, from scratch.


Because her grandmother's recipes were not all written down, many have become food memories.  And the family's Seder, says Sall, "has evolved," since her grandparents passed away.  Now Sall, 47, and her husband, Eric, along with daughters Maddy and Charlotte, host smaller, more casual Seders.  Julie Sall always makes beef brisket (and if she cooks for the second night's Seder, she makes chicken), usually accompanied by a mushroom, onion, and farfel kugel.  She keeps the main course simple because it follows the rather filling, traditional dishes of gefilte fish (hers is not homemade) and matzo ball soup (from her own simmering pot).


Some traditional dishes go back three generations.  At Elaine and Joseph Paster's household in Sudbury, the potato kugel comes from Eastern Europe.  Elaine, 61, makes three large kugels a few weeks ahead, stacking them in her freezer. She follows her husband's grandmother's recipe, which she learned years ago after watching "Bubby," as the Polish woman was known to her family.


Elaine Paster has tweaked the recipe and modernized it, whirring the potatoes in a food processor rather than grating them by hand.  In order to ensure a crisp bottom and nicely browned top, she heats the oil in the baking dish before adding the potato batter.  Paster, who keeps a kosher house, has hosted Seders for 30 years, cooking for as many as 25 people on each of the first two nights of the holiday.


If savory potato kugels are at one end of the kugel spectrum, sweet puddings are at the other.  The "festive fruit kugel" that Wayland resident Susan Brisk, 60, prepares is loaded with canned peaches, Medjool dates, and pineapple-studded cottage cheese.  Yogurt and eight eggs make it "really custardy, like a souffle," she says.  Brisk, who doesn't keep kosher, will serve meat and dairy dishes at the same table.  So the fruit-laden kugel becomes part of a main meal that has always included beef brisket and, more recently, salmon.


Ask half a dozen Jewish cooks how they make their kugels and you'll get half a dozen answers.  That's just the way this dish has always been made.  Some differences are regional.  Others occur because recipes have been handed down through the generations.  Often a grandmother is at the stove, with a daughter or granddaughter watching, as Paster, the Sudbury resident, did.  Those children who weren't paying attention to the goings-on in the kitchen have to come up with their own traditions.



Potato kugel (p)



    1/4 cup          canola oil

      6 large        russet (baking) potatoes,

                       peeled and left in cold water

      3 medium       onions, halved

      4 large        eggs, lightly beaten

    1/2 cup          matzo meal

  2 1/2 teaspoons    kosher salt

                    black pepper, to taste


1.  Set the oven at 350 degrees.  Pour the oil into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.


2.  With the grating blade of a food processor, grate the potatoes and onions, alternating one with the other.  When the processor is filled, transfer the mixture to a bowl and continue with the next batch.  Work quickly so the potatoes don't turn brown.


3.  Remove the grater blade from the machine and insert the metal blade.  Working in batches, return the grated potatoes and onions to the processor and pulse three times to chop the shreds.  Transfer the mixture to a colander and press down firmly to remove excess liquid.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.


4.  Stir in the eggs, matzo meal, salt, and pepper.


5.  Set the baking dish in the oven and heat it for 2 to 3 minutes or until it is very hot.  Remove the dish from the oven and swirl the oil so it coats the bottom and sides of the dish.


6.  Carefully transfer the potato mixture to the hot dish (the oil may splatter).  Smooth the top.  Bake for 50 minutes.


7. Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees.  Continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes (total cooking time is 60 to 65 minutes) or until the kugel is golden and cooked through.  Cool slightly before cutting into squares.


Serves 10.


Adapted from Elaine Paster




Festive fruit kugel (d)



for the KUGEL:

                    margarine or butter (for the dish)

      4 cups         matzo farfel

      8 large        eggs

    1/2 cup          sugar

    1/2 cup          margarine or butter, melted and

                       cooled slightly

      1 teaspoon     salt

    1/2 teaspoon     freshly grated nutmeg

      1 cup          plain yogurt

      1 cup          cottage cheese with pineapple (or plain)

      2 cans         sliced peaches (15 ounces each), drained

                       and coarsely chopped

      8 ounces       dates, preferably Medjool, pitted and

                       chopped (about 2 cups)

1.  Set the oven at 350 degrees.  Rub a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with margarine or butter.


2.  In a colander, place the farfel and pour warm water over it to soak the pieces, letting the water drain.


3.  In a large bowl, whisk the eggs.  Whisk in the sugar, margarine or butter, salt, and nutmeg.


4.  With a spoon, stir in the yogurt, cottage cheese, peaches, and dates.  Fold in the farfel.


5.  Transfer the mixture to the dish.


for the TOPPING:


    3/4 cup          matzo farfel

    1/2 cup          chopped walnuts

      1 Tablespoon   sugar

    1/4 teaspoon     ground cinnamon

      2 Tablespoons  margarine or butter, melted


1.  In a bowl, combine the farfel, walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, and margarine or butter.


2.  Sprinkle the mixture over the kugel. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden, slightly puffed, and set. Cool slightly before cutting into squares.


Serves 16


Adapted from Susan Brisk