Why frugal kugel is the top credit crunch

You won’t find the dish on Michelin menus, but it’s versatile and tasty.


By Ruth Joseph, November 13, 2008
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Potato kugel: a warming, filling combination of potato, onion, matzah meal and eggs

Potato kugel: a warming, filling combination of potato, onion, matzah meal and eggs

During these times of financial gloom, political volatility and dark and chilly days, we need comfort. What better way to find it than through the traditional ways of cooking, serving and eating food where every mouthful is a taste of the past?

Let's look at kugel. The name comes from the German meaning a globe or a ball and probably referred to the magical gugelhupf cake tin - which was originally used to make the dish - and is a puffed-at-the-base, ring-shaped tin with a hole in the middle (although nowadays a kugel is often made in a square dish - for ease of service).

In the beginning, kugels were a savoury concept, simply made out of flour and water and maybe a type of bread. Then around the year 1200, noodles were introduced into the diet and incorporated into the pudding, followed by a homemade cottage-like cheese and often an egg to form a similar kugel to the versions of today.

In the 17th century, sugar was introduced into the European diet. Polish Jews delighted in adding this to their version, along with a richer type of cream cheese, cinnamon and raisins, while the Hungarians added yet more sugar and their own passion for sour cream.

When the Gaon of Vilna and his followers arrived at Mea Shearim, they created yet another version, the Jerusalem kugel (Kugel Yerushalayim) - a sweet and peppery confection containing both raisins and black pepper.

It is eaten for breakfast, supper, or as part of a Yomtov or Shabbat meal. In fact, some Chasidic Jews believe that if kugel is eaten on Shabbat in the presence of a rabbi, it will bring extra spiritual fortune to the diners and their families.

The British form of the kugel might be the pudding which uses the simplest of ingredients - think of a Yorkshire pudding consisting of flour, milk and eggs, served at the beginning of a meal to fill the diners; or steak and kidney pudding, where a sponge was served together with a large amount of vegetables to make the meat go further.

Sweet puddings would be created out of cheap, seasonal ingredients - a glut of apples for apple pie and crumble. When combined with hedgerow fruits, such as blackberries or raspberries, they formed a cobbler. Often, parsnips or beetroot sweetened a wartime pie or cake.

Fortunately we are not at war at the moment but nevertheless at times like these, when our credit is crunched, we cannot waste food. One of the ways we can reuse good ingredients, such as cooked vegetables, cottage or grated cheese, even ratatouille, is to add them to a kugel.

The basic kugel has changed with the times - noodles have often been removed and ingenious cooks have replaced them, especially during Pesach, with grated potatoes, courgettes, carrots, fried onions and matzah.

My mother's recipe was like a very large latke using grated potatoes and onions, a little matzo-meal and eggs, seasoned well and poured into a greased dish and baked until crispy.

Although I adored the golden top and gluey middle, I realise that its greyish colour is not to everyone's taste.

Now I know that adding a little lemon juice prevents oxidisation and the consequent off-putting colour. Another way is to par-boil potatoes and then grate them - but this makes yet another type of kugel.

In essence, a kugel can be anything you wish it to be. It can be a healthy savoury diet dish made out of seasoned grated carrots and courgettes mixed with eggs and baked - or the richest lockshen pudding made with full-fat cheese, the seeds of a sticky vanilla pod, grated lemon rind and raisins. Even wine or liqueur can be incorporated into its luxurious depths.

Whatever you decide, perhaps it is time it to consider enjoying a wonderful comfort food steeped in religious and cultural history.

Mother's Potato Kugel

Ingredients
3 large white onions, sliced finely and sweated with 1 tablespoon oil
2 kg, 4½ lb grated old potatoes
2 teasp lemon-juice
1 teasp sugar - this offsets the lemon juice and should be indiscernible
2 large or 3 small free-range eggs
120g, 4oz matzah-meal (medium gives a rougher texture which I prefer)
Another 30ml, 1 fl oz good olive oil
Freshly milled black pepper and salt to taste, and a little grated nutmeg or chopped parsley for a twist

Method
 Set the oven to gas mark 5, 190°C, 375°F. Pour 30ml, 1fl oz, olive oil, into a large metal tin 48cm x 28 ½cm x 2cm or 16in x 11in x ¾in This will make a really crispy kugel. If you want it thicker, then use a deeper tin.
 Carefully smear oil over edges and place in the oven to heat.
 To prevent the potatoes going dark, have all the ingredients ready.
 Grate the potatoes (some like to squeeze out excess liquid through a cloth, but I like a soft, almost gluey, middle).
 Combine with the rest of the ingredients. Remove tin from the oven - it should be hot.
 Add the potato mixture, spreading it out carefully but quickly. The hot tin should create a glorious crust on the base.
 Then place quickly in the oven and bake for approx 1 hour, check after 45 minutes.
 This version is parev and will be a delicious accompaniment to meat or chicken or fish and can be served hot or cold.
 To vary, add 1 crushed clove garlic, 1 tablespoon of paprika or even a finely chopped green chilli (without seeds) for a spicier flavour.

    Last updated: 11:41am, November 13 2008