Kugels are coming: High holy days have Jewish cooks stirring up tradition

Akron Beacon JournalSeptember 4, 2013 


Dairy-free noodle kugel with pecan strusel topping made by Marilyn Groden, sits on displau at her home in Akron, Ohio, Wednesday, August 21, 2013. (Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)


Perhaps the only thing more comforting than a steaming bowl of chicken soup on the Jewish table is a warm noodle kugel.

With the start of the high holy days upon us, cooks in the Jewish community will be taking out family recipes and making their favorites for upcoming celebrations.

Kugel comes in many forms, but perhaps the most well-known is the noodle kugel, typically egg noodles baked with mild cheese, butter and eggs in a pudding dish. The dish was brought to America by Jews of Eastern European descent.

The rich and creamy casserole is often finished with a sweet topping of crumbs, cinnamon and sugar, which make it similar to bread pudding or other baked egg casseroles.

For observant Jews, kosher rules will dictate what is on their dinner table at any particular time. An important part of keeping kosher is that meat and dairy products are never eaten at the same time.

Kugels can be made dairy-free to serve along with meat, and even can be made without noodles, such as potato kugels at Passover, when noodles and other products made with flour are not consumed.

Rosh Hashana begins at sundown on Sept. 4, and ends at sundown Sept. 6. Yom Kippur is Sept. 13 and 14. Rosh Hashana is about celebrating the Jewish New Year; Yom Kippur is a day of atonement that includes a 24-hour fast.

Akron, Ohio, resident Marilyn Groden already has her chicken broth and matzo balls in the freezer waiting to be turned into soup for her Rosh Hashana dinner. The meal will include the traditional round challah bread, a corned beef brisket and roast chicken, as well as a plate of apples with honey for dipping. The apple and honey are a tradition to represent the hope for a sweet new year.

But Groden's table also will feature her pecan kugel, a noodle casserole that can be served along with meat because it contains no dairy. The dish is baked in a Bundt pan, which gives it a festive shape. The kugel is studded with pecans laced with cinnamon and sugar, crowning it with a sweet topping reminiscent of pralines.

Groden has become well-known for her pecan kugel and has even won a few cooking contests with the recipe.

"It makes a beautiful presentation," Groden said.

Akron resident Lani Rothstein's cheese and noodle kugel is the type often made at Yom Kippur. After not eating for 24 hours, there is a traditional meal to break the fast, which often is a meatless meal featuring dairy dishes like Rothstein's kugel, which contains cottage cheese, butter and sour cream, with a sweet crumb topping. She said the recipe is very traditional.

Recipes for cheese kugels can vary widely, and often contain fruit such as raisins, apricots or apples, giving them almost a dessert-like quality. The cheese is often cottage, ricotta or farmer's cheese.

However, dairy kugels can be savory, too, along the lines of a pasta baked with cheese.

In their 2013 book "Jewish Traditional Cooking" ($29.95, hardcover, Kyle Books), authors Ruth Joseph and Simon Round include a recipe for a Savory Vegetable and Noodle Kugel that uses pasta instead of traditional egg noodles. The inclusion of spinach and peas make this dairy kugel similar to vegetable lasagna, which could serve as its own meal or as part of the breaking-the-fast meal for Yom Kippur.


1 cup pecan halves

12 tbsp. margarine, melted

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 lb. extra-wide noodles

6 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. cinnamon

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour half the margarine into a 12-cup Bundt pan. Swirl the margarine to coat the bottom and sides.

Press brown sugar into the bottom, then press pecans in a pattern into the sugar. Set aside.

Cook noodles in boiling water according to package directions. Drain. Mix with eggs, vanilla, remaining melted margarine, cinnamon, granulated sugar and salt.

Spoon into the prepared mold. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes, or until the top is brown.

Let stand 10 to 15 minutes before unmolding. Turn out onto a serving plate.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 to 14 servings.

-- Marilyn Groden, Akron


1 lb. broad noodles, cooked and drained

1 large carton creamed cottage cheese

1 1/2 cup sugar 6 eggs

2 sticks butter, melted

1 cup milk

1 pint sour cream

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Pour into a large casserole that has been sprayed with nonstick spray. You will need a pan that is bigger than a 9-by-13-inch.

Sprinkle top with graham cracker topping (recipe follows).

Bake at 350 degrees for at least 1 hour until top is nicely browned.

Makes 12 to 15 servings.


1 cup graham cracker crumbs

1 tbsp. melted butter

2 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup chopped nuts

Mix together in a small bowl and sprinkle over top of kugel.

-- Lani Rothstein, Akron


1 1/2 lbs. dried pasta, such as penne or rigatoni

1 lb. fresh spinach

1/2 cup vegetable stock

2 medium onions, roughly chopped

2 tsp. olive oil

1/2 cup fresh, flat-leaf parsley

1 1/4 cups low-fat soft cheese, like ricotta or cottage cheese

3 eggs (organic, free-range preferred)

1 1/2 cups frozen peas

1 red chile, finely chopped (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 1/2 cups shredded hard cheese of your choice, for the topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. Drain, reserving a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid, and return pasta to the pan. Meanwhile, place the spinach in a large pan with the vegetable stock and cook until it wilts. Drain, squeezing out as much liquid as possible, and set aside.

In a large frying pan, gently cook the onion in the oil until soft, but not colored. Pour into a food processor, add the cooked spinach and parsley, and process to a smooth green puree. Add the soft cheese and eggs and process quickly to blend. Scoop the spinach mixture into the pan with the pasta, add the peas and chile, if using, and mix thoroughly to combine. Season well with plenty of salt and black pepper.

Pour into a baking dish, top with the shredded cheese, and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes, until golden. Serve with a tomato salad.

Makes eight servings.

-- "Jewish Traditional Cooking," Ruth Joseph and Simon Round

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