Saturday, January 15, 2011

0 Recipe #232: Savory, Sumptuous Noodle Kugel

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Yes, the much-awaited, herb-encrusted rack of lamb recipe I posted details about on Twitter & Facebook is coming soon, I promise. :) It's just a very time-consuming recipe to write. No worries; that doesn't mean it'll be a long post, but just that a lot of thought has gone into the preparation of this dish.

This one's a lot easier to type up, so I thought I'd post this recipe first, which should hopefully tie you over until then. :) If you're looking for new lunch or dinner menu ideas to put into your rotation, here's one that takes just minutes to prepare....

As you may've noticed, I tend to cook various cusine types in "waves." One week, I'm really into making Asian food and the next I'm craving something completely different. Earlier this week, I made matzo ball soup, and now I'm in the mood to offer more selections from Jewish cuisine. This time, I'd like to present a recipe for a lesser-known dish, noodle kugel. This is another food that Ashkenazi Jews brought over with them when they immigrated to America.

Kugel (in Yiddish, spelled קוגעל or sometimes קוגל, & pronounced kuh-gehl), is a baked egg noodle & cheese casserole, with a presentation similar to lasagna but without the tomato sauce & Italian seasonings. ;) In terms of flavor, it's sort of like a Jewish version of mac & cheese, but with wide egg noodles & (ideally!) a much lighter texture & taste. There are many different versions of noodle kugel, which often vary from household to household, but they all basically contain egg noodles. Potato kugel, on the other hand is altogether different entity. (There are no noodles in that dish.)

Lots of people -- particularly those living in the metropolitan NY-NJ area -- tend to be familiar with this dish, regardless of their background. Erik's family, who are from that general area, also like this dish as well; his mother served it as a side dish one year, during one of the family's winter holiday gatherings. We had kugel on Christmas. :)

Kugel is a much-loved dish, and is often served during the winter months, because it's typically served hot or warm. Some people also like to serve it cold, but I don't particularly care for it this way. To me, all that cheesy flavor just tastes better hot. I'd rather make it hot & then just reheat any leftovers. Wait, did I say lefftovers? You think there are going to be any leftovers? ;) But seriously, it's usually made in a large glass casserole dish, & thus, can't typically be consumed in one sitting, unless your dinner guests are either many in number or really, really hungry. ;) So unless you plan to invite the entire 82nd Airborne division of the US army over to your house for dinner, you'll probably be refrigerating or freezing some for later. :)

There are basically two versions of this dish, savory & sweet. Of course, the savory version is the one we'll be making today.

The savory version is typically served as a lunch or dinner entrée. It's typically comprised of things like eggs, egg noodles, cottage cheese, butter, full-fat cream cheese, regular sour cream, a pinch of sugar, & salt. As you can see, in its original form it can be rather fattening -- like 95% percent of most Ashkenazi cuisine! (This also explains why I haven't offered many Jewish recipes on my recipe blog. ;) And when I do, they are all revamped into much healthier versions.) Of course, my version of noodle kugel is not fattening at all: First of all, there's no cream cheese or butter, which, not surprisingly constitutes 95% of the fat content (& at that, almost exclusively saturated fat too!) in the typical, old-fashioned version, & it also doesn't contain sugar. And second, I use nonfat cottage cheese, which is my secret for making delicious-tasting kugel. The cottage cheese actually tastes more like ricotta after it's been whipped in an electric mixer & then cooked. I honestly swear that you really can't even taste the difference. It still tastes incredibly rich, all the same, even without all the fat. Frankly, the sugar & the cream cheese are really quite unnecessary in terms of texture & flavor, and only serve the clog the arteries & wreak havoc with the complexion. ;)

Instead of doing your standard kugel*, which I think is typically rather bland & boring in & of itself, I've decided to offer you a much more flavorful version. I made this version of the recipe for my parents & also a few family friends for lunch during one of my more recent visits to see my parents, & they all really liked it. (I always love cooking for my family & family friends when I come home!)

The other kind of kugel, the sweet version, tends to be served as a dessert, and contains raisins, something I don't typically care for in my desserts, with a few rare exceptions. To me, raisins taste better only in certain kinds of breads, like cinnamon swirl or panettone. However, I'm not a big fan of them in challah, because to my mind, challah should be savory & served with things like matzo ball soup. :) But that's just me. Add to that the fact that I personally can't stand the sweet version of kugel in & of itself (Blech!), which is fine by Erik, as he doesn't like raisins, period. :) (This is also why I prefer the savory preparation of Moroccan couscous, which unlike the sweeter version, doesn't contain raisins.) To me, there's just something not right about eating raisins in soft or moisture-rich sweets; they tend to puff up to the size of small golf balls, like they are trying too hard to be a poor imitation of a grape. ;) If I wanted to eat a grape, I'd actually eat one. I rather like grapes. :)

Anyhow, now that I've completely ranted about raisins & sweet kugel, I will say this: As mentioned in previous blog posts, I didn't grow up eating lots of sweet foods, so maybe that explains it. However, I do enjoy desserts -- provided they don't contain raisins (!) -- & cuisines that feature savory dishes with just a hint of sweetness -- i.e., Thai & Korean foods, for example. But 100% sweet noodle dishes? No thanks. However, savory kugel, on the other hand, is quite delicious. :)

OK, enough about that. I'd much rather talk about the savory version of kugel. :) So, if you like noodles & cheese together, then this dish is for you. :) And, who the heck doesn't love the combination of noodles & cheese?!

Savory, Sumptuous Noodle Kugel

1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (for coating glass baking dish)
2 c. (1 lb. container) nonfat small-curd cottage cheese
1 c. nonfat, plain Greek yoghurt
2 extra large eggs
2 Tbsp. shallots, peeled & very finely minced (about 1 medium-sized shallots)
1 1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1/4 tsp. red chili pepper flakes (optional)
2 Tbsp. Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely minced & densely packed (or 2 tsp. dried) 
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, finely minced & densely packed (or 1 tsp. dried)
2 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, finely minced & densely packed (or 2 tsp. dried)
1 Tbsp. fresh marjoram leaves, finely minced & densely packed (or 1 tsp. dried)
8-10 c. water (for boiling noodles)
12 oz. bag (6 c.) of wide egg noodles
1/2 c. lowfat sour cream (divided into 12 portions, or about 1 Tbsp. per person)

Directions: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Using a wide pastry brush, coat a 9" x 13" glass baking dish with olive oil. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the noodles until tender, according to package instructions. [Most wide egg noodles (i.e., Manneschewitz brand) take no more than 7-9 minutes, maximum, to cook.] Drain & rinse them with cold water. Set aside. In an electric mixer, whip the cottage cheese & yoghurt. Then add eggs, shallots, salt, black pepper, red chili pepper flakes (if using), one ingredient at a time, & continue whipping the ingredients until smooth, thick, & creamy. Turn off mixer. Fold in the parsley, oregano, basil, marjoram, & noodles & spread mixture evenly in the baking dish. Sprinkle bread crumbs on top, evenly distributing them across the kugel, followed by tiny (1/4") cubes of butter. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until kugel sets & turns a light golden brown. Open oven, slide out tray, & test kugel by cutting into it with a knife. Kugel should be somewhat solid & give some resistance when you cut through it. If kugel is too soft or there's still too much moisture, then bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until kugel has solidified a bit more & the bread crumbs have turned a light golden brown. Let it sit for 10 minutes to cool. Cut into 3" squares, top each portion with about 1 Tbsp. lowfat sour cream, & serve.

Yield: Serves 8-10.

Chef's Notes: *If this is your first time making kugel, and you'd prefer to try the traditional version instead as your first experience, just following the same basic instructions above but omit the following ingredients: shallots, red chili pepper flakes, parsley, oregano, basil, & marjoram.

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