Dear America, Let's Give Noodle Kugel Casserole a Try

Noodle kugel is a weeknight-friendly dish the whole family will love.

What is kugel? Picture a rectangular dish, filled to the brim with wide noodles baked and bound with light and airy egg and cheese. The top is lightly browned, and the noodles peeking out are golden and crisp. As you take out a scoop, you smell warm butter and cheese. It's not your typical macaroni and cheese though, it's kugel.

Lukshon kugel (pronounced luck-shun kuh-ghul) is a catch all term for this beloved Jewish dish. There are classic versions and contemporary versions, gluten- and dairy-free varieties, sweet and more rarely savory versions, but ultimately, it's a baked dish with carbohydrates and a lot of different types of dairy. Doesn't that sound amazing?

It's not adventurous food that hits you over the head; it's just familiar and filling and really nice. Kugel can be eaten warm or cold, as an entrée, side dish, or dessert. The basic formula is simple enough that any home cook can whip it up in a flash and tweak to make it their own, and it is a terrific make-ahead dish, too.

The word kugel is Yiddish and translates to pudding. You make it by mixing everything together with par-cooked noodles (it's always "noodles," never pasta) and baking it. That never changes. It's also always vegetarian, so that never changes either. If you add any meat it's no longer considered kugel.

Applesauce Noodle Kugel in a blue dish
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For the Ashkenazi people who created this dish, when they immigrated to the United States. from Eastern Europe, the foundation is wide (or extra-wide) egg noodles baked in a fluffy blend of butter, cream cheese, cream, sour cream, milk, cottage cheese, and eggs, then some fruit, probably a dash of cinnamon, and definitely some sugar. Maybe not all of those things, but for sure a lot of them. The dish sounds like dessert, but it isn't. It's actually more commonly an entrée or side-dish. The sweet and savory are balanced.

Growing up in New Jersey, Tamah Kushner always loved her grandmother's kugel, a combination of noodles, apricots, and a hint of sugar. "It was the epitome of comfort food. I haven't had that exact kugel in more than 30 years but I can still taste it," she says.

In Israel, it's also a very popular import, made with thin noodles and a unique caramel made with olive oil, sugar, salt and black pepper. That vegan version is uncommon here, but worth exploring.

In the 1980s, Devorah Brous's Zayde made kugel with apples, raisins, and cinnamon. "I never understood why we had something sweet with dinner, but I loved it," she says.

In Chicago, Amy Horowitz serves her mother's kugel with a topping of buttered corn flake cereal for a Midwestern flair. "As kids, my brother and I would fight over the crispy edges, while my parents preferred the creamy center pieces," she says.

Kugel isn't everyday food, but it should be. It's simple to whip up and makes everyone happy. Add whatever you like, and bite in to the comfort of it all.

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