by Sharon Abra Hanen
I love kugel. I even have the mug to prove it. But the kugel I love really isn't a kugel. Except it is. Because one of the wonderful things about food traditions is that they can be an amazing springboard for improvisation. It's a kind of kitchen jazz, taking something that's already part of the culture, and playing with it, in a way that both honors where it came from and makes it your own.
A few months into last year, with inspiration from a friend's intriguing research on Ashkenazi food history (coincidentally, that friend is Alison, one of Candleschtick's founders), and feeling, as so many people did, nostalgic and sentimental and in need of whatever sense of comfort and connection was possible, I started kugeling.
With food intolerances, I had to make mine without dairy products or gluten. And when I did, I was excited – here's the note I wrote enthusing about the first kugel I made, based on “This Cauliflower Kugel Might Be Better Than Noodle Kugel” from The Nosher.
I began in the spring, kugeled into the fall, through packing for a cross-continent move (vegetable kugel works amazingly well for breakfast or lunch or dinner, in fully-functioning kitchen or in a barely working one full of boxes), through a gray rainy west coast winter, through Zoom celebrations and Zoom work sessions, through two summers of amazing local produce, and on chilly spring days when I needed that savory smell wafting comfort and anticipation and a sense of home all around me. I even kugeled in poetry, including this recipe-adjacent haiku-ish verse:
Two-step kugeling -
Night: vegetables, seasoning
Morning: eggs, oil, bake
It's also been my go-to on days when the fridge needed to be cleaned out of produce to make room for what would come in the next farm box.
I haven't kept a complete “veg kugel greatest hits” list, but I do have descriptions from messages to food-loving friends about some of them, and photos too. One of the patterns became improvising in threes. I did a red and green winter holiday version with kale, kohlrabi, and cranberry, and one themed to my grandparents' Eastern European (shtetl) roots with cabbage, kale, and buckwheat. There have been some with potatoes (sweet potatoes, golden potatoes, and even purple potatoes), some with noodles (gluten free quinoa-corn noodles, shiritaki noodles, zucchini noodles). Some that were more like the filling-enough-for-a-full-day-of-farm-work starch-based kugels I remembered from a childhood only one generation distant from prairie homesteaders, and most were all about letting the vegetables sing. And there's something about that connection with the past in a way that makes the most of what's around me right now that means I'll always love playing with these kugels. Also, leftovers. They make great leftovers.
For extra inspiration and kugel love, check out this kugel-making playlist on YouTube.
-How to Make Kugel with “Barbra Streisand” (Munchies) – traditional noodle kugel with raisins
-Noodle Kugel with Carmelized Onions & Brown Butter (Food52) – savory noodle kugel
-Best Potato Kugel Recipe (Jamie Geller) – classic potato kugel, with lots of tips for making it just right
... and many more.
Check out Candleschtick's Kugel Collection for mugs, t-shirts, hats, and more!