My mother's mother, she died when I was seven. Even now, twelve years later, the thing that people remember most about her, after her erudite Lithuanian Yiddish wit, was her cooking. I remember a phenomenal chicken soup when I was five. The smell of cooking onions can make my mother ridiculously happy. Even my uncle's wife, a fantastic cook in her own right, conceded that yes, her mother-in-law was a fantastic, fantastic cook.
Luckily for us, she left a collection of her favorite recipes to make. One of which is for her phenomenal potato kugel. For those of you who aren’t familiar, kugel is a type of pudding/casserole thing common in Jewish cuisine.
I made the kugel for a picnic with some friends of mine from my Jewish prayer/friends circle at UChicago. We met in Central Park, ate food, and enjoyed each other’s company. It was glorious!
|The Egal clan I was with. Left to right, from the bottom: Sharon, Hannah, Chana, Douglas and Aaron. My kugel is also there, before seconds happened.|
Making kugel also is a particularly complex experience for me…firstly, it reminds me of my grandma, and it reminds me of home and family. But secondly, cooking Jewish food makes me feel like a link in the chain of tradition – I feel the spirit of my ancestors inside me, generation after generation of “ess, ess, mein kind” (eat, eat my child) and the smell of frying onions bringing rebellious, anxious young men home for Shabbat dinner…it sounds kitschy, but sometimes I have moments like that, where I think “I feel so…Jewish.” There’s also the beautiful simplicity of the recipe. Seven ingredients, and very powerful ingredients at that.
Anyway, attached below is the recipe. I adjusted it a bit. Enjoy!
based on the recipe of Anna “Annushka” Smit Freiman
10 small-to-medium potatoes
6-7 tbsp. butter, melted + extra butter for frying onions
2 onions, diced
2 tsp. salt
1 heaping tsp. baking powder
1 cup of flour
1. Fry the diced onions in some butter until they just start to turn brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Peel and grate the potatoes. I grate by hand. Don’t be a wuss.
3. Preheat your oven to 400F/200C. Grease a baking pan.
4. Put the potatoes in a bowl and mix in everything but the flour.
5. Now mix in the flour. You should get a thick mix/batter consistency.
6. Pour into the baking pan and distribute around so that it’s roughly even. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the top is brown and crisp and the kugel is firm. You may need to rotate the pan in the oven.
The recipe is pretty flexible – you can add some garlic, grated carrots, or even – though my grandma would disapprove – a bit of sugar. However, I much prefer old-school Lithuanian kugel.
Finally, for some humor – not one person brought knives or forks. Kugel is definitely great hand food, but we improvised a knife using a celery stick:
|Cutting the kugel with a celery stick.|