A Modern Twist On A Jewish Classic

Anyone who has a Jewish grandma, knows a Jewish grandma or has even read about a Jewish grandma, knows that her way of cooking things is the ONLY way of doing it. So let me preface this post by saying, I'm sorry grandma, but I'm shaking things up.

When I was growing up, there was no better cook than my grandma Adele. Her latkes were perfect, golden-crispy on the outside and tender with a hint of onion on the inside. Her kreplach, tortellini-like meat filled dumplings, were practically transparent, with the meat tucked inside always perfectly seasoned. And her blintzes were sublime little clouds, crisped on the outside in butter and bulging from within with tangy-sweet cinnamon scented farmer's cheese. Those are recipes I've never messed with. This is in part out of respect, but mostly because they need no altering, they are exactly as they should be.

There are other recipes, however, that I think lend themselves quite well to a bit of tweaking and, oh, how I love to reinterpret those.

One such recipe is kugel, which, simply put, is a Jewish casserole. Kugels typically consist of cooked noodles (although they’re sometimes made with potatoes), eggs and a creamy cheese, all baked together until they meld into one large mass that is ultimately sliced into wedges, like lasagna. Kugels can be either sweet or savory. The sweet versions are usually made with the addition of sugar, raisins and cinnamon and the savory versions usually contain onions, sour cream and some type of seasoning such as paprika. I had always grown up eating sweet kugels, but when I was invited to a Hanukkah party the other night and the host was in need of a savory entree to complement the latkes, I decided that it was time to get creative with a savory kugel.

After scouring my cookbooks and the Internet for ideas, I ultimately decided to use a recipe from Joan Nathan's book, Jewish Cooking in America. Her recipe calls for spinach and onions, which sounded good, but I decided to throw in an even bigger twist and added sauteed mushrooms, hunks of roasted butternut squash and big, globs of goat cheese. I also caramelized the onions first, to add a hint of sweetness to the dish. Eggs, sour cream, cottage cheese and some fresh chopped thyme and parsley rounded things out.

I was pleased at the way the dish turned out, but I knew it was a true success when I saw many of the children at the party not only enjoying my kugel, but going back for seconds. Even though I strayed from tradition, I know that my grandma would still be proud.

Savory Kugel

2 tsp. soft butter
2 cups peeled and cubed, butternut squash
4 Tbs. olive oil
1# wide egg noodles
1 medium onion, sliced
2 Tbs. chopped Italian parsley
10 medium brown mushrooms, quartered
8 oz. baby spinach leaves
5 eggs
1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 cups cottage cheese
1 cup shredded jack cheese
1/2 cup ground Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled into large pieces
2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and butter a 9 x 13 inch glass or metal pan.
  2. Place a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. When it boils, cook the noodles to al dente and strain. Toss noodles quickly with cold water to stop cooking and then place in a large bowl.
  3. While the water is coming to a boil, toss the butternut squash in 2 Tbs. of the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and place on a sheet tray.
  4. Roast squash in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown on the outside and soft, but firm.
  5. While the squash is cooking, heat a saute pan on medium-high heat and add 1 Tbs. olive oil.
  6. Add the onions to the pan and cook until they just start to get color on the outside.
  7. Turn the heat down to medium-low and let the onions caramelize slowly.
  8. When the onions are just about done, add the parsley and cook another few minutes, then add to the noodles in the bowl.
  9. Place the saute pan back on the stove again and reheat it with another Tbs. of olive oil.
  10. When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms and saute them over high heat until they are brown on the outside and have shrunken in size. Add the cooked mushrooms to the bowl with the noodles and onions.
  11. When the squash is ready, add it to the bowl as well.
  12. Combine the eggs, sour cream, cottage cheese, thyme, salt and pepper and pour over the noodles.
  13. Add the spinach and cheeses to the noodles and mix everything together, then pour the mixture into the buttered pan.
  14. Cover the pan with foil and place in the oven.
  15. Reduce oven heat to 350 and cook for 45 minutes, then remove foil, and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes or until it is golden brown on top.
  16. Remove from oven and let sit about 15-20 minutes before slicing.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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