What Is Kugel? Meet the Jewish Casserole Everyone Needs to Know
This traditional recipe is a must-have on Jewish holidays. But what is kugel—and what makes this dish so special?
Pronounced kuh-gull or koo-gull, this Jewish dish has been around for hundreds of years, and it’s a popular option for everything from holiday gatherings to regular family brunches. Whether you have Bubbe’s favorite recipe or are looking to try something new, kugel is an excellent dish for any occasion—like Rosh Hashanah—and one you’ll come back to again and again. But what exactly is kugel, and what makes it so delicious?
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What is kugel?
Hailing from Germany, kugel is—at its core—a baked casserole with starch (usually noodles or potatoes), eggs and fat. While that’s the base, kugels have many variations, from savory to sweet. The word kugel comes from German for sphere, which referred to the dumplings that made up the earliest version of the dish.
Today, both noodle and potato kugel are common additions to special meals. Noodle kugel tends to be more popular because of its versatility, and it’s more likely to be a sweet dish with added fruits and spices. Potato kugel is typically savory and can be made with onions, herbs and meat.
When do you serve kugel?
Kugel can be served at Jewish holidays, special events or even a weekend brunch. It commonly makes an appearance on the dinner table during Shavuot (along with bourekas), when it’s traditional to consume dairy foods, and Shabbat because it’s said that kugel resembles the manna that fell from heaven. It’s the perfect side dish for a Hanukkah latke party, adding some richness to the meal.
What’s in a kugel?
The big three are your starch (potatoes or noodles), eggs and fat. Otherwise, it’s totally up to you.
For noodle kugel, egg noodles are the most common type because they’re lighter and less dense than Italian pastas. For a casserole-sized dish, try extra-wide noodles, but if you’re making kugel in a muffin tin, try wide or medium-width noodles.
When eggs, milk and cheese are added to a noodle kugel, a delicious custard is the result. Many recipes add fruits, like raisins, dried cherries or apples, and spices, like nutmeg and cinnamon. Apricot kugel uses apricot preserves and cinnamon for a sweet variation, while lemon kugel offers a citrusy take. Noodle kugels can be topped with cornflakes, graham cracker crumbs or even a streusel topping.
Potato kugels are often savory, stick-to-your-ribs side dishes and typically have onion, eggs and fat, like rendered chicken fat. Any baking potato, like Russet or Idaho, works well. Some kugel variations may include veggies, like carrots or zucchini, caramelized onions, meat or garlic. Popular herbs to include are parsley and thyme, and savory kugels can be topped with French fried onions.
How to Make Kugel
This noodle kugel is baked in a 13×9-inch dish but can be converted for an 8×8-inch pan.
- 1 package (1 pound) egg noodles
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 8 large eggs
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups sour cream
- 2 cups 4% cottage cheese
- 3/4 cup cinnamon graham cracker crumbs (about 4 whole crackers)
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
Step 1: Cook the noodles
Cook the noodles according to package directions and drain. You’ll want to cook them until just al dente to ensure they don’t get too soggy. Toss the noodles with butter and set aside to cool.
Step 2: Mix the kugel ingredients
In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, sour cream and cottage cheese until well blended. Stir in the noodles. Make sure the noodles have cooled to prevent them from scrambling the eggs.
Step 3: Top with crackers
Next, transfer the mixture to a greased 13×9-inch baking dish. Combine the cracker crumbs and butter, and sprinkle over the top.
Step 4: Bake
Bake, uncovered, at 350°F for 50 to 55 minutes or until a thermometer reads 160°. Any hotter could cause the custard to split.
Step 5: Serve the kugel
Let the kugel stand for 10 minutes before cutting—if you can wait that long! Serve warm or cold.
Kugel can be frozen for up to two months, but be sure to wrap it very well. If you’re planning for a special event, kugel can be made up to two days in advance.
Different Ways to Make Kugel
While there are many ways to make the classic noodle and potato kugel, you could try a more non-traditional option, like onion kugel, which resembles a delicious souffle. Finely chopped onions and matzo meal serve as the base of this dish.
Or try a Swiss potato kugel, which includes Swiss cheese and half-and-half cream, for a decadent treat. If you love cauliflower, try this cauliflower dill kugel, which features ricotta cheese that adds a distinct creaminess and lightness. Whatever variation you try, this side dish will be a family favorite.