Grandma’s Great Noodle Kugel Makeover
My grandma Mary was a terrific baker, and I used to love her almost-sweet, slightly tangy, cinnamon-y noodle kugel; to me, it was at its best straight out of the pan from the refrigerator, as the cold temperature helped keep the layered concoction stay tightly bound into lovely squares of kugel perfection.
If you’ve made it this far and haven’t quite figured out what “kugel” is, perhaps I should pause for a definition: It’s a Jewish-style casserole, usually made either from noodles or potatoes, served as a traditional side dish to festive meals. Kugels can be sweet or savory, but are rarely gluten-free owing to their content of either egg noodles (for sweet noodle kugels) or flour (to bind potato kugels).
Since the most extreme summer heat has subsided enough to allow contemplation of an oven-baked cooking project, I’ve been dreaming about figuring out a way to make a gluten-free version of that beloved kugel in time for Rosh Hashannah, the upcoming Jewish New Year. But when I pulled out her recipe, I realized it was due for an even greater makeover: one that would reduce its lactose content for my sensitive readers and jack up the nutritional content a bit while I was at it.
Finding gluten-free egg noodles was as easy as a quick internet search. The only game in town appears to be Cornito “Mystic Flame” noodles, so I sucked up the shipping costs and ordered a few bags online. (The noodles themselves are cheap, but shipping costs are annoying.)
Next, I reviewed the recipe. Grandma used cottage cheese in her kugel (some grandmas prefer Farmer’s Cheese, but to each her own), for which Lactaid makes a very easy-to-find lowfat, lactose-free version. She also used milk (low-fat, lactose-free versions easily available) and sour cream, which I decided to swap out for an equivalent amount of fat-free plain Greek Yogurt since it’s higher in protein, very low in lactose and shaves off 5g of fat from the original recipe. These small changes made me feel better about leaving in the 2 TBSPs of real butter grandma called for. We’re Jews, after all; not monks. No need to be completely ascetic!
My gluten-free, modernized version was a terrific success. Our guests loved it warm for dinner on the night I made it, and I’ve since been enjoying the leftover slices of it cold for breakfast. (I can’t tell if cold kugel for breakfast appeals to me only because I’m pregnant, or if that’s a universal thing you might enjoy, too…)
Recipe: Grandma Mary’s Thoroughly Modern Noodle Kugel
8 oz egg noodles (for gluten-free, use Cornito Mystic Flame noodles, which, annoyingly, come in 7 oz bags, so you’ll need to weigh out on additional ounce from a second bag.)
3 eggs, beaten
2 TBSP sugar
1 lb (16oz) low fat cottage cheese (use Lactaid brand if desired)
2 TBSP fat-free, plain Greek yogurt
1 cup lowfat milk (use lactose-free if desired)
Raisins to taste (optional)
“Pinch of cinnamon” (I use more than a pinch, but you can sprinkle to taste)
2 TBSP butter
- Cook noodles according to package directions in salted water. Drain well.
- In a large bowl, combine drained noodles with all ingredients. Your mixture will be very liquidy/soupy, but worry not! It comes together nicely during baking.
- Transfer mixture to a greased 9″ x 13″ casserole dish/baking pan.
- Bake at 325 degrees for about 50 minutes, or until kugel is firm in texture and slightly golden brown on top. (Baking times vary by oven; mine took a good 65 minutes to be done.)
- For best results, cool completely and refrigerate overnight. The cold will allow the egg/dairy proteins to firm up and hold your kugel together into a nice, coherent, sliceable casserole. Cut the kugel when cold into squares and then if desired, reheat the squares in a microwave. (You can also serve them cold–still tastes great.) Of course, the kugel will still taste divine if you serve the whole thing warm from the oven, but it won’t look as pretty since the slices will come apart more easily.