I didn’t grow up eating Yerushalmi kugel, an Israeli version of the dish that’s generously seasoned with black pepper and said to have originated in the 1700s, but the first time I had it, it was as if a time machine took me back to grade school.
My colds, flus and whatever else I brought home were accompanied by a complete loss of appetite. My mom and grandmother would make me broth and serve it with crackers, but like many Old World parents, they worried about their too-skinny kid wasting away, so they tried to entice me with food that was a sure siren call. Enter buttered pasta sprinkled with so much sugar, it was practically candy.
Their strategy was effective: I slurped up every noodle.
About 10 years ago, I went to a Hanukkah party, where among many delicious foods cooked in oil — a holiday tradition — there was a noodle kugel made not in the American tradition of cottage cheese and eggs, but with an ungodly amount of sugar and oil, and aggressively seasoned with black pepper.
The dish was Yerushalmi kugel and it was a delight: oily, crunchy and sweet, with an assertive peppery kick that made my eyes water. I quickly returned for another piece, and then another. The sugary noodles immediately transported me back to my childhood, but these had a more complex taste and a welcome depth of flavor.
You probably have the ingredients on hand to make this. You’ll need noodles — thin egg ones are traditional, but I’ve used spaghetti in a pinch and quite enjoy the long noodly heap they create — as well as eggs, oil, sugar, salt and black pepper.
You melt the sugar in the oil and boil the noodles until al dente. Then, the pasta and oily-sugary slurry are tossed together and allowed to cool before the eggs, salt and pepper are added (the sugar will solidify, but don’t fret as it will remelt in the oven). That generous pinch of salt offsets the sweetness.
The mixture is tucked into a baking dish and an hour later, your kugel is done. While in the oven, the dish undergoes a magical transformation: The sugar remelts and caramelizes and, along with black pepper and salt, turns into something irresistible — sweet but with nuanced savory undertones to keep the dish from being cloying — and the absence of dairy in the recipe make the kugel pareve, allowing it to be as much at home at a table where you might be serving brisket as it is at a vegetarian one.
And while Hanukkah, which begins at sunset on Dec. 18 this year, is the celebration of the miracle of light, the ability of a few humble ingredients to transform into something delicious feels like my own small miracle in the kitchen, one I get to share with family and friends.
Storage: Refrigerate for up to 5 days; gently reheat in a 350-degree oven until warm and crispy.
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- One (12-ounce/340-gram) package thin egg noodles or angel hair pasta (see headnote)
- 1/3 cup (80 milliliters) vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the pan
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 5 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Cook the noodles according to package directions until al dente. Drain thoroughly, transfer to a large bowl and let cool.
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch square pan with oil and set aside.
In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the sugar and oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar turns medium brown, about 10 minutes. (The sugar might seem lumpy at first; it will eventually sink to the bottom of the pan and darken. Don’t expect it to become homogeneous with the oil.)
Pour the oily mixture over the cooled noodles and, using tongs, carefully toss to distribute and separate the lumps (some will remain and that’s okay, the solidified caramel will remelt during baking). Let the mixture cool until just warm, about 15 minutes, before adding the eggs.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt and pepper. Add to the noodle mixture and toss to distribute evenly.
Transfer the noodle mixture to the prepared pan, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for an additional 30 minutes, or until the kugel is browned on top and you see individual crispy noodles, especially in corners.
Cut into slices and serve hot or warm.
Per serving, based on 10
Calories: 313; Total Fat: 12 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 147 mg; Sodium: 160 mg; Carbohydrates: 45 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 21 g; Protein: 8 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
From assistant recipes editor Olga Massov.
Tested by Olga Massov; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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