Among the great Ashkenazi soul food traditions — bagels, lox, chicken noodle soup, challah, brisket and its cousins, pastrami and corned beef — few are more deeply rooted in the communal psyche than kugels, or starch-based puddings that hail from southern Germany. The word kugel, meaning sphere, globe or ball, originally referred to dumplings dropped over a soup pot, the version baked casserole pans became my people’s favorite, always made in vast quantities, served on Shabbat or holidays in squares and usually shoved in the hands of unsuspecting relatives and guests in disposable foil tins on their way home. The smart ones know resistance is futile.
While two kinds are considered staples — noodle and potato — outside my family at least, where my mother claims to this day that she married my father mostly to get his family’s noodle kugel recipe, the potato reigns supreme, likely due to its practicality as an easily reheated side dish that complements any meal worth having.
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