The Fertile Pudding (We Hope): Potato Kugel

Say what you will about us Jews, if there’s one culinary realm where we really excel, it’s starch. All those years of poverty, of moving from country to country, shtetls and ghettos, often in the coldest climes, led to some mighty tasty uses for humble ingredients like potatoes and grains. Think about it: kasha varnishkes, challah, latkes (is it possible I didn’t blog about those deliciously greasy treats this past Hanukkah?), matzoh, and, of course, kugel.

In last week’s New York Times food section, Joan Nathan talked about the mystical powers of this carb-laden pudding, which came as a bit of a surprise to me. But this part really caught my eye:

“Allan Nadler, a professor of religious studies at Drew University, studied references to kugel in Hasidic texts and ate it in Brooklyn and in Jerusalem at about a dozen rebbes’ tishes, or tables, where male followers of a Hasidic rabbi gather to eat, sing and study the Torah.

According to Hasidic interpretations of Kabbalah mysticism, he said, kugel has special powers. ‘Clearly the spiritual high point of the meal is the offering of the kugel,’ Professor Nadler said. At that moment the rabbi has the power to bestow health and food, and even to help couples conceive.”

What’s that, Joan? With a bissel of kugel, couples can conceive? Considering how long we’ve been trying, I say pass the pudding, please. Now. OK, we won’t have a rabbi at my brother and sister-in-law’s for tomorrow’s pre-fast dinner, but maybe the fact that I made the kugel myself will combine with some good vibes to be enough.

This is my mom’s recipe—I’ve never made kugel before, if you can believe that. Probably that’s because I thought it only came in industrial-size trays, enough to feed ten people or more, and that’s a bit more than S and I need around the house. But when I asked her for the recipe, it turns out that my mom’s been doubling it all these years! Who knew? In the end I doubled it, too, since there will be a crowd for dinner tomorrow night, but I baked it in a smaller pyrex than my mom usually does, and put the excess into a muffin tin. I thought my two nieces might get a kick out of nibbling on their own mini-kugels. Instructions below show how to make it either way.

Have an easy fast, if you’re doing it…

Potato Kugel
Serves 6-8

4 large potatoes (2 cups when grated—to double it I used 7 large potatoes, and got 8 cups of grated mush)
1 medium onion (or large, if you like it oniony)
2 oz. oil
2 large or extra large eggs
2 oz self-rising flour (or ½ cup flour plus ½ t. baking powder)
1 t. salt
Black pepper

Grate the potato and onion finely (this is easiest done in the food processor, in batches, using the regular blade). Place in a fine strainer to drain about 10 minutes.

Set the oven at 450. Put the oil in bottom of a small rectangular baking dish (or 2 muffin tins) and heat in oven.

Whisk the eggs until fluffy. Add the well-drained potatoes and onion, flour, salt, and pepper. Carefully swirl the hot oil around the baking dish or muffin tins to coat the sides, then pour the excess oil into the potato mixture. Blend thoroughly and pour it all into the baking dish (or spoon it into muffin tins).

Bake for 15 min., then turn the oven down to 350 F for a further hour, or until crisp, well-risen and golden brown. (If you’re doing the muffin tins, it’ll be more like 15 minutes at 450 and 30-35 minutes at 350.)