Recipes from a Quarantined Cook | Passover Kugelettes

Recipes from a Quarantined Cook | Passover Kugelettes

April 2, 2020 in Latest, Lighter fare
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In this time of uncertainty, Moment is working hard to provide you with fact checked news, resources and analysis—plus some lighter fare—to help us make it through the crisis together. Click here for our ongoing coronavirus coverage. 

One of the first lessons of the COVID-19 quarantine is that we are more busy, not less busy, as the illusion of independence falls away and we want to stay in touch with and care for friends and family ever more mindfully. Momentary Kitchen and this quarantined cook will be coming to your homes weekly from here on so that I may cook with you as well as teach and care for my people. You are still always welcome to drop onto momentmag.com with questions, ideas, pictures and requests, 24-7. There is always a seat waiting for you in my kitchen. Together, we’ll find our way through this time.

Today’s offering has been inspired by Tania, a lawyer by trade, who cooks out of her kitchen in Pittsburgh, and with whom I share an interfaith (Jewish-Muslim) connection. Fortunately, potatoes are in most of our pantries, and what we do with them tells us a great deal about our ethnicities, religious traditions, customs, economic status and diets. Potatoes are nutritive, starchy, ubiquitous tubers that grow almost anywhere there is healthy soil. You can buy seed potatoes and grow them in deep containers on your terrace, plant plots this spring in your yard or buy them at the grocery store or farmer’s market. You can find them in any color—red, pink, purple, brown and, most commonly in the United States, yellow and white. They also come in palates of various sweetness and bitterness, and in configurations from dime-size gems to dinner-plate monsters. 

Today we are cooking two dishes: the classic potato kugel (chosen to console my friend Ava, who is far away from her father; he would make a potato kugel for every Passover, until COVID-19) and the classic Indian bhajee, comfort food that Calcutta Jews have turned to for centuries. I have made miniature versions today because I do not keep a big store of potatoes. The beauty of kugels and bhajees is that they look like recipes because we codify them on paper, but really they are simply ancient improvised dishes made from oil, onions, potatoes, maybe matzah meal or another extension, and some spices or seasoning. These dishes are well-loved because they are cooked nearly directly from heart to hand to pan. 

RECIPES BY MARCY EPSTEIN

Ashkenazi Potato Kugelettes

Gluten Free – Dairy Free – Vegetarian

This is the simplest potato kugel, served in muffin cups. You can try some now or freeze some for the holiday. Perfect for a Passover breakfast!

Ingredients

One and ¼ cup of olive oil

One pound of very finely shredded potatoes (Yukon and red-skinned are great—if you want to avoid darkening, put shreds in a bowl of very cold water)

One large onion, finely diced 

Three large eggs, whisked thoroughly

Three tablespoons of matzah meal, optional

One tablespoon of salt

One tablespoon parsley

One tablespoon sesame seed

Optional: sunflower seeds, raisins, shredded nori (seaweed)

My go-to: thin slices of mushrooms for the middle of each kugelette

Note on processing the potato and onion: I hand-shred, but using a food processor will speed up production a great deal. Just remember to take out awkward chunks, leave the potato juices in the bottom of the food processor bowl, and plunge the rest into cold water to avoid discoloration. 

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Oil a muffin tin (do not use paper cups) generously with sunflower or safflower oil and put it in the oven until you are ready to transfer the batter.

2. In a bowl, mix the remainder of the oil, potato, onion, egg, meal, spices and salt. Use a large spoon or small scoop to ladle the mixture into the tin, allowing for shreds to stick out of the cups to bake later into a medium-dark brown. Bake for 10 minutes and then check for color.

Completely out of yellow potatoes, but stocked well with carrots, I made orangey kugelettes for my elderly neighbors, a mash-up of kugel and tzimmes in miniature, made by adding a carrot, yam, golden raisins and two kinds of cumin seed to the ingredients in the following recipe.

3.  Let cool on the stovetop, then cut and ease each kugelette out of its mold onto paper or a clean cloth towel in order to absorb any extra oil. Serve hot—for 6, or for 2 eager for thirds. 

Bhajee

Gluten Free – Dairy Free – Vegetarian

Traditional Indian bhajee changes from subculture to subculture. In one part of India, these are more like latka-esque fritters, with enough crunch to resemble pakora (fried snacks) and with a softened middle as big as a prune plum. You can even leave the potato out, shredding lots of onions, mixing in herbs and spices, then plopping tablespoons full into an inch of hot oil. In other parts of Sephardi Asia, bhajee incorporates other available vegetables into a well-caramelized stir fry—tomatoes add a particular tang. Jain bhajee is more like a puree. Still other Asiatic regions that saw early commerce across the Indian Ocean offered bhajee tempered with shredded coconut and crushed peanuts. This dish can take you across 5,000 miles and many years, through not only our Jewish roots but also our geographical adaptation alongside Islamic and Hindu civilizations. Not a bad way to get a taste of the world without leaving your house.

Ingredients

About four splashes of sunflower oil or ghee

About 1 pound of yellow or white potatoes, cubed medium-fine

About 1 pound of yellow or white onions, sliced thin

Generous tablespoons of turmeric

Generous tablespoons of fennel, coriander, chili powder, and/or cardamon

Generous tablespoon of salt

Generous tablespoon of black pepper

2-4 tablespoons of water, for desired thickness

My go-to: a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar for tang

Directions

1. Bring the oil or clarified butter up to medium-high in a saute pan. Add slices of onions and cook until caramelized to a medium brown. Add all the spices, lowering the heat to medium, so they form a sort of thick paste.

2. Add in potatoes until all are coated, tossing in half of the salt and pepper, and stirring gently. 

3. Turn the burner to low, add in one tablespoon of water at a time, cover pan for five minutes, checking for a desirable consistency. Serve medium-warm to bring out the best effects from the spices. Add the remainder of salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4-6.

If you would like to learn more about Sephardic Bhajee, food writer Tori Ivey penned a lovely essay exploring her family’s recipe.

If you would like to study more about Jewish-Indian cuisine for your seder, check out the offerings in Haaretz and The New York Times, or the lovely overview from My Jewish Learning that informed me. 

Bonus Chometz Kugel

I am part of a fantastic online cooking group that explores the foods of Romanian Jewish grandmothers. Maybe because mine were American, Ukrainian and Polish, several members pooh-poohed my Chicken Soup Two Ways, because I had sautéed the vegetables before stewing. It’s a fierce community. But the learning and the cooking are both delicious. 

Just today, Carol Ritter Elbaz of Houston, a member of this group, posted her grandmother Etty’s savory noodle kugel, akin to the Yerushlami Kugel, turned beautifully out of a bundt pan. Enjoy this fancy rendering, plated on aluminum foil no less, of one of the best peasant foods around. I include her grandmother’s recipe as well. A great way to eat up those noodles before Passover begins. Etty’s recipe is below, true to the original hand-written version:

2 cups of cream cheese, 1 cup sour cream, 1 container cottage, splash vanilla, 7 whole eggs, 3 yolk only eggs, 3/4 cup sugar, 16 oz spaghetti pasta, 6 pats of butter, golden raisins. 

Those who collect recipes from the past will be able to follow easily. Premake the pasta, drain out all extra fluid, and mix together as though baking a cake—all liquid ingredients first, then solid, put into a well-buttered fancy pan. Share your kugel pictures with Moment this week for a chance to be featured on our social media! 

Coming Friday! 

A Suggested Menu for a Passover Feast, Quarantine b’Mitzrayim 

Stay tuned for Friday, when we’ll post an imagined quarantine “Shulchan Orech b’Mitzrayim,” (A Seder Feast for Narrow Places)—a menu for a Passover meal in relative captivity. It’ll be simple, nearly self-evident to prepare, and easy to make for one person or a minyan.

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