What makes a kugel, kugel? Depending on where your ancestors come from it could be a variety of different answers but for the sake of this post and how I was raised, it was always called kugel and it was always a baked casserole or sorts.
I grew up with two types of kugel. There was the overly indulgent Lokchen Kugel, an egg and egg noodle casserole that had more fat and schmaltz than anyone should be eating in one dish, and then there was the Farfel Kugel that was only served at passover. This was a combination of farfel, carrot, celery, mushroom, and onion.
I have tried my hand at both but neither was particularly amazing. Coming up with a fresh take on something as classic as kugel isn’t easy or so I thought until I came across a recipe in The Gefilte Manifesto for Cauliflower and Mushroom Kugel. Now if you’re my mother you’re reading this thinking there’s no way she could have ever gotten me to eat this as a kid and I am sure she would be right. However, as an adult who continuously strives to try new things, to try new flavor combinations, and new techniques in a quest to discover what you can really do with food, this one really piqued my interest.
Now, I have a confession, last year I discovered a recipe in Heston Blumenthal at Home for Cauliflower Mac and Cheese which I made and fell in love with. I am not a fan of the taste of cauliflower but what I discovered is that there are ways of preparing it that allow it to become this interesting, thick, and creamy sauce. I also discovered that when pared with other strong flavors like sautéed onion and mushrooms it can become a backdrop in flavor and not the focus.
This recipe was actually quite simple. It starts with adding the cauliflower florets (from 1 head of cauliflower) to lightly salted boiling water for less the 10 minutes, just enough to soften and then simply drain and add to the food processor. Then sauté a diced onion in some fat, about 2 ounces, (schmaltz, butter, oil or whatever you have) until it becomes golden and add eight ounces of your chopped mushrooms (local varieties are best but that should go without saying). Season with salt and pepper and continue cooking until the mushrooms pick up color and most of the liquid has cooked off and add them to your food processor. Add your four whole eggs and three yolks to the food processor as well and simply blend until smooth.
Add in some breadcrumbs. Not a lot something like a couple tablespoons. I had tons of farfel so I used that instead. Mix it into your cauliflower mixture. This then can be portioned into individual ramekins or into a large baking dish. Either of which should be greased. I did small ramekins and put about 6 ounces of kugel in each.
If you’re doing the small ramekins you’ll want to do a water-bath technique and bake in an 350ºF oven for 45-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
While the kugel is baking fry up your shallots. In the same pan you sautéed the onion and mushrooms add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan, preferably something that can take high heat like grapeseed oil. Add your four to six thinly sliced shallots and fry until browned but not burnt. Then drain them on some paper towels.
To finish garnish the kugels with the shallots and some parsley. This kugel is incredibly light and fluffy however it will not puff up in the oven. The flavor is delicate and interesting. Paired with the brisket I made the other night made for a truly delicious dinner!