I grew up in a family of savory kugel makers, whether my grandmother and her schmaltzy potatoes, Great-Aunt Martha with her crisp-edged egg noodle iteration or my mother and her elaborate, ever-changing vegetable combinations that veered into casserole territory.
On the other end of the spectrum were the kugels at my friends’ houses that my sweet tooth coveted, filled with sour cream and studded with raisins.
These sugary-savory poles made up the entirety of my kugel universe for most of my life.
Then I made a recipe for Yerushalmi kugel and saw I’d been missing an important middle ground.
A specialty of Jerusalem not often seen in the United States outside Orthodox communities, it was crisp, salty and spiked with a sinus-clearing shot of black pepper. But it was also sweet, suffused with a generous amount of caramel to mitigate the peppery bite. And it was completely unlike any kugel I’d ever tasted.
The recipe was by Adeena Sussman, author of “Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen” (Avery, 2019). Ms. Sussman, who grew up in an observant Jewish home in Palo Alto, Calif., learned about Yerushalmi kugel as a teenager on a trip to Israel, where she fell head over heels for its chewy, spicy sweetness.
“It’s not a noodle pudding like American Jews are used to,” she said. “It’s dense and sweet and peppery and very rich from the oil.”
As the kugel bakes long and slow, the outer layer becomes irresistibly crunchy while the center gets soft and a little bouncy. To me, this contrasting texture was as appealing as the flavors.
The only tricky part about making Yerushalmi kugel is the caramel, which requires patient stirring of oil and sugar for a good 10 to 15 minutes, until the mixture takes on the amber hue of good, rich honey. This caramel is then tossed with cooked thin noodles, where it may clump and harden.
“Don’t be afraid of the clumps,” Ms. Sussman said reassuringly. “Small clumps will dissolve when the kugel bakes.”
After it comes out of the oven, Yerushalmi kugel can be eaten warm or cold and reheated several times, making it a classic dish to serve on Shabbat, Ms. Sussman said.
Cozy and satisfying, this kugel is perfect alongside a roast chicken or a big pile of sautéed greens, on any day of the week.
Recipe: Yerushalmi Kugel