I was born into a family of Orthodox Jews, my ancestry consisting of Torah scholars, rabbis and community leaders. Beginning with my ‘brit milah’ at eight days old, I became part of a community rich in tradition and history. Dating back to the shtetls of Byelorussia, now known as Belarus, in the late 19th century, my forefathers escaped the pogroms with minimal possessions and boarded a steamship to a place where their religion could be practiced without persecution. They set a precedent for cherishing family and community while valuing both secular and religious learning, history and tradition.
The intersection of my religious Jewish upbringing with my unapologetic queerness encourages me to take the familial traditions passed down to me via generations and queer them. Despite the systemic exclusivity of queerness in Orthodox Jewish spaces, I genuinely love certain aspects of my upbringing and love to transmit these respective values and tenets to non-Jews, to queer people and to queer Jews especially. As I continue to explore my place within the Orthodox and broader Jewish community, my innate queerness lends me the opportunity to hybridize these traditions and foment new traditions of my own.
From challah to latkes, brisket and tzimmes, Jewish food is broad and encompassing. I have tasked myself to accomplish and perfect a list of Jewish foods and recipes. Every Jewish mother or grandmother has their own special recipes for meals and food universally shared in the broader Jewish world. I wanted to create a recipe that evoked memories of growing up standing next to my Savta – grandmother – in the kitchen, observing her labor over Shabbat and holiday meals with such meticulous care. Every recipe my Savta makes is so decadent and rich, and I knew I wanted to recreate my favorite recipe of her’s: Potato Kugel.
Kugel is a baked casserole-like dish of the Ashkenazi tradition. Highly ambiguous, kugel can be sweet or savory, with a potato or noodle base. Technically, potato kugel can be grated or blended; my Savta’s recipe uses blended potatoes while I prefer a more textured kugel. It is practically a latke recipe but baked in a dish, creating a crisp exterior with a smooth and creamy interior texture. Sorry for the expletive, but it is so fucking good.
- 6 pounds of russet potatoes, peeled and shredded (about 14 potatoes)
- 8 eggs
- 1 cup flour
- 4 onions, shredded
- 6 tablespoons minced garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ¾ cup olive oil plus eyeballing with coating the pan
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- First, wash and peel the potatoes. Once peeled, place them in a bowl of water and lemon juice. Then, peel the onions and cut them into halves.
- Grate and drain the potatoes and onions. Done separately, grate all of your potatoes using the grate function on a food processor. Discard the grated potatoes into a cheesecloth (or any cloth that functions similarly) and drain the water out of the vegetable. Then, place the potatoes into a bowl. Follow the same exact instructions for grating and draining the onions, and place the grated onions into the bowl with the grated potatoes.
- Make the filling. In the bowl with the potato and onions, add olive oil, eggs, minced garlic, flour, and eyeball a very generous amount of salt and pepper. Mix well.
- Heat the dish in the oven. Prior to adding the mixture to the 9-by-13 dish, coat the entire heavy pan with olive oil and place into the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, ensuring that the oil begins to heat up and fry.
- Assemble the kugel. Take the dish out of the oven and begin pouring the mixture into the dish. The mixture will start sizzling in the pain once you begin pouring. Gradually add the mixture so that it is evenly distributed.
- Bake the mixture at 350 F for 1 hour and 30 minutes. After the hour-and-a-half mark, increase the oven’s temperature to 425 F for 45 minutes.
- Take the kugel out of the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes before eating.
By the way, kugel is pronounced “kuh-gul” and not “koo-gul” but some will tell you otherwise. Don’t listen to them.