Chanukah, the festival of lights, is not considered a holy celebration when compared to other Jewish holidays, but the foods represented are fan favorites. Fried foods are a tradition for the eight nights of Chanukah, the most popular being latkes or potato pancakes. I mean who doesn’t like a crispy batch of fatty carbo-liciousness?
Except the problem with latkes, besides the calories, is the amount of work required to make and cook these gems last minute while guests are mingling and nibbling. Not always fun for the hostess. And then there’s the kitchen smelling like fried foods for weeks on end. It seems to penetrate the walls! Which got me to thinking about replacing the tradition of latkes with another delicious Jewish delicacy, Potato Kugel (Yiddish for pudding).
Potato Kugel is basically a giant batch of latke ingredients baked in a large casserole dish. Since I wanted the kugel to resemble a potato pancake and have a nice crispy exterior, I baked this version in a round cast iron pan instead of the usual rectangular Pyrex dish. Preheating the pan with a few spoons of oil, promoted a crispy exterior, while the density of the kugel gave way to a soft and creamy interior. A tasty compromise to keep tradition while alleviating some of the work. The best part was that I cleaned up the entire kitchen mess, from making the potato pancake batter, while the kugel baked in the oven. This will be a treat for when I have company and want to mingle with my guests.
Now, some of you who know about making latkes and kugel may be wondering how I could make it vegan, without any eggs. Easy. Silken or soft tofu is a wonderful egg replacement that worked beautifully in this dish. I whisked the tofu to aerate it and eliminate any clumping. The kugel puffed up and as noted before was soft and creamy inside.
Whether or not you celebrate Chanukah, this potato kugel makes a wonderful side dish for the holidays and every day.
- Use a neutral tasting, high heat oil for the kugel. I used refined avocado oil. Grapeseed works as well.
- Russet potatoes are key to the creamy interior
- A yellow onion imparts more flavor than a white onion
- Potato starch is available at local supermarkets and local Asian markets.
- While tradition, i.e. my grandmother, used a hand grater for the onions and potatoes, a food processor saves times and skin on your knuckles. Either works.
- If you don’t have a cast iron pan, I highly recommend getting one. Lodge brand is affordable and durable and a great addition to your kitchen. I used a 10-inch pan, which is a very versatile size.
- Wait to peel the potatoes until the last minute as they turn brownish red from oxidizing. I explain the timing in great detail in the recipe.
- Please be careful when handling the heated cast iron pan. Make sure to have potholders handy. Keep small children and pets away while removing the heated pan from the oven to the counter to pour the oil and then sizzling batter inside.
- Set a kitchen timer for lowering the oven temperature and checking the kugel.
- Don’t be intimidated by the long steps to the recipe. I wanted to make sure to cover all bases for you. Sometimes when I read recipes online I feel as though I want more details. I tried to do that for you.
Potato Kugel for Chanukah
1 large yellow onion
3 pounds russet potatoes
1/3 cup potato starch
3 tsps kosher salt or to taste
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
3/4 cup silken tofu equivalent to 3 large eggs
5 T refined avocado oil or grapeseed oil, divided
Sour Cream (I used vegan)
Chopped fresh dill
Chopped scallions or snipped chives
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put a 10-inch cast iron pan on the center rack of the oven while you prepare the ingredients. It should heat up between 20 and 30 minutes.
Measure your dry ingredients and set aside. Have a fine mesh strainer available to sift the potato starch.
Whisk up the tofu in a small bowl until light and fluffy and no clumps visible and set aside.
Wash and dry potatoes but don’t peel and set aside.
If you are using a food processor you will need both the processing blade and the shredding blade available.
Put the processing blade in the bowl of the processor.
Peel the onion and cut it into large chunks. Add it to the food processor and blend until ground. Remove the blade and pour the onions into a small bowl. Set aside.
Switch the processing blade for the shredding blade.
Peel and slice the potatoes into very thick (1 ½ inch) rounds one at a time. Put in the feed tube and process to shreds. Repeat with the other potatoes.
Drain out any water accumulated from the onions.
You will not be draining the potatoes, as the potato starch will absorb most of that moisture. Plus that starchy liquid adds creaminess; a slotted spoon will get rid of excess water.
Put the ground onions and shredded potatoes into a very large bowl. Mix up (hands are best) until well incorporated.
Add the salt and pepper and again mix up well with your hands.
Sift the potato starch over the mixture and mix up well until all is blended.
Repeat this with the tofu.
OK. Wash and dry your hands.
Have a heat-safe surface (trivet or wood cutting board) near the oven. With potholders, carefully remove the heated pan to the heat-safe surface.
Add in 3 T of the oil. Use a pastry brush and brush the sides of the pan with the hot oil to prevent sticking. Return the pan to the oven and heat the oil for 5 minutes in the pan.
Remove the pan back to the heat-safe surface and add in the potato kugel batter using a slotted spoon to drain excess water in the bottom of the bowl. It is going to sizzle and spatter a bit so be careful. Press the batter into the corners of the pan and level it.
Slowly drizzle the remaining 2 T of oil all over the top of the kugel. Try to cover all of the potatoes with the oil.
Put the kugel on the middle rack. Bake for 15 minutes then lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake another 30 minutes, then rotate the pan. Bake until the top is well browned and cooked through in the center, checking every 10 -15 minutes. If the top is getting too browned (mine was okay) you can cover it with foil. Move it to the bottom rack for the last 15 to crisp up the bottom. Mine baked for about 80 minutes. All ovens are different so you will need to gauge by your oven.
When done, remove to a heat-safe surface and let rest for 15 minutes.
When ready to slice, run a butter knife deep along the edges of the pan to loosen the sides of the kugel. Cut in wedges to your liking. Like a pie, the first piece is hard to remove but gets easier with each slice. Serve with toppings on the side.