Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Green Kitchen: A Sweet Potato Kugel Recipe

Green Kitchen is a bi-weekly column about nutritious, inexpensive, and ethical food and cooking. It's penned by the lovely Jaime Green.

I don’t make many traditional Jewish dishes. They’re tasty, and fondly associated with big family dinners, but they don’t tend to prominently feature the myriad vegetables and vegetarian proteins I try to work my meals around. It’s more about carbs and meat, much like other European peasant cuisines.

So, when I decided to bring a kugel to Passover dinner at my dad’s house, there were a lot of things I took into consideration:
  • Passover’s traditional dietary restrictions: no leavened grains, or, really, grains at all.
  • My own personal restrictions on meat (being vegetarian) and dairy (being lactose intolerant).
  • My inclination towards local, seasonal produce, which this early in the spring is still what’s left from last fall: apples, winter squash, potatoes, and onions.
  • The palates of the assembling group, and the traditional vein of a Passover meal, which excluded most international or adventurous dishes.
(Note: What I did not take into consideration was my lack of a food processor with a grating blade. I got to know my box grater and several pounds of sweet potatoes very, very well.)

Kugel is basically Jewish casserole, and comes in two traditional iterations. The first, noodle kugel, is a sweet side dish of egg noodles cooked in a creamy base, sometimes using cream cheese or cottage cheese, featuring a variety of additions like raisins, pineapple, nuts, or crusty, crumbed toppings. The second variety, potato kugel, is savory, shredded potatoes and onions, sometimes with a dash of color from a carrot, held together with eggs and sometimes matzoh meal or flour.

I love noodle kugel, but can never really get into the potato variety. It has the same ingredients as potato latkes, which are fried pancakes, but aren’t those tasty because they’re fried? Baking it all in a casserole dish seemed to take away the magic – the crispy edges, the (let’s be honest) delicious fat.

But then, ding (!), a light bulb went off: sweet potato kugel! It would have the architecture of potato kugel, with sweeter and more interesting flavors. Bonus: all the vitamins and good stuff that come with the orange tubers, and it’s almost entirely seasonal, locally available produce, with the addition of happy-chicken-borne eggs.

I tooled around the internet, made a couple of calls to my local potato kugel expert (my mom), and came up with the deliciousness below. There’s no sweetener beyond a little fruit juice (squeezed from an in-season, if not local, orange) and the natural sweetness of the vegetables and some raisins.

It’s all brought out by spices that we associate with sweetness – cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves – for a hearty but healthy side dish that works well with a salty, savory meal. (It’s also amazing reheated and served with a scoop of cottage cheese, as my breakfasts this past week attest.)

There’s nothing traditional about this kugel, and there’s also nothing limiting it to Passover or Jewish kitchens. Leftovers freeze well, and I’ve got a stockpile now for tasty breakfasts and snacks. You can also cook this ahead of time and then reheat it before serving, for about 20 minutes at 350.

Even if I did get to spend a little more time with my grater than I ever, ever wanted, well, that was a nice workout for my arms, too.


If you like this recipe, you might also treasure:

Sweet Potato Kugel
24 small servings (or 12 large)
(Pictured here with cottage cheese)

(NOTE: All spice measurements can and should be varied to match your taste.)

5 lbs. sweet potatoes (about 8 cups)
2 apples (something sweet and crisp – no mushy macs!)
5 eggs
1 cup golden raisins (You could also use dates. Just chop them and skip the soaking.)
½ cup orange juice (or the juice of one orange)
½ cup walnuts, crushed to small pieces
½ cup pecans, crushed to small pieces
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
¾ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cloves
butter for greasing

1) Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9x12 cake pan with butter. (I like the flavor this adds, but you can use cooking spray or line your pan with parchment paper.)

2) In a small bowl, soak the raisins in orange juice, adding water so the raisins are covered. (You can speed up the plumping by microwaving for 30-45 seconds.)

3) Peel the sweet potatoes. Using a grater blade on a food processor or a box grater, grate them. Put the grated sweet potatoes in a large mixing bowl.

4) Beat the eggs. (The fluffier they are, the fluffier your kugel.) Mix into sweet potatoes.

5) Grate the apples, add to the sweet tater & egg mixture.

6) Stir in the salt and spices.

7) Add the raisins and soaking liquids. Stir.

8) Pour/scoop mixture into your cake pan, smoothing flat.

9) Sprinkle with crushed pecans and walnuts, pressing them a little into the kugel.

10) Bake 45 minutes or so, until the edges are a little browned and the top gets golden. Let it cool a bit, then cut into 24 pieces, but know that everyone will probably want more than one.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price Per Serving
Small Serving (total/24): 164 calories, 4.6g fat, 3.9g fiber, $0.44
Large Serving (total/12): 328 calories, 9.3g fat, 7.8g fiber, $0.88

5lbs sweet potatoes: 1994 calories, 3.7g fat, 65.6g fiber, $5.45
2 apples: 189 calories, 0.6g fat, 8.7g fiber, $1.25
5 eggs: 388 calories, 26.5g fat, 0g fiber, $1.46
1 cup golden raisins: 520 calories, 0g fat, 8g fiber, $.75
½ cup orange juice: 55 calories, 0g fat, .5g fiber, $.20
½ cup walnuts: 383 calories, 38.1g fat, 3.9g fiber, $.60
½ cup pecans: 377 calories, 39.2g fat, 5.2g fiber, $.75
1 ½ t salt: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $.02
1 t cinnamon: 6 calories, 0g fat, 1.2 g fiber, $.04
1 t powdered ginger: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $.02
¾ t nutmeg: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $.02
½ t cloves: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $.01
butter for greasing (1/4 t?): 24 calories, 2.9g fat, 0g fiber, $.02
TOTAL: 3936 calories, 111g fat, 93.1g fiber, $10.59
PER SERVING (TOTAL/24): 164 calories, 4.6g fat, 3.9g fiber, $0.44
PER (LARGER) SERVING (TOTAL/12): 328 calories, 9.3g fat, 7.8g fiber, $0.88

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