A kugel, for those who don’t know, is a casserole with a self deprecating sense of humor. A Jewish traditional baked starchy pudding dish often made of noodles or potatoes, the name has roots in common with Yiddish words for “ball” and “bullet” possibly to signify the cannonball-like feeling it leaves in the stomach. There are less-starchy kugels, of course: those with plenty of meat or onions or fat or crispy chicken skin. The kugel wears many hats. It’s used to this. Change the kugel a bit and it’ll just shrug and ask, “What am I, chopped liver? That I should care?”
Even for a dish so varied, I take a pretty liberal interpretation of kugel. My kugels generally contain no noodles, sometimes no potatoes, and generally lots of cream and saffron. This kugel, coming out of my oven during the Thanksgiving season, has cauliflower, cream and even… cranberries.
Cranberries? Why not?! There’s a reason cranberries taste so good with traditional Thanksgiving foods: the tartness makes the savory flavors feel fresh and contrasty. A few cranberries thrown into an apple pie improves it. Throw a few in the kugel too.
This kugel, as I believe a kugel should be, is flexible. I threw some potatoes in it, but you don’t have to. You can increase or decrease the brussels sprouts or mushrooms. And the onions… well, I actually started out cutting three large onions for two dishes and then, in my flu-bleary state of mind, canceled one dish but forgot to decrease the onions. The result was delicious.
Thanksgiving Kugel with Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries
- 1 head cauliflower
- 1/2 pound or more brussels sprouts
- 1/2 lb potatoes or winter squash or more cauliflower
- 1-3 thinly sliced or chopped onions (see above)
- thinly sliced mushrooms, to taste (a handful, a pound, whatever)
- 1-2 handfuls of cranberries
- butter and/or schmaltz
- olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 400-415F. Chop up the cauliflower and potatoes or squash. Remove brussels sprouts’ stems and outer leaves, and slice them in half. Arrange all of these ingredients in a large casserole pan, like a rectangular Pyrex. Coat with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast until not yet very soft and browned at the edges, stirring occasionally. While this is roasting, start the onions in step 3.
2. When that’s nearly done roasting, add your cranberries, stir, and put it back into the oven. The cranberries will roast pretty quickly.
3. In a very large pan, heat butter, schmaltz, olive oil, or some combination thereof. Add onions and salt and cook slowly until they’re completely clear and browned.
4. Remove from pan, add more fat, and cook the mushrooms, not crowded in the pan — do several batches if necessary– until they brown a little and release their juices. Make sure there’s enough fat in the pan for them; the pan shouldn’t look like a desert and the mushrooms shouldn’t wither.
5. When all the mushrooms are done, add the onions back to the pan with all the mushrooms, and add some cream and a pinch of saffron. Stir, letting the flavors bubble together, and adjust salt to taste.
6. When everything in the oven is done roasting, stir the pan ingredients with the roasting ingredients, press into the casserole pan, add more cream if desired, and bake until the top is golden-brown.