Kugel is a baked pudding or casserole, similar to a pie, most
commonly made from egg noodles (Lokshen kugel) or potato. It is a
traditional Ashkenazi Jewish dish, often served on Shabbat and Yom Tov.
The name of the dish comes from the Middle High German kugel meaning
"sphere, globe, ball"; thus the Yiddish name likely originated as a
reference to the round, puffed-up shape of the original dishes.
The first kugels were made from bread and flour and were
savory rather than sweet. About 800 years ago, cooks in Germany
replaced bread mixtures with noodles or farfel.
Eventually eggs were incorporated. The addition of cottage cheese and
milk created a custard-like consistency common in today's dessert
dishes. In Poland, Jewish homemakers added raisins, cinnamon and sweet
curd cheese to noodle kugel recipes. In the late 19th century,
Jerusalemites combined caramelized sugar and black pepper in a noodle
kugel known as "Yerushalmi kugel" or "Jerusalem kugel," which is a
commonly served at Shabbat kiddushes and is a popular side dish served
with cholent during Shabbat lunch.
Kugels are a mainstay of festive meals in Ashkenazi Jewish
homes, particularly on the Jewish Sabbath and other Jewish holidays or
at a Tish. Some Hasidic Jews believe that eating kugel on the Jewish
Sabbath brings special spiritual blessings, particularly if that kugel
was served on the table of a Hasidic Rebbe.
A similar traditional Belarusian dish is potato babka.
Savory kugel may be based on potatoes, matzah, cabbage,
carrots, zucchini, spinach or cheese. While noodle kugel, potato kugel,
and other variations are dishes served on Jewish holiday meals, matzo
kugel is a common alternative served at Passover seders which is
adjusted to meet passover kosher requirements.