A tiny bit of kugel background before we proceed. Pronounced "koogel", kugel is a favored traditional Jewish dish. There are two types, a potato variety and the the type in question, the lochshen kugel, or dairy noodle kugel, which is a kind of noodle pudding that can be made savory or sweet. The sweet version, the one that classically springs to mind when someone says kugel, is made with egg noodles and baked in a bed of custard comprised of sugar, cottage cheese, eggs, and milk with golden raisins mixed through.
As with all traditional foods, lochshen kugel has a taste, a texture, and a consistency everyone is familiar with. Sure, you can make changes, personal touches, but adding something as unfamiliar as rice noodles? It was a gamble. But it's also the only way I can make or enjoy the dish. I decided to enter the contest, not caring if I won, but just hoping to make something that could pass for normal under intense kugel scrutiny.
So for the next ten days, I researched kugels, wrote and rewrote my recipe, and turned my kitchen into full on kugel-mania. My first kugel was made with de boles rice spirals and golden raisins. It good, but not great, I tried again. The next kugel incarnation involved more sugar, pumpkin pie spice, a medley of dried fruit, Tinkyada fusilli noodles, and a wider test audience: my mom's book club. Imagine my elation to come home to giant pan of half eaten kugel, consumed by a group of women who'd never heard of such a dish before, much less eaten rice noodles. I'd passed my kugel off as normal, I'd been a success. Still adjustments were needed and with no more time to test, I hoped for the best.
With kugel day upon me, I made my casserole a final time. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I wasn't able to deliver my dish in person - competing autoimmune conditions can be such a drag! - and my mom had to bring my kugel over to the contest. She spoke to the judges, explained my celiac situation, and the use of rice noodles.
If your celiac, you can probably guess what happened. One judge was curious about the whole gluten free thing while the other wrinkled her nose before even trying it. Though we brought our own spatula, people put their forks right into my dish and other kugel bits found their way on top of mine; it was a cross contamination mess. And, unsurprisingly, I didn't win.
But I didn't care. I made the kugel to share my gluten-freeness, to spread awareness. By the time I got there, I was able to see my submission to the contest being eaten by lots of people. People who didn't even know it was gluten free or what that meant. Silly as it sounds, every time someone put their fork back into my kugel for more, I celebrated a small victory.
As I waited for the judging, I ended up sharing a table with a dietitian student and a girl with crohn's disease. With more talking of being gluten free, more celiac awareness was spread. The whole exercise was worth it, regardless of where I placed in the competition. On the whole, I'm glad I entered the contest. I created a great kugel recipe, I spread some celiac awareness, and I passed as normal. In answer to the question, "So you think you can kugel?", the answer is a resounding yes, yes I can.
Mixed Berry Gluten Free Noodle Kugel
1 bag Tinkyada fusilli pasta
3 cups cottage cheese - 1% milkfat is fine
1 to 1 and 1/2 cups sour cream - lowfat is fine
3 heaping table spoons of whipped cream cheese
1/4 cup of softened butter - or smart balance in my case
1/3rd cup lowfat milk
3/4 cup of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
3/4 cup of mixed dried fruit - cranberries, blueberries, cherries, and golden raisins
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice
2 -3 teaspoons of white sugar
2 -3 tablespoons of almond meal
Cook pasta for about 7 and a half minutes, leaving it a little al dente. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the cottage cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, milk, and softened butter. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Combine the eggs with the brown sugar, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon.
Pour the egg mixture into the large bowl and stir all of the ingredients together. Stir in the dried fruit. Transfer the pasta into a greased casserole dish, spreading them out evenly. Pour the cheese mixture over the pasta and mix it through until all the ingredients are combined evenly.
Place the dish in the oven and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Opening the oven (and turning down the heat!), sprinkle the cinnamon, sugar, and pumpkin pie spice over the top. Then spread the almond meal over the top as desired for optimum crunchy topping.
Lower the temperature to 375 degrees and bake for an additional 40 minutes, or until the top is beginning to brown. Let cool, share with friends, and enjoy.
(Note: if you like a creamier kugel, only use 3/4 of the pasta. I'm sure you can figure out something good for the left overs! )