I’m not Jewish. I’m not Christian. I’m not anything. Around the holidays, I simply pick and choose traditions from various cultures for my enjoyment. A menorah here, Christmas Eve Mass there; I am a holiday cultural appropriator of the first degree. And I’m fine with it.
That said, I do have several close friends who are Jewish and celebrate Hanukkah. My Gentile love for the Festival of Lights started a few years ago, when I was invited to my very first Hanukkah party. I brought matzo ball soup and was ever so pleased with myself. Floating dumplings in broth? Yes please. The following year I made a vegan kugel and was told by my friend, Dan, that it was better than his grandmother’s. Unconventional ethnic food better than the original? I must’ve been on to something.
This year, we had two Hanukkah parties to attend, and I was asked to bring my Shiksa kugel to both. To spice things up, I made two different variations of the dish, one with crushed pineapple (for the last night of Hanukkah) and one with caramelized apples and cottage cheese (for the first night of Hanukkah). The Caramelized Apple Kugel is fairly labor intensive – you have to cut up a million apples, caramelize them, make the custard (by hand, if you’re like me and don’t have an electric mixer), soak it overnight, and then bake it for an hour and half. Of course, it’s delicious and received rave reviews from everyone except my Goyish boyfriend, who found the combination of egg noodles and sweet creamy goodness, “strange.” Whatever. We all know carbs and cheese in any form is bomb. More kugel for us!
A few nights later, for the fourth night of Hanukkah, I made one of my favorite variations of an old favorite – Roasted Root Vegetable Matzo Ball Soup. This vegetarian version features turnips, carrots, and my personal favorite – parsnips. Parsnips are like carrots 1.0. It’s almost as if God forgot to add the orange color and sweet flavor. They are bitter, spicy, and pungent, and by God, I love them. The soup is herby and warming, and fairly simple to make; the matzos themselves are not difficult, and are even better as leftovers one or two days later. Even the 10-month-old I nanny loves them!
Roasted Root Vegetable Matzo Ball Soup
(serves 8, adapted from Whole Foods Market)
- 4 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 parsnips, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 small rutabaga or turnip (both equally delicious), cut into 1-inch pieces
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Ground black pepper, to taste
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup vegan butter substitute, melted
- 1 cup matzo meal
- 1 tablespoon chopped chives
- 8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- 3 tablespoons chopped dill
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, garlic and onion on a large baking sheet and toss with oil and salt and pepper. Roast until golden brown and tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
2. Meanwhile, put eggs, vegan butter substitute, salt and pepper into a bowl and blend well. Mix in matzo meal and chives, then cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
3. Bring a pot of water to boil just before removing matzo mixture from refrigerator. Once water boils, wet hands and form walnut-size balls out of matzo mixture, dropping each one into the boiling water immediately. Once all balls have been dropped into the pot, turn heat down, cover and gently simmer for 30 minutes.
4. While matzo balls are simmering, bring vegetable broth, dill and parsley to a boil in a separate pot. Boil for 1 minute, then turn down heat to a simmer and add roasted vegetables. Once matzo balls are done, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to simmering broth. Simmer for 15 minutes, then adjust seasonings with pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and serve.
Caramelized Apple Kugel
(serves 8-12, adapted from Gilt Taste)
- 8 sweet-tart apples like Empire, McIntosh, or Pink Ladies
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into pieces, plus more for greasing the pan
- 10 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus as needed
- 8 ounces medium flat egg noodles (not the spiral kind as they don’t absorb liquid as readily as the flat variety)
- 1 cup cottage cheese
- 8 ounces cream cheese, cut into bits and softened
- 2 cups milk
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 5 tablespoons light brown sugar
1. Slice 5 apples into ¼-inch slices, with the skin on, and cook them slowly in a pan, over medium heat, with 2 tablespoons butter for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the slices with 2 tablespoons sugar and continue to cook them for another 10 minutes or so, until they are soft and tender and slightly caramelized.
2. Boil 3 quarts of water, add 1 teaspoon salt, and cook the noodles until just tender. Drain them and mix in 8 tablespoons butter. Set aside.
3. Force cottage cheese through a sieve into large bowl and beat it with an electric blender until it is light and fluffy. Add the cream cheese bit by bit, beating until it’s fully incorporated. One by one, beat in the milk, sour cream, eggs, white sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt, making sure that each new ingredient is fully incorporated before adding the next. Pour the cooked, buttered noodles and the caramelized apple slices into the bowl and stir everything to combine the ingredients.
4. Butter a 13”x9” baking pan, sprinkle 3 tablespoons of brown sugar in the bottom, pour the noodle mixture into it, and let it sit in the refrigerator, covered, for a few hours to let the noodles absorb the dairy mixture. (They should sit for at least 4 hours; ideally they should be left overnight.)
5. When the ingredients are ready, bring the mixture back to room temperature. Cut remaining 3 apples into quarters, leaving their skins on, sprinkle them with the remaining brown sugar, and set them aside. Heat oven to 350⁰ F.
6. Bake the casserole, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and arrange the remaining apple quarters evenly on top, skin-side up. Return the pudding to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes, until the top of the kugel is golden. Allow the casserole to cool for 30 minutes before cutting and serving. Best served warm, either shortly after baking or reheated in the oven.