This kugel is too dry. This kugel is too wet. This kugel has burned noodles on top, and this one is made of (gasp!) potatoes and isn’t sweet at all.
According to my kids, there’s only one kugel that is “just right” — and it comes from Seven Mile Market, which claims to be the largest kosher supermarket in the United States. Located at a strip mall in suburban Baltimore, Seven Mile makes a light, fluffy, absolutely delicious kugel.
In fact, they make hundreds of them, all stacked in the ready-to-eat aisle, where my kids load them up in the mini shopping carts that the store thoughtfully provides for parents with young kids. Or maybe not, as this invites the kids to put way too much food in their cart. Way too much kugel, I mean. My 4-year-old twins are devotees of Seven Mile Market’s lokshen kugel, a delicious noodle pudding that tastes like a close relative of bread pudding. My kids love everything about it — and while for some strange reason they refuse to eat the fat, juicy raisins, they even find enjoyment in picking them out and giving them to me.
And who can blame them? Kugel is versatile. You can eat it cold or hot; in the morning or in the middle of the night. Or for a school lunch. It travels beautifully in the kids’ bento boxes, next to the fruit salad and baby carrots. It is pretty healthy, what with protein and vitamins from the egg noodles, and is a source of thiamin, folate, riboflavin, and niacin — all good things for growing bodies.
It has some oil in it but that’s OK; kids need some fat in their diet. Yes, it has a lot of sugar, but at least some of that comes from the pineapple, which is also a fruit and loaded with vitamin C, so that goes on the healthy side of the ledger.
To be honest, I wouldn’t care about any of this, if kugel was just an occasional food at our house. But here’s the thing: It’s one of the only foods my twins will eat. Alongside Cheerios, squeezy yogurt, and Pirate’s Booty, kugel has a starring role in the dwindling repertoire of dishes my kids consider acceptable. They eat Seven Mile Market’s kugel at least once a day.
It’s costly, too, at $6.99 for a just over a pound. I purchase it weekly but it only lasts a few days in our house. That’s partially due to my kids’ enthusiasm for kugel, and also because my kids insist that I cut off the dry parts on the side (which my daughter adorably calls “noodle bones”). In addition to being tough on the wallet, all this kugel buying is wasteful, too. I mean, I guess I could clean and reuse the disposable aluminum containers, but those kugel crumbs are tough to budge. (Also, just how many aluminum pans does one family need? )
And here’s what really gets me: It should be a cinch to make, right? There are only eight ingredients, after all: noodles, eggs, pineapple, sugar, raisins, oil, salt, and vanilla. That’s it. Easy-peasy, right?
But, unfortunately — when it comes to my kids’ palates, at least — it is not that easy. I have tried many, many recipes but can’t quite get that Seven Mile perfection. There are kugels with applesauce, kugels with milk, kugels with cinnamon. Most recipes include either sour cream or cottage cheese — or both — something my kids can’t even consider. “Eww,” they both said, refusing to even take a bite. “What is that white stuff in there?”
My grandmother’s lokshen kugel — which calls for sliced apples and hot butter — was deemed “too noodly.” My mother-in-law has not one but five sweet kugel recipes written on index cards in her recipe files. The best sounding of these, the “Delicious Noodle Kugel,” has the dreaded sour cream, as well as an intriguing side note that was seemingly circled with urgency: “don’t melt margarine.”
Maybe that’s my problem, I consider — perhaps my mistake is that I add wet oil to the noodles, and not more solid chunks of margarine. But what about getting the sweetness just right? In the many recipes I’ve tried, the amount of sugar has varied from two tablespoons to a cup. The number of eggs can start at two and go up to six. And do I use margarine, or butter, or oil? How about the recipe that calls for chicken fat? There is simply no kugel consensus — just a loose range of ideas featuring noodles pumped up with dairy.
The New York Times’ food writer Melissa Clark jazzes her sweet kugel up with sherry and grated lemon; famed Jewish cookbook author Joan Nathan uses spaghetti in a sweet kugel. Neither of these kugels are bad, but none of them get that custardy, composed solidity and simple richness that the Seven Mile kugel has.
Obviously, I need to somehow smuggle the recipe from the market. Alas, it is a big operation, and all the kitchen staff I spoke with claim not to know it. But if some kind soul is out there who has Seven Mile Market’s recipe, please send it to me! I’m open to anything that sounds close, too. Otherwise, I will keep trying for kugel success. In fact, I have some noodles boiling right now.