Cast-iron potato kugel for Pesah or anytime

Photo from Micah Siva: “Nosh: Plant-forward recipes celebrating modern Jewish cuisine”

by Micah Grobman Siva

(AJNews) – Growing up in our Calgary home, my mom, Alyson, would labour over a hot pot of simmering chicken soup, roast enough Chicken Marbella for an army, a light-as-air strawberry mousse, and lovingly form homemade gefilte fish, opening our home to “all who are hungry, let them come eat”, as written in our wine-stained Haggadah. She would experiment with our favourite book, Matzo 101, making matzo baklava, taco shells, and spanakopita – but no matter how creative we got during the week, the Passover Seder was never without at least one kugel. Whether it was matzo farfel studded with mushrooms, or a crispy potato kugel, there was always room on the table.

Like my mom, Passover has always been my favorite holiday when it comes to food. Unlike many, I see Passover’s restrictions a welcome excuse to think outside of the box and re-imagine my meals from breakfast to bedtime snack. In fact, when I attended the Calgary Jewish Academy, she sent me to school with a Passover-friendly pizza slice, made of Manischewitz’s Kosher for Passover Pizza Dough Mix; it looked so convincing that my Hebrew School teacher called my mom to tell her that I couldn’t eat it for lunch, because it looked too good to be for Passover.

Potato kugel is truly one of the most perfect comfort foods – a carbohydrate-rich dish that contains more oil than you care to admit, with crispy edges and a creamy potato center. Unlike your typical kugel, this one is made in a hot cast-iron pan, ensuring that you get maximum crisp, and everyone gets a slice with a crunchy exterior. The caramelized onions help to take this kugel to a new level, and give this kugel a rich umami flavor with a hint of sweetness. Caramelizing onions takes time. To speed up the process, try adding ⅛ teaspoon of baking soda to the onions, which will help them brown faster. Caramelized onions can be made up to 3 days in advance, stored in an airtight container, and refrigerated. I like to caramelize a large batch of onions and freeze them in individual containers with about 2 onions’ worth in each one. The sweetness of the onions compliment the starchy potato and spicy black pepper (because any good potato kugel should be heavy handed when it comes to pepper). This recipe reminds me of a giant latke, perfect for any time of the day and any time of year, including Passover.

Top your kugel with labneh, sour cream, crème fraîche, or coconut yogurt with chives. Serve with eggs for a breakfast dish or alongside your meal. Reheat it in the cast-iron pan, or in the oven at 400F for five to ten minutes, or until heated through.

Potato and Caramelized Onion Cast-Iron Kugel
Serves: 10 to 12
On the table in… 2 hours

Contains egg
Passover friendly

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 medium yellow onions, cut into ½-inch pieces
1½ teaspoons salt, divided
2 pounds (3 or 4) russet potatoes
4 large eggs
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup matzo meal
Sour cream, coconut yogurt, crème fraîche, or labneh, for serving, optional
Fresh chives, chopped, for serving

In a 9-inch cast-iron pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat until the oil is hot, but not smoking. Add the chopped onions, spreading them evenly over the bottom of the pan. Decrease the heat to medium-low and let cook, undisturbed, for approximately 10 minutes.

Sprinkle the onions with ½ teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and broken down, 30 to 45 minutes. Once golden and caramelized, transfer the onions to a large bowl.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the cast-iron pan and place it in the oven to heat up while you prepare the potatoes.

Fill a large bowl with ice water.

Using a food processor fitted with the shredding disk, or a box grater on the largest hole, grate the potatoes. The potatoes will oxidize, so be sure to shred right before use.

Add the potatoes to the bowl of ice water. Let sit for 10 minutes to remove excess starch.

Drain the potatoes, transfer them to a clean kitchen towel, and wring out any excess liquid. The more liquid you can remove, the better! Add the potatoes to the bowl with the caramelized onions.

Add the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, eggs, black pepper, and matzo meal and stir to combine.

Carefully remove the cast-iron pan from the oven and spread the potato mixture in the pan, pushing it down to compact the potatoes. It should sizzle on contact with the pan. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 1 hour, or until deep golden brown on top.

Serve with sour cream and chopped chives.

Note: Prepare this kugel up to 4 days in advance and store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Variation: Add ½ cup chopped parsley to the kugel along with the matzo meal.

Substitution: This recipe uses russet potatoes, but you can use Idaho potatoes instead.

Native Albertan Micah Siva is a Registered Dietitian and chef living in Northern California, specializing in recipe writing, food photography and story telling through food. She is a camp BB (Riback) and NWC BBYO alum. Check out her cook book: Nosh – Plant Forward Recipes Celebrating Modern Jewish Cuisine. 

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