The easygoing setting fit right in with the company: B. and I met two summers ago in Ségou, Mali, where we were both doing research for our undergraduate theses. It was a very West African meeting ("Ah, you seem to be a friend of my friend! Can I sleep in your one-room house for the next 7 days?"). B was studying the Tuareg people and how their cultural identity changes as they migrate south from the Timbuktu area; I was studying Jeffrey Sachs' Millennium Village Project (ever heard of the One Campaign?). B. had been in Ségou for a while and spoke Bambara, the local dialect, so I stuck to her like glue and we became quite close. But then the summer ended and we returned to our respective Universities to write the darn theses and finish our senior year. So imagine how cool it was when, almost exactly two years later, on my very first day in Oakland, B. and I bumped into each other at an intersection!
By the time B. and I had caught up on the past two years, we'd polished off our beers and made a serious dent in the tomatillo salsa (hey, talk about a great way to use leftover Enchilada ingredients!). B. took the dog home and I went back to the less endearing activity of turning almost-dead leftovers into dinner.
As this post and this post show, I have a history of being completely inept when it comes to recycling leftovers. It doesn't help that our new fridge was not set to a sufficiently cold setting and our food spoiled faster than normal this past week (the problem is now fixed, but our compost bin is a lot fuller). A potato, three carrots, and some sour cream had survived the initial massacre, but needed to get used pronto. Remarkably, my brain clicked... how about a kugel?
My brain doesn't usually put two and two together and come up with a delicious dinner (definitely more than the sum of its parts). It's just not how I think, even though I've been wanting to try kugel for a while now and have several recipes bookmarked. No, shamefully, kugel occurred to me only because I had just spent the afternoon at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum. Side note: they have a lovely exhibit on William Steig, the guy who wrote Shrek!, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Doctor De Soto, Amos & Boris, and who was a New Yorker cartoonist for 73 years. Does anyone else remember his books from their childhood? I now know that "Shrek" is Yiddish for "Fear."
So, improvised Potato Kugel it was. I've been wanting to make Kugel because, reading ingredient lists, I just couldn't imagine what the final product would taste like. And you know, it wasn't half bad. The texture was a cross between a casserole, mashed potatoes, and an omelet. "A very German texture, very creamy," Do adds. It could have used more mustard, maybe some paprika, and Do felt that it absolutely shouldn't be any sweeter (there go my aspirations for Apple Kugel or sweet kugel. Do other folks serve these as desserts?). But for a first try, with no Ashkenaz cooks or cookbooks in sight, I think we did just fine. In fact, we'd like to share the Kugel at Ben's new bi-weekly I love Baking event. In the mean time, anyone have any tips, stories, or insights on Kugel?
It was a good day.
Potato-Carrot Kugel (serves four as a side)
1 potato, cut into chunks
3 carrots, cut into chunks
1/3 cup milk
2 large eggs
1 cup Parmesan, grated
Half an onion, sliced
3 Tbs sour cream or plain yogurt
2 Tbs mustard (maybe more)
In a medium saucepan cook potatoes and carrots, covered, in boiling water about 12 minutes or until carrots are tender.
In a large mixer bowl, mash potatoes and carrots with a potato masher or an electric mixer on low speed. Gradually beat in the milk till mixture is creamy. Stir in eggs, the 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, onion, mustard, and sour cream or yogurt. Transfer to a 1-quart casserole.
Bake, uncovered, in a 350F oven for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with leftover Parmesan cheese, and bake for 15 minutes more, or until center is set.
1 1/2 lb tomatillos
Half an onion, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 Jalapeño peppers, stemmed, chopped
4 tsp ground cumin
Salt and black pepper to taste
Remove papery husks from tomatillos and rinse well. Cut in half and place cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place under a broiler for about 5-7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin.
Place tomatillos, lime juice, onions, cilantro, Jalapeño peppers, sugar, and cumin in a food processor (or blender) and pulse until all ingredients are chopped and mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cool in refrigerator and serve.