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Other Jewish Cooking Controversies

The thread about latkes vs hamentaschen got me thinking about other differences between jewish ways of cooking.

In my family, when we make latkes, or matzo-bri, blintzes, matzo meal pancakes, etc. it was always considered a savory dish and was served with sourcream, or nothing at all - just salted (such as the matzo-bri). Maybe applesauce in a pinch of there was no sourcream in the house (which I bet never happened).

But, I know other jewish families serve these items with sweet things, such as applesauce or jam. I know people who put cottage cheese in their kugels, which is just odd to me - a kugel to me is a fried noodle pie, with eggs and onions, not a baked casserole with cheese.

Or, there are different preparation methods such as matzo-bri. I personally make it into 1 large omelet like shape, where others keep the matzo in broken up pieces and scramble it up in the pan so the pieces are kept separate, more or less. Also, with kugels, we always fried ours in a pan, again, like a large omelet (for lack of a better way to describe it) but other families would put it into a baking pan and do it in an oven. Then of course you have the noodle kugel vs. the potato kugel.

Does this have to do maybe with the origins of various families, perhaps where they came from in Europe, or what foods were available in the areas they were from? Or, is the serving of sweets or the combining of sweet items in these foods a bastardization of the foods themselves once immigrants came to the states?

Any thoughts?


And just to vent: There's a restaurant in NYC that charges like $8 for matzo-bri with a tablespoon of their "homemade confiture" at passover which freaking galls me to no end. $8. for a matzo-bri! What does a piece of matzo actually cost? #.10 cents? Unbelievable.

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  1. I've always made kugel with cottage cheese and then baked it in the oven. And I serve latkes with applesauce ... just how it was always done when I grew up.

    1. my family is of polish-jewish origin and we always had a sweet matzoh brie, either pancake style or scrambled, but in any event it had to be cooked in peanut oil. whether or not there was cheese in a noodle kugel depended upon if it was going to be served with meat or dairy. ditto on the sour cream vs. applesauce for latkes. kugels were always baked and potatoniks were always cooked in a large frying pan. stuffed cabbage was always sweet and sour. yet if my mom was making oatmeal or farina, then she always made that with salt.....no sweetening at all.

      1. My family is mostly of russian-jewish origin, with one grandmother austrian-jewish. I wonder if that has anything to do with it. Too bad everyone's pretty much gone now, I have only my grandmother to ask and at 100, she pretty much can't remember much of anything anymore (tho it is funny to try and get her to remember). However, her apple cake, was not served with sour cream :-)


        1. My family is mostly Austrian-Jewish and most of the items described were always savory. Potato kugel was served with cottage cheese on the side, and noodle kugel was always made without any cheese at all, but never sweet. I made a sweet noodle kugel (w/ raisins inside and corn flakes on top) last year for Yom Kippur, along with a savory one. The sweet was untouched.

          As for matzoh brie, we sautee that in a little butter in the frying pan and leave it fairly unstructured. That was my father's style, but my grandmother used to soak the whole sheets of matzoh in egg, placing cream cheese pieces b/w 2 slices of matzoh, almost more like a sandwich of matzoh brie or 'stuffed french toast'.

          And I agree $8 for matzoh brie would annoy me, too. We have matzoh in my house year-round and matzoh brie is one of my favorite comfort foods to make when I'm not feeling like cooking and my husband isn't home for dinner.

          1 Reply
          1. re: diablita FL

            Could you post your recipe for matzoh brie? I'd love to give it a try....i've tried one recipe but don't think I got it right.

          2. i definitely think that sweet/sweet and sour thing is very polish-jewish. i think they even like a sweeter gefilte fish although we never had that type of sweet fish at home.

            1. The following link explains the "gefilte fish line," a cultural divide of language, custom, and, yes, whether or not you like your gefilte fish sweet.


              1. We have matzoh in the house year round too, I also make matzoh-bri regularly - had it for breakfast the other day in fact.

                Krissy, matzoh-bri is easy to make but I wouldn't say there is a set recipe. I like mine kind of on the thinner side, crisper side, some people like them thicker and eggier. For 2-4 people (depending on how hungry they are) this is my personal usual recipe:

                4-5 boards of matzoh
                2 eggs
                chopped white onion (to taste - I usually use about 1/2 of one)
                salt & pepper to taste
                vegetable oil (or butter, depends on what you prefer)

                Break up matzoh into pieces. Soak in warm water until soggy and then squeeze out the water. Mix up the eggs into the matzoh (you can break them up into a separate bowl first to make sure you don't get any shells into the matzoh). Add the chopped up onion, salt and pepper to taste. Stir.

                Heat up oil in a frying pan, about a 12" size. I prefer a regular over nonstick, gives a better browning but I do use nonstick so I can use less oil. Add the matzoh mixture, spread to size of pan. Like I mentioned, this will yield a thinner "bri" but if you add more boards/eggs it will be thicker. Cook until browned on 1 side, flip onto the other side (use a plate to do this) and cook until done on the other side).

                I just salt and eat. Some people serve with jam or whatever suits your fancy I guess, as the thread suggests :-)

                Others have other methods - again, there I don'tthink there is any real way of doing this - probably more of a regional way of cooking it.

                Also, a non-jewish friend of mine used to make this with other veggies thrown in which was really good. He'd use sauteed peppers and mushrooms in it too. This was very odd to me when I first saw him do it, but, it's very good and makes for a nice lunch.


                1. My mother's side of the family, from Warsaw, liked things sweeter - sugar/cinnamon mixture on noodles and cottage cheeses, sweet kugels; my father's side from Gomel, near Chernobyl preferred the same dishes with S & P, onions, garlic etc. Also, my understanding was that Hungarian Jews liked sweeter dishes, likes gefilte fish with sugar in it....

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: EllenMM

                    Piping up from the Hungarian side, both sides as a matter of fact. And yes, I think it's true. Our brei, kugels, noodle puddings, cholent, were always sweet. Not the gefilte fish, though.

                    1. re: EllenMM

                      Hungarian here. Kugel was always sweet - no cheese though, just noodles, apples, raisons and sugar. Noodles were served with cottage cheese and some sugar. Blintzes had some sugar in them. I distinctly remember being out at a restaurant with my grandmother and her putting sugar in her soup!

                    2. Ok, it sounds pretty specific, hungarian/polish - sweet; russian/austrian - savory.
                      Now I hope this doesn't get yanked for me posting my matzoh-bri recipe LOL.


                      1. Another vote for savory from this Russian/Lithuanian. My Grandpa Abe (from the Russian side -- a shtetl vaguely in the vicinity of Minsk)could make just one dish, so he brought it with him wherever he was invited --lukshn(noodle) kugel made with broad noodles, eggs, salt and pepper and lots of margarine, baked till crispy on the corners. We used to say in our family that it's a good thing we liked Grandpa's kugel, because we were going to get it anyway! It is the absolute perfect accompaniment to a brisket or roast chicken with gravy.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: VFresser

                          Well my grandma was from Vilna, and she made noodle kugel with cottage cheese and served latkes with applesauce, so there! <vbg>

                          I have to say, though, that her noodle kugel was not particularly sweet -- cottage cheese isn't intrinsically sweet. She did also make a sweet noodle kugel with raisins and/or canned pineapple, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the latter version was not from the "old country." My mom made noodle kugel this year with cinnamon and I thought it was dreadful!

                          One factor to consider is whether (or how strictly) the family kept kosher: noodle kugel with cheese couldn't be eaten with pot roast, nor could latkes with sour cream, at a kosher meal. So there could be variations depending on what kind of a meal the dish was going to be served at.

                        2. I used to think the savory vs sweet latkes was a Sephardic vs Ashkenazi thing, but that seems to have been disproved by your family histories. BUT - in Israel, I never had latkes with applesauce, only sour cream. First time I ever had latkes with applesauce was in America, where it seems to be standard. (Delicious!)

                          As for kugel, the Austrian half of the family made it sweet and baked in the oven; the Sephardic side made "Jerusalem kugel", also baked in the oven, with thin vermicelli, salt & pepper.

                          1. Galitzianer here (though my immediate family are goyim). Potato kugel was always savoury, though, and was always pareve so it could be served either way. Lokshenkugel was always sweet, always dairy and baked in the oven. Matzoh brei was sweet (never onions), and dairy. Blintzes were sweet and served with smetana and jam. Latkes could go either way -- sweet with smetana and homemade applesauce, or savoury with ham. (Just kidding! It was always sweet and dairy.)

                            My best friend as a kid came from a Litvak family and his mother's lokshenkugel was savoury... I hated it. His Rumanian mom made mamaliga (savoury, of course) and I liked that much better.

                            1. My maternal and fraternal grandparents were Russian Jews who didn't keep kosher. Matzoh brie was (and still is, for me) really simple - beat a couple of eggs with a little dribble of milk in a bowl. Run a couple of boards of matzoh under the water in the sink, then break it up into the eggs. While the matzoh's soaking, melt some butter in a pan, then pour the whole deal into the pan and scramble. We always had it with a sprinkle of salt on top and a mound of sugar on the side, to dip in.

                              Noodle kugel was always sweet - with cottage cheese or ricotta and raisins. Stuffed cabbage was sweet and sour.

                              What I wouldn't give for my mother's and grandmothers' recipes. So remember to go ask your grandmothers and mothers to cook these things with you so you can write them down. Personally, I'd kill for what my mom called "grated potato balls" - I think she boiled them, then stuck 'em in the roasting pan with her brisket. This may fall into the category of things my family cooked that I've never seen anywhere else.

                              1. We always had our Kugels and Gefilte Fish on the salty side (Russian Influence). I have taken to "lightening" up the traditional Jewish dishes.

                                For Lokshen (noodle)Kugel, I find if you pre-heat the pyrex dish until very hot, then add the oil and heat it, and then pour in teh egg/noodle mixture, you can use less oil than if you mix the oil in with the eggs and lokshen (noodles). Also, you can get away with mixing half whole eggs, half egg whites to cut down on the fat.

                                Two "contemporary" variations of lokshen kugel is to grate cooked (broiled) chicken liver in with the noodle mixture and then bake. Another variation is to mix in a mixture of sauteed chopped mushrooms (shitake, oyster, cremini) with the noodle mixture and then bake. they are both delicious.

                                I have never tried a lokshen kugel with whole wheat or spelt noodles but who knows.

                                A great topping for Motzei Brei (I am an omelette style, well done matzoh brei girl) is the apple-cherry spread from Eden Organics. Available at any health food store/ Whole Foods. It is slightly sweet. I tried Matzoh Brie with whole wheat matzo-it was pretty vile.

                                1. I just stumbled upon this message board after a long debate with my boyfriend and his family and i realize that I have lost....

                                  I am of Eastern European descent (Russian and Polish) and from this board, I realize that my family's culinary traditions are different than most!

                                  I grew up with both savory and sweet--we cook our matzoh brie with cheese and our kugel with cinnamon, sour cream, and cherry topping!

                                  I never knew about matzoh brie with syrup and sugar until I dined with my boyfriend's family and they all thought I was nuts to assume it would be served with melted cheese! Its very good that way and I highly recommend it.

                                  On the other hand, our kugel is baked with cinnamon spice and sour cream and then topped with cherry topping.

                                  Maybe a great-great-grandmother was into experimenting with food!

                                  1. My grandmother made Matzo Brie and my brothers would pour maple syrup all over it. That's the best of Bessarabia and America. Being Bessarabian, right on the legendary mamaligga/kasha border I wonder what my grand parents made of all that.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: MOREKASHA

                                      Wow! Mom would sprinkle sugar on our matzo brie, but maple syrup, now that would have really taken it over the top. I just might have to dig out a matzo brie recipe.

                                      1. re: ChinoWayne

                                        I like it with grape jelly and tobasco -- together.

                                    2. my Grandmothers kept it simple-potato pancakes-grated potatoes,onion,1 egg, matzo meal and fry in oil-mazola(on hand) -luchen (sp?) kugel-Grandma's was made with a handful of raisins and some cinnamin-I could not dulplicate this and I am a good cook(it was like a cake)-matzo brie-plain matzo soaked in milk and fried in margarine-baked apples with water, sugar and a little cinnimon-my Aunt Ada made the best matzo balls by adding somer seltzer-they were huge and light,Aunt Helen made blintzes-a light crepe filled with sweet cheese and fried---I miss these simple people who were chowhounds before their time-Russia,Poland,NYC/Brooklyn

                                      1. I have a Russian/Lithuanian ancestry. But I've always had a slightly sweet kugel. I've made this recipe from epicurious.com and I like it a lot:

                                        NOODLE KUGEL
                                        Phyllis Roberts of Monsey, New York, writes: "I serve this noodle kugel as part of the meal that marks the conclusion of Yom Kippur. It is traditional to serve a dairy repast, which in my family consists of bagels, smoked salmon, salads, and this sweet kugel. This particular recipe is a slight variation on the kugel made by my Aunt Raye, who is one of the best cooks on the planet."
                                        Active time: 15 min Start to finish: 1 1/4 hr
                                        For noodles
                                        1 lb dried wide egg noodles
                                        1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
                                        1 cup whole milk
                                        5 large eggs, lightly beaten
                                        1/2 cup sugar
                                        2 teaspoons vanilla
                                        1/2 teaspoon salt
                                        1 (1-lb) container sour cream
                                        1 (1-lb) container small curd cottage cheese (4% fat)
                                        1 (20-oz) can crushed pineapple, drained
                                        For topping
                                        2 cups cornflakes, coarsely crushed
                                        2 tablespoons sugar
                                        1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
                                        2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
                                        Prepare kugel:
                                        Put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 350°F. Butter a 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish.
                                        Cook noodles in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain well in a colander, then return to warm pot and add butter, tossing until noodles are coated.
                                        Whisk together milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt until combined, then whisk in sour cream. Stir in cottage cheese and pineapple and add to noodles, stirring to coat well, then spoon into baking dish.
                                        Make topping and bake kugel:
                                        Stir together cornflakes, sugar, and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over noodles. Dot with butter and bake until kugel is set and edges are golden brown, about 1 hour. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

                                        Makes 8 to 10 side-dish servings.
                                        November 2003

                                        As for matzoh brie I just moisten the matzoh, 1 piece per 2 eggs. Mix it up with milk. Fry it up (the pieces are usually separated in the pan - probably because I don't let it soak. Then I serve it (or should I say I eat it) with salt and sour cream. Yum!

                                        1. anyone remember meat cooked with sweet potatos and prunes?? Grandma made this-Russian cooking at its finest

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: marlie202

                                            Sounds like tzimmes. I've never had it with meat, but sweet potatoes, carrots and prunes, yes. Bubbie makes it with some brown sugar or honey and it's great. And I seem to be one of the few people wolfing it down.

                                            1. re: annimal

                                              tzimmes is great but this dish had pieces of sweet potato and prunes in it--I guess this was an original recipe--try it--Grandma cooked it together like a stew-I was very young but never forgot-tzimmes is great and you can also add pineapple and bake it topped with marshmallows-(a more modern Jewish version). enjoy

                                          2. This is fascinating to me. My father's side of the family, from Vilna, always served the above items sweet and kugels baked. However, the cheese depended on what we were eating b/c of kashrut. The dairy kitchen was upstairs! Oh, how I wish I hadn't been such a pill of an eater when I was a kid! I wouldn't go near the stuffed cabbage or any of the "good stuff". We always had kasha ( the varnishkas part never did it for me) My mother used to tell me about her grandmother, from Romania, made the most wonderful mamaliga. I grew up eating very Eastern European. However, one of my aunts married into a Sephardic Jewish family. So, I have also had the enjoyment of rataouille ( red and green),fried chicken cutlets, food made with legumes ( at Seder!) and other traditional specialties for holidays.
                                            This post made me so nostalgic! It made me miss my grandparents' kitchen on Sunday nights and holiday, and breakfast with my father.
                                            I will still never even be on the same side of the table as a piece of gefillte...just can't handle it!

                                            1. One grandmother Romanian, one Polish. Spouse's grandmothers were Hungarian and Russian. My cooking...

                                              Matzah Brei - served with jelly, both sides of the family
                                              Stuffed cabbage - sweet and sour, from my mom
                                              Kugel - dairy with apples and sugar, from my French cousin (but Dad always called it dessert)
                                              Blintzes - cheese, never fruit, always served with sour cream, both sides of the family
                                              Latkes - plenty of onion, served with sour cream and applesauce, both sides

                                              Despite having a Romanian grandmother I have never had mamaliga. Apparently my Polish grandmother made it occasionally. The first time I made polenta my father and aunt tasted it, looked at each other, and said, "It's Mama's mamaliga!" The Romanian grandma did make kasha varnishkes regularly, though. Always, always with onions and mushrooms.