Vegan Cabbage Noodle Kugel

March 2, 2008 at 4:25 pm (B_minus, Cruciferous rich, Jewish, My brain, Pasta, Starches, Tofu)


I was trying to decide what to make for dinner last night, and my friend Katrina suggested a casserole. I said I never really make casseroles, and asked for ideas. She rattled off a bunch of recipe ideas from The Passionate Vegetarian, including a recipe for a cabbage, apple, sauerkraut, noodle casserole, seasoned with applesauce and paprika. It reminded me of a dish my college roommate’s Hungarian grandma used to make for us all the time: “cabbage noodles,” which were spiral noodles and sauteed cabbage and lots of oil and salt. They were simple, greasy, and delicious. The casserole also sounded reminiscent of a traditional noodle kugel.

I used to love my grandma’s noodle kugel when I was a kid. Many noodle kugels are sweet, with cinnamon and sugar and raisins, but my grandma’s recipe stood squarely in the savory camp. Her recipe called for 3 cups egg noodles, 1 cup full fat sour cream, 3 eggs, 3 ounces cream cheese, 1/2 cup cream, 2 Tbs. butter and 1/2 pound full fat cottage cheese, and just a Tablespoon of sugar and touch of salt. All that dairy fat made it rich and delicious, and the sour cream made is just a tad sour, which I loved. Sadly, her recipe, and most traditional noodle kugels, have few redeeming features from a nutritional standpoint. Not only would her recipe appall the the very-low-fat Dean Ornish types, and the no-carb Atkins types, but it would also be a no-no to the more modern low-animal-fat-and-white carbs (but lots of veggies) types. I think the only one who might approve is Michael Pollan, as most of the ingredients do seem like “food” (although I haven’t read his most recent book yet so I’m not positive that these ingredients would qualify). I’ve been wanting to experiment with Isa’s technique of using pureed silken tofu in place of eggs in baked dishes, and decided this was the perfect opportunity: I would try to create a savory vegan cabbage noodle kugel using tofu in places of the dairy and eggs.

  • 11 ounces of whole wheat fusilli
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 pound red onions (about 2 medium or one very large)
  • 1.5 pounds shredded savoy cabbage (about 10 cups)
  • salt (maybe 1 tsp? I forgot to measure)
  • 2 twelve ounce packages of dry-packed silken tofu (or 1.5 packages water-packed soft tofu)
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 Tbs. paprika
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, slice the onions (I did both the onions and cabbage using the slicing blade on my food processor, but I had to do the cabbage in two batches as it wouldn’t all fit at once.)
  2. Heat 2 Tbs. of oil in a large 12-inch skillet or large dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and saute until softened. While the onions are cooking shred your cabbage, and add it in to the skillet in batches, along with a 1/2 tsp. of salt. You want to cook the cabbage and onions until they start to carmelize. Use a little water from the pasta pot if the veggies start to burn or stick.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375. When the water comes to a boil, salt it and add the pasta. Cook until just al dente (remember that the noodles will cook more in the oven). Drain the pasta and add back to the large pot it was cooked in.
  4. While the cabbage and pasta cook, blend your tofu in a food processor, with the last Tbs. of oil, the cayenne, cinnamon, and paprika, and another 1/2 tsp. of salt.
  5. Add the cabbage and onions and the tofu puree with the noodles. Mix to combine. Pour the mixture into a 9×13 casserole pan, and bake for 40 minutes.

My Notes:

The kugel came out all right, but not great. It holds together pretty well, looks like noodle kugel, and the taste isn’t bad, but it’s a bit stinky from the cabbage. I was hoping that by carmelizing the cabbage and onions I’d avoid any sulfur odors, and bring out their sweet sides. It didn’t quite work. I think that a sweet version might be a better choice. The cabbage and onions already make it a little sweet, and the little bit of cinnamon I added reinforces the sweetness, but it’s not quite enough. Next time I would add the traditional raisins, use slightly less cabbage perhaps, and add some sweetener (and maybe copy Dragonwagon and add a bit of apples or applesauce as well). I added the paprika to give the pureed tofu more flavor, and to go with my Hungarian theme, but I suspect it just ended up muddying the flavors more than enhancing them. Next time I would just use more sweet spices like cinnamon.

The tofu didn’t work as well as I would like. In Isa’s potato omelette recipe the soy flavor is not detectable, and the tofu gets all puffy and egglike. That didn’t happen here, I’m not sure why. In the baked kugel the tofu has the texture and taste of raw blended tofu. Perhaps the tofu needs more room to expand, and my casserole was packed too tightly? I do think that the tofu was useful in helping the casserole hold together, and giving it a slight creaminess. However, next time I would try cutting back on the amount of tofu a bit, maybe try just 16 ounces, which would help reduce the soy flavor. Also, the kugel is not quite rich enough for my taste, so I would add another tablespoon of olive oil and possibly some nuts as well.

If you’re very efficient the prep work will take about 30 minutes, otherwise more like 45 minutes. There’s quite a bit of clean-up as well, as you’ll have a large pot, large skillet, strainer and food processor to wash. I recommend grating some extra cabbage in the food processor, as long as you’re dirtying it, and using it for another dish, perhaps cole slaw. (And that way you’ll get both the benefits of cooked and raw cabbage!)

Rating: B-

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