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Labne Noodle Kugel With Persimmon Relish

March 26, 2024
Labne Noodle Kugel With Persimmon Relish

Dan Liberti

Developed with Nathalie Christian.

From the book ANYTHING’S PASTABLE by Dan Pashman. Copyright 2024 by Dan Pashman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Throughout my life, noodle kugel has made regular appearances at Jewish holidays and family gatherings. This pasta casserole typically calls for egg noodles and a custard of eggs, cottage cheese, sour cream, cinnamon, and sugar. Sometimes raisins or other fruits.

You may be surprised to find a Jewish dish in a pasta cookbook, but as Leah Koenig points out in Portico: Cooking and Feasting in Rome’s Jewish Kitchen, pasta has been a part of Roman Jewish cuisine since the Spanish Inquisition, when Sephardi Jews were exiled from Sicily and moved north. Benedetta Jasmine Guetta’s Cooking alla Giudia: A Celebration of the Jewish Food of Italy even includes a kugel-esque baked pasta dish called masconod, which is made with egg noodles, cheese, cinnamon, and sugar.

That’s all nice context, but to my taste, noodle kugel is always too sweet and too dry. And I can’t be alone because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Jew approach any holiday spread, survey the many glorious options before them, and exclaim, “Oh great, noodle kugel!”

I want to change that.

Combining savory and sweet can be wonderful, but it requires a commitment to contrast. (To borrow a phrase from the writer Jim Hightower, there’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.) Cottage cheese and sour cream are too mild to elicit oohs and aahs on their own, leaving the middling sweetness of most kugels with no counterweight.

Inspired by a labne appetizer with persimmon mostarda at one of my favorite New York restaurants, chef Ayesha Nurdjaja’s Shuka, I had an idea: replace the cottage cheese in kugel with labne, the tangy, thick, strained yogurt that’s used across the Middle East. Then drizzle the whole thing with a dreamy fruit relish, to provide the dish’s traditional sweetness while ensuring there is no chance my kugel comes out dry.

After one test it still wasn’t tangy enough for me, so I added buttermilk and completely removed the sugar from the kugel itself, leaving the relish to provide the sweetness. We also put a lot of thought into the instructions for how to know when to take your noodle kugel out of the oven, so you won’t overcook it.

When I made this dish for a family Hanukkah party, the reactions came swiftly:

“Why are you messing with kugel by putting a sauce on it?” cried Janie.

“It’s wrong,” added my sister- in- law Beth.

Eventually, begrudgingly, Janie came around. And after Beth tasted it, she said, “The fruit sauce adds flavor to the kugel, which I didn’t realize was dry. But it’s not dry with the sauce. It’s actually really good.”

I love it. Instead of vaguely savory with slightly sweet, you have salty tang mashed up with syrupy goodness. And there’s great textural variation, with the crispy bits of browned surface noodles and the creamy, custardy interior. The contrasting elements of this kugel take strong stands in your mouth, setting off fireworks of sensation that may give bagels and lox a run for its money.

For the first time in my life, I’m excited to eat kugel.

PASTA NOTE: Some egg noodles are sold in 1 pound (16-ounce) packages, but they’re often sold in 12-ounce packages. I don’t know why, but it’s annoying. While some kugel recipes call for 12 ounces, I think 16 ounces is better because it means more pasta will pile up above the liquid line in the baking pan, and those are the bits of pasta that will turn crispy golden brown in the oven. If all the pasta is submerged, you don’t get that. And if you reduce the amount of liquid, the kugel will lose height and be more prone to drying out. So you really want 16 ounces of pasta, and if it means you have to buy two 12-ounce packages, you’ll find a use for the extra 8 ounces. Egg noodles cook very quickly, so you can drop them raw into any soup or stew and they’ll be ready almost instantly.

PERSIMMON NOTE: Fuyu persimmons can be replaced with a similar variety of persimmon known as Sharon fruit, but don’t use Hachiya persimmons (the taller oblong ones shaped more like Red Delicious apples), which are very astringent and take forever to ripen. You can also replace the persimmons with stone fruit like peaches, plums, apricots, mangoes, or cherries, or berries, apples, pears, or even dried fruit, but you may need to make some adjustments. If using dried fruit, you’ll need more water; tart fruit may need more honey and less lemon juice; and pay attention to the visual cues in the recipe more than the actual time: a softer fruit like apples may not need the full 15 to 20 minutes to soften. The good news is, this recipe is very forgiving and you can taste and adjust as you go.


For the Kugel

  • 2tablespoons plus 2½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 5tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1pound extra-wide or wide egg noodles (see note)
  • 8large eggs
  • 16ounces (2 cups) sour cream
  • 16ounces (2 cups) plain whole-milk labne or Greek yogurt
  • 1cup buttermilk
  • 2tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the Relish

  • 1 ½pounds ripe but firm Fuyu persimmons (4 to 6 persimmons; or other fruit, see note)
  • 2tablespoons honey
  • 1tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger (or 1 1/2 tablespoons tubed ginger)
  • 1 ½teaspoons unsalted butter
  • 1teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½teaspoon Dijon mustard


For the Kugel

  • Step 1

    Bring 4 quarts of water and 2 tablespoons of the salt to a boil in a large pot. If baking right away, place an oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 325°F. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the oil and set aside. Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes less than the low end of the package instructions, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Drain and let cool for at least 5 minutes.

  • Step 2

    Meanwhile, in a very large bowl, combine the eggs, sour cream, labne, buttermilk, remaining 4 tablespoons (¼ cup) of oil, the lemon juice, and the remaining 2½ teaspoons of salt and use an immersion blender to puree the mixture until completely smooth. (Alternatively, blend the ingredients in a blender or food processor and transfer to a very large bowl. You can also whisk vigorously by hand, but the other options yield silkier results.) Add the noodles to the bowl with the custard mixture and stir well to coat. (It will be very loose and soupy at this point.) Transfer to the prepared dish, scraping out the bowl, and spread into an even layer. (At this point the kugel can sit, covered, at room temperature for up to 2 hours or be refrigerated for up to 12 hours. If refrigerating, allow the kugel to sit on the counter for 1 hour to take the chill off before baking, and note that it may take longer to cook.)

  • Step 3

    Bake until slightly puffed and a paring knife or toothpick inserted near the center of the kugel comes out mostly dry with a few curds or streaks of dairy, 40 to 50 minutes. (The center of the kugel should register 160° to 165°F.) Leaving the kugel on the middle rack, heat the broiler to high and broil until the pieces of pasta sticking up are golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes (watch closely while broiling to prevent burning). Let cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

  • Step 4

    While the kugel bakes, make the relish: Peel the persimmons, removing the leaves and any tough pieces around the stem and core, then chop the flesh into ½- inch pieces (you should have about 2 cups). In a medium saucepan, combine ¾ cup water, the persimmons, honey, ginger, butter, salt, and pepper and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer, stirring and adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent scorching, until the liquid has thickened and become syrupy and the persimmons are tender but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and mustard. Serve warm with the kugel. (The relish can be made up to 3 days in advance; just warm it in a pan or microwave before serving.)