Here’s a genetic-culinary puzzle: Something like three-quarters of Jews of Eastern European descent are lactose intolerant. And yet, we are blessed with one of the most deliciously dairy-laden food traditions around.
Think cheese blintzes with sour cream, bagels and cream cheese, borscht with sour cream, potato latkes with sour cream, sour cream with sour cream. Oy vey.
Dairy is even its own category in Jewish tradition. Meals are either “meat” or “dairy.” In observant homes, the two are never eaten together, or even eaten off the same set of dishes.
Imagine that: whole meals built around dairy for a people who cannot digest dairy. There’s a lot they skipped over in Fiddler on the Roof.
Giving up cheese and ice cream has been tough enough, but losing out on the food of my soul feels particularly unjust, and particularly so at the holidays.
In our household, breaking the Yom Kippur fast, as we did yesterday, has always been about sweet, aromatic, soothing, gentle noodle kugel.
There are as many kugel variations as there are bubbes to bake them. The kugel of my childhood, the kugel that haunts my dreams, was a rich bake of broad noodles, mixed with eggs, sour cream, and cottage cheese, along with cinnamon, sugar, vanilla, raisins, and apple chunks. All served with a sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar. And a dollop of sour cream. Of course.
A couple of years ago, it was clearly curtains for that recipe. The noodles and eggs stayed, but were slathered instead in margarine and mixed with soy milk. Without dairy, the dish felt to me like a mere shadow of its former self, but it did the trick. Mr. Eos even preferred it to my family classic.
Last night, tradition ran smack into restriction. No cottage cheese, no sour cream. Now no eggs and no noodles, either. Perhaps I would have to fast forever?
Thank goodness for Cybele Pascal and her recipe for Allergy Free Sweet Noodle Kugel. In the finest tradition of Jewish cuisine, I tinkered and approximated. With coconut still out, I subbed rice milk. But with soy back in, I went ahead and used margarine instead of shortening. I couldn’t find broad rice noodles, so I broke up a bag of rice fettuccine. Vanilla makes the kugel, so a teaspoon became nearly a tablespoon.
Would my grandmother have recognized it? Doubtful. On the other hand, my grandmother’s home was never without a bottle or two of Maalox.
It was kugel. It broke our fast. Best of all, it allowed me to maintain some tie between the dairy-filled days of old and the allergen-free days of now without doing something entirely regrettable. And, as you can see, we were hungry.