When I think of Passover I think of two things: my stepmother’s guest list and vegetable kugel with matzah. For years my stepmother has been channeling her mother (Grandma Shirley) who was notorious for opening her home to everyone from close family and friends to distant cousins, wandering scholars, and complete strangers. Months prior to Passover she kvetches about all the work that goes into pulling off a 45-person seder; to which my father—along with the rest of us—says, “then don’t invite forty-five people to our Passover seder!”
Immediate family makes sense. The distant cousins who live nearby who have been coming for years and who we’ve become close to for reasons other than the delicious Sephardic-style charoset they bring—they’re welcome too. But the friend of a friend none of us know who isn’t even Jewish—that’s the schmaltz we can cut. That being said, I’m pretty sure my father would insist we continue to invite the goys in low cut tops!
“Who am I to prevent someone interested in Passover from coming to our seder?” She asks rhetorically as if she has no control in the matter and it’s a decree from god himself that she invite strange gentiles to tell the story of Jewish exodus from Egypt.
YOU’RE THE HOSTESS…THAT’S WHO!
And no, I’m not blowing this out of proportion. People come from far and wide to attend our Passover seders. Some take trains, while others fly in for the occasion and some even come by boat! Okay that’s a stretch, but her seder was so big last year that she couldn’t fit everyone in the giant L-shape of folding tables she typically weaves from the dining room through the living room and into the entranceway. She had to rent a space to get a table long enough, and with that came the setup of audio equipment and a wireless mic.
Yep, we had speakers on tripods at our last seder and we passed a microphone around so everyone could hear those of us chosen to read from our haggadahs. Here’s Hilary (who we have to thank for this vegetable kugel recipe) telling us about the ten plagues…one of which should be unyielding Passover seders!
She has a collection of seder plates that each need to get setup, but the butcher never has enough shank bones in stock. She inherited three matching sets of her mother’s silverware, which when combined with serving platters and utensils is like 74 hours of polishing. Let’s not forget she makes 200 matzah balls in advance and the chicken soup is always made from scratch. To guild the lily, my brothers and I insist she go through the additional trouble of making two kinds of brisket: the way our stepmother grew up with a clear jus and onions, and the eastern European way which is tomato-based, uses Lipton’s onion soup mix, and is baked with potatoes and carrots—also known as the “right way.”
And you know what makes all of this mishegoss tolerable (aside from the Sephardic-style charoset which I’ll share the recipe for shortly) is knowing that my stepmother’s friend Hilary of “Bill and Hilary” fame (not the Clintons but they’re famous in the City of Ramona) comes with her vegetable kugel.
Her vegetable kugel is ah-maze-ing. It’s uses a matzah base that’s layered with tons of mushrooms and it’s the ultimate comfort food during the Passover holiday. It’s good cold the next day, or reheated a few days later. It’s good plain or with ketchup! And as if that weren’t enough, it can be served at room temperature during the seder so you don’t need to devote your precious limited oven space to heating it just before it’s time to eat.
Vegetable Kugel with Matzah
- 10 Matzah squares
- 2.5 cups chicken or vegetable broth (homemade is best but low sodium from a can is fine)
- 1 cup hot water
- 2 large eggs
- 4 large egg whites
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1.5 lbs fresh mushrooms (any mixture of white button, cremini, and shitake will do) roughly sliced into ¼ in thickness
- 2 large white onions diced
- 2 carrots grated
- 2 celery ribs diced
- 3-4 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 2 tblsp freshly chopped flat leaf Italian parsley (some extra for garnish)
- 1 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika (any regular paprika will work just not the picante Spanish kind)
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- Non-stick spray for baking dish
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Spread the 10 whole matzah crackers out in a single layers on baking sheets and bake at 375° for 5 minutes. This will dry out the matzah even more than it already is and will develop its nutty taste further.
Leave the oven on at 375° and remove the toasted matzah from the oven and place in a large mixing bowl and with a one or two punches down in the middle of the stack break the matzah sheets into large uneven pieces. Pour the 2.5 cups of chicken broth and one cup of hot water over the matzah and let the pieces soak and absorb the liquid for 10 minutes stirring gently once or twice throughout.
In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat cook the onions for 5 minutes covered in about half the vegetable oil. Then add the 1.5 lbs sliced mushrooms, 2 carrots grated, 2 celery ribs diced, 3-4 garlic cloves finely chopped, 1 tsp paprika, ½ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp pepper, 1 tsp salt and cook for another 5-7 mins covered until onions are tender and mushrooms are starting to soften and shrink.
Add vegetable mixture and 2 tbls parsley to the soaking matzah and stir well but gently you don’t turn all the matzah pieces into complete mush. Set this aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk the 2 eggs, 4 egg whites and remaining vegetable oil until well combined. Add the egg mixture to the vegetable and matzah mixture and stir with a spatula until combined.
Press the vegetable kugel with matzah mixture into a 10 inch diameter deep dish pizza (or pie) plate (you can use a rectangular casserole dish or a Pyrex too if you’d like) sprayed with non-stick spray. Cover the vegetable kugel with aluminum foil and bake on the middle rack at 375° for 20 mins.
Uncover and bake for an additional 20-30 mins or until it’s browned on top and the edges are crusty and pulling away from the pan. Once done, remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes before you cut into it.
Can be served cold, at room temperature, or warm. Garnish with additional chopped parsley and enjoy!
Here’s a few more perspectives to give you a sense of how large these seders can get!
And everyone is always asking which seder plate is our favorite….well it’s this one. It was a wedding gift to my parents. The seder plate is on top, and when you open the front (or back) you can access the layers where you’d put the matzah. Pretty cool, right?
Do you have an amazing vegetable kugel recipe you want to share? Or maybe you can commiserate with my stepmother on the joyous burden that is hosting a giant Passover seder? Let us know in the comments below.