This recipe and story first appeared in the April 22, 2013 edition of “From Tali’s Kitchen,” my biweekly cooking column in Binah magazine.
One of my good friends recovered in her mother’s home for a full month after giving birth to her first child. Others have stayed with their parents for a week or two before bringing their babies home for the first time. But I always knew that I’d go straight home from the hospital — that’s just what you do when you live across the ocean from your parents (and your in-laws).
Our son’s birth in December taught us a lot of things very quickly: that you can love a tiny, wriggly thing who can barely make out your face, much less hold a conversation; that even deep sleepers can wake at the slightest peep when that peep comes from their newborn; and that scrawny little legs can be strong enough to kick off their own pants.
But it also taught us that living in Kochav HaShachar is, in many ways, just like going to your parents after a birth.
How did you get home from the hospital? My husband and I had planned to take an Egged bus (that’s right, no car), but we received a wonderful surprise the day we were discharged: a friend from the yishuv drove into Yerushalayim for the sole purpose of bringing us home.
And if you walked through your front door 60 hours before you’d be making a bris, how would you manage to get it together without calling a caterer? We thought we could do it ourselves, but received wonderful surprise #2 just hours after we came home: a friend came over to go through the menu and decoration details with me, a notebook and her own baby in tow. She didn’t even blink when we told her we wanted to do the food ourselves to cut costs. She just offered to make egg salad and pasta salad for 60, assemble the cheese and veggie platters, and set up the buffet and seating tables. Two other neighbors with experience working for a caterer helped her with the set-up. The fact that they were so new in the yishuv that I’d barely had a chance to say hello was a nonissue.
You received meals from your neighbors after your children’s births, right? So did we — for three entire Shabboses, in addition to so many weekday meals that I had to tell the woman organizing it all that there was simply no space for anything more. Later, my husband and I made a list with the names of everyone who cooked for us and found that the total came to 24. But it didn’t stop there. Even when the formally organized meals came to a close, the neighbors kept on giving. Unexpected knocks at the door produced fresh challah rolls, cake, kugel, and a chocolate-covered something delivered in a rain storm that went straight in the freezer — which already held four different soups from four different neighbors.
Our friends also came forward to loan us everything from a car seat and an authentic British pram to a baby carrier sling and extra onesies. And they gave of their time, too.
One of my favorite offers came from a close friend who was herself expecting — she came over on the Shabbos morning after the bris just to put our food on the plata and set the table. We were having my mother, sister, in-laws, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law that Shabbos, and it was a relief to know that everything would be ready when they walked in from shul.
Speaking of our families, though, I’d be remiss if I left out the part about their flying in from the States and Canada to be with us after the birth. Who drove my husband to the grocery store to pick up bagels and sliced cheeses for the bris, practically fresh off the plane? My mother-in-law. Who put in 12-hour days helping me decorate Cookie Monster cupcakes and melted snowmen cookies for the bris dessert table? My mother, who ironically never allowed such things in the house when I was growing up.
Our families made themselves completely available to us — which explains how my sister came to spend half an hour good-naturedly combining two partially full mustard bottles in an attempt to make room in the fridge for the deluge of mazal tov meals. (Alas, there was too much to fit in one bottle, and her efforts landed her right back where she started.)
I’m sure there’s nothing like a week or two at your parents’ home to get you back on your feet. But I think coming home to Kochav HaShachar is a pretty close second.
This caramelized onion kugel is gently adapted from the one that our neighbor Ayala brought over for our first Shabbos at home. Caramelizing onions brings out their natural sweetness, but the process is nudged along here with a touch of sugar at the beginning and a splash of balsamic vinegar at the end. The result is a rich brown color and a deep flavor, both of which translate wonderfully in the finished kugel.
Inspired by Ayala Lev-Tzion’s onion kugel
Yield: 12 kugel cups or 1 (9×13) kugel
- 5 Tbsp olive oil (do not substitute)
- 8 onions, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- Cooking spray
- 1 cup soy milk
- 4 eggs
- 5 Tbsp cornstarch, sifted
- salt and pepper, to taste
- pinch of nutmeg
1. To caramelize the onions: Heat olive oil in a large pot or really big frying pan. Add the onions and garlic and stir well. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes over low heat. Add salt, sugar, and bay leaves and stir again. Continue cooking over low heat, covered, for another 25-30 minutes. About every 10 minutes, use a silicone spatula to scrape the brown bits from the bottom and sides of the pan, mixing them back into the onions. (Note: I have also had success when I cook the onions uncovered.) Once the onions have significantly reduced and browned, stir in the balsamic vinegar. Basically, you want them to get as dark as they can get without burning. If they aren’t a rich, dark brown, give them another 10 minutes and check again. When they’re done, remove the bay leaves and discard.
2. Preheat oven to 400 F/200 C. Grease muffins cups very well with cooking spray and place them in the oven for five minutes to heat up.
3. Meanwhile, whisk together soy milk and eggs in a large bowl. Add caramelized onions, cornstarch, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Whisk until fully incorporated. Divide the batter between the prepared muffin tins.
4. Bake for 25 minutes, or until set and golden brown. The kugels will deflate slightly as they cool; let cool for 10 minutes in the pans before transferring to a serving platter. Serve hot.
* To make this in a 9×13 baking dish, bake for 50 minutes at 400 F/200 C, or until the kugel is set and the top is golden brown.
* Short on time? Saute the onions instead of caramelizing them (i.e. cook uncovered in the oil for 10-15 minutes, stirring once in a while). You won’t get the same depth of flavor, but you’ll still have a delicious kugel.