Kugelis is a Lithuanian food where potatoes are the star feature. It’s an easy dish to make as long as you can grate potatoes and fry bacon. My grandmother, married to my Lithuanian-American grandfather, perfected my Lithuanian great-grandmother’s kugelis recipe over her many decades in the kitchen. Dense, flavorful, and seasoned perfectly, it was a dish we always looked forward to.
It was only recently that I tried to master the recipe for kugelis. Not having my grandmother’s recipe, I looked at several cookbooks and recipes online to come up with one that seemed to mimic best what I remembered from Grandma’s.
This part—comparing recipes—was an interesting exploration into the world of kugelis, and I was surprised at the many tips and tricks I encountered from authors of recipes who all had their opinions on how kugelis should be made. Not unusually, kugelis’s method of preparation and ingredients differ slightly from recipe to recipe, and so do the amounts of those ingredients—some recipes call for as much as 10 lbs. of potatoes! However, while some recipes leave out the bacon, unless you’re a vegetarian, it’s really the flavor that makes kugelis shine.
I don’t think you can ruin kugelis, though I have been known to. It’s a very easy, if a bit time-consuming, to make. It’s also an inexpensive, filling recipe that serves several people or can be eaten over the course of a few days. It’s great for potluck dinners, as a side, as a main, or as part of a boxed lunch. And, of course, like many recipes from Lithuania and the region of Eastern Europe in general, it’s best served with sour cream!
Lithuanian Kugelis Ingredients
1.5–2 lbs. potatoes, grated
1 package bacon
2 medium onions, chopped
2 eggs, separated
1 cup warm milk
Salt and pepper
Sour cream for serving
Dill for garnish
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C/390 degrees F.
Line a baking dish with parchment paper (I used an 8 x 10 metal dish).
As you get comfortable making kugelis, you can begin to adjust the ingredients to your taste—using less bacon (or perhaps a lower-fat pork or different type of meat), more or less onion, or even grated carrots, parsnips, or other vegetables along with the potatoes. However, if you increase the amount of potatoes, for best results, you’ll also have to consider increasing the number of eggs and amount of milk. Consult kugelis recipes that are intended to serve more people if you don’t want to eyeball it.
Fry up the bacon, and while it’s draining and cooling on a paper towel-lined plate, sauté the onion until translucent in the bacon grease. Bacon sometimes releases too much grease, but you’ll want some of it to go into the recipe, so only drain some of the grease if the onions will be swimming in it. Leave the onions to cool.
Next, peel and grate the potatoes. I used a normal-size cheese grater, but some recipes call for grating half of the potatoes coarsely and half finely, while others call for all of the potatoes to be of an applesauce-like consistency. More finely grated potatoes will produce a denser kugelis. So this step comes down to your level of patience, how much energy you have for grating potatoes (or who you can rope into doing this part for you), and your expectations for the kugelis. The flavor will be the same however you grate the potatoes, but the texture will differ.
Squeeze out the excess water from the grated potatoes using a cheesecloth or towel. This step is important. When you think you’ve gotten all the water out, squeeze a little more. When you’re satisfied, dump the grated potato into a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Chop the bacon and add both the bacon and the onions to the mixture. Stir well so that the ingredients are incorporated. Next, add the warm milk and stir.
Stir in the two egg yolks.
In a separate bowl (use a large one to avoid splatter), whip the egg whites into stiff peaks. Fold these into the potato mixture.
Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Bake for up to 90 minutes, covering with foil towards the end of the baking time if the top begins to get too brown. The kugelis is ready when the milk has been absorbed and the casserole is firm to the touch. You can also use a broiler for the last ten minutes for a crispier top.
To serve, cut with a sharp knife into squares and top with a generous dollop of sour cream. Garnish with dill.