Friday, November 9, 2012

Lost Kosovo Kugel and the Politics of Food

Slovenian American cooks were practical.  They didn't waste food.

In that spirit, I decided to put together a dessert for my Week 41 Dinner, using leftovers.

The leftover in question:  An opened box of chocolate-covered matzo. Languishing in my pantry since Passover.  Six months old.  Begging to be used.

Granted, the key element in this dessert did not exactly qualify as Slovenian.

Chocolate-covered matzo is a Passover novelty, probably designed with Jewish children in mind. It is an amusing way of circumventing the austerity of unleavened bread, without violating the dietary laws.

For six months, a box of the stuff had been sitting in our pantry. It had quite a pedigree.

According to the package, the matzo itself had been baked in Israel.  The dark chocolate mint coating was added in New Jersey.  I purchased it in California, just before Passover. I planned to send it to our journalist son in Kosovo, along with some homemade mandelbrot.

But the package never arrived in Kosovo.

Eventually, the lost package re-appeared on our doorstep, looking much the worse for wear.

Inside, my homemade Passover mandelbrot had survived intact. But when when I opened up the commercially made box of chocolate matzo, it was a sorry sight.

Unfortunately, I had failed to address the package properly.  I should have sent it “via Albania” or with the address written like this: Pristina (Kosovo), Serbia.

Kosovo as an independent country still has a murky status, at least in some quarters.  So the package was intercepted in Serbia, where the post office folks sent it back to California, with a stamp that referred to "an unexpected situation.”

It gives “the politics of food” a whole new meaning.

Meanwhile, I had a box of matzo crumbs and minty dark chocolate flakes. But I hated to throw it away.  So there it sat, growing stale in a drawer.

On Week 41, I was seized by a peculiar inspiration.  I would turn that aging chocolate matzo into an impromptu dessert.  I had in mind a sweet kugel, a traditional Jewish pudding that is made with noodles or, at Passover, with crumbled matzo.  You can crush the matzo yourself or purchase the prepared variety, called matzo farfel.

A sweet kugel is something like a dense bread pudding.  So I figured it would be easy to inprovise a recipe. How could I go wrong?

Lost Kosovo Kugel

1-¾ c. crumbled chocolate covered matzo
2 c. lowfat milk
½ c. sugar
3 eggs, beaten
pinch of salt
butter for dish

Soak the crumbled matzo in milk for 10 minutes to soften.  Stir in the sugar,  a pinch of salt,  and the beaten eggs.  Bake in a buttered 6x9 ceramic dish at 350 for 40 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

I don't know what went wrong with this.

My husband was blunt.  He did not like it.  “It takes so eggy.”

So?  It was supposed to be a sort of eggy custard.  Nothing wrong with that.

But he was right.  Something was amiss.  The kugel was watery.  The egg seemed to have coagulated in a strange way.  Maybe it was the mint flavoring.

But we dutifully ate it in small portions, over the next week.  On that final night, I agreed: it had developed a strange eggy taste.

This is one Slovenian-Jewish fusion dish that won't be repeated.

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