Lithuanian Kugelis | Potato Pudding [Recipe]
Asta walked into the kitchen and sniffed the air, taking in the familiar scent. “Ooh, are you making kugelis?!” she asked excitedly. “I am – I’m testing recipes. How do you make yours?”, I replied. Asta wrinkled her forehead in confusion. “What do you mean, how do I make mine? There’s only one way to make kugelis.” Alas, if only it were so.
Kugelis is a traditional potato pudding that is popular with Lithuanians all over the world. Along with cepelinai, it is one of Lithuania’s national dishes and is often served at celebratory occasions such as Christmas and Easter. Also known as bulvių plokštainis, which literally means “potato pie”, it is similar to Polish potato babka and a distant cousin of kugel, a Jewish dish which can be made with either chunky potato pieces or pasta.
Like all traditional dishes, recipes for kugelis vary widely both within Lithuania and across the world. The body is made with finely grated (almost puréed) raw potatoes which are usually seasoned and then moistened with steamed milk. Some people include meat, such as diced and fried bacon, chicken pieces, pigs’ feet or even pigs’ tails. Others prefer to leave out the meat. Some include eggs, which help to set the kugelis, making it easier to slice. Others prefer a softer, more pudding-like consistency and do not add eggs. Of the dozens of recipes I’ve reviewed and people I’ve spoken to, I can find little consistency beyond the grated potato.
I‘ve been lucky to have kugelis made for me by a number of friends here in Lithuania. I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or perhaps just typical of our region, but all have made it with chicken pieces, usually on the bone, and without eggs. This is the kugelis I fell in love with. While testing recipes I tried several that included egg and can see the merits, principally aesthetically, of adding egg – it makes the pudding much easier to serve. Very little egg is needed to achieve this, so I have settled on using just one egg. I have opted to use boneless chicken as this is easier for serving and eating, but by all means use chicken on the bone if you prefer.
Traditionally, the potatoes for kugelis would have been grated with a flat wire grater or with the zesting side of a box grater. Many modern Lithuanian homes now have an electric grater, which perfectly pulverises potatoes in a matter of seconds. If you don’t have an electric grater and don’t fancy grating by hand, you can use the fine grating/zesting disc of a food processor, or even just blend the potatoes with the main blade. The consistency may be a little grainy – more like tapioca than semolina, but the final taste will be the same.
Kugelis is a tasty and satisfying dish, particularly on a chilly day. Even if you’re not familiar with it I urge you to give it a try. How far wrong can you go with a dish of buttery roasted potatoes?!
Lithuanian Kugelis | Potato Pudding
100 g | 3.5 oz butter, plus more to grease the dish
1 tsp salt
400 g | 14 oz onion (about 4 medium onions)
1.5 kg | 3.5 lbs potatoes (about 10 medium potatoes)
600 g | 1.5 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
¼ tsp garlic powder (optional)
1 egg, whisked
250 ml | 8.5 oz whole milk
- Preheat an oven to 180˚C (355˚F)
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a gentle heat. Add the salt and stir to combine.
- Peel the onions and chop them finely. Add to the melted butter, stir to coat the onions with the butter, and allow to soften over a very gentle heat for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, peel the potatoes. Grate finely into a large bowl. Add the garlic powder (if using) and whisked egg and stir well to combine.
- Add the cooked onions, including all of the melted butter, to the potato mixture. Stir well to combine.
- Heat the milk in a small saucepan over a high heat until it just starts to bubble at the sides. Pour immediately into the potato mixture and stir well to combine.
- Grease a 2.5 litre (2.5 quart) roasting dish with plenty of butter and arrange the chicken pieces evenly to facilitate easy portioning later.
The dish shown is 15¾ x 10¾ inches, but any size roasting dish will do as long as it holds at least 2.5 litres / quarts.
- Pour the potato mixture over the chicken pieces and spread evenly. If you like, score the top with the back of a fork to create ridges as the potato cooks.
- Bake the kugelis for 1 hour. I like the top of my kugelis golden, but if you like yours darker, turn the heat up to 210˚C (410˚F) for the last 15 minutes of cooking.
- Allowing the kugelis to cool for 10 minutes before serving makes it much easier to slice as it will set slightly. However, if you just can’t wait, feel free to dive in straight away!
Disclosure: This post is not sponsored in any way. It does contain links to products that I have personally selected and recommend. If you purchase products via the links in this post I receive a teeny, tiny commission.
NEW! Lithuanian Cookbook:
You can now find all the Lithuanian recipes featured on this site in my new cookbook. This beautiful 77 page book also contains stunning photos of the Lithuanian countryside. Available for just $2.99 here.
More Lithuanian Recipes
LITHUANIAN CEPELINAI | POTATO DUMPLINGS:
The national dish of Lithuania, cepelinai are hearty, nourishing and delicious. Written for cooks making cepelinai for the first time, this recipe includes step-by-step instructions with photos. (View recipe)
LITHUANIAN COLD BEET SOUP | ŠALTIBARŠČIAI:
This garishly pink soup is both light and nutritious, perfect for warm sunny days or for weekday lunches when your tummy needs a little TLC. (View recipe)
LITHUANIAN KOLDŪNAI | MEAT DUMPLINGS:
These delicious dumplings are the perfect comfort food – quick to cook, mild in flavour and served with a dollop of sour cream and a salty bacon and onion topping. (View recipe)
LITHUANIAN BALANDĖLIAI | CABBAGE ROLLS:
Another of Lithuania’s national dishes, these cabbage rolls are stuffed with seasoned ground pork and served with a creamy, tangy tomato sauce. Recipe includes step-by-step photos. (View recipe)
LITHUANIAN CURD CHEESE DOUGHNUTS | VARŠKĖS SPURGOS:
These Lithuanian-style doughnuts are light and airy and not at all cheesy! They do not require yeast and so are quick and easy to prepare. (View recipe)