The thing about truly great holiday dishes is that they won’t stick to their own holiday.
One example: tzimmes (sim-ess). This Jewish stew of root vegetables, honey, dried fruit and sometimes meat is a traditional sweet dish for Rosh Hashana. But it’s so good that it shows up year-round at Shabbos dinners, ordinary dinners and Passover tables (Passover begins Saturday at sundown). It’s so uniquitous, St. Louis based recipe developer Stefani Pollack calls it “the Jewish answer to green bean casserole.”
Jake Cohen, the Queens, New York-based author of “Jew-ish: A Cookbook: Reinvented Recipes from a Modern Mensch,” chalks up tzimmes’ popularity to many factors.
“It’s got root vegetables. It’s customizable. It’s got everything you find desirable in a vegetable side dish, but, most importantly, it’s a standout dish on its own.”
There are many versions of this diaspora dish. Ashkenazie. Sephardic. Vegetarian. Meat. There’s no one right way to make tzimmes. No one can even agree on the spelling. Tzimmes? Tsimmes? Whatever. Tzimmes is just plain — and sometimes fancy — delicious. Don’t stew over such things. But first, a few fundamentals.
The veg. Always — sometimes only — carrots. Usually, sweet potatoes or yams. Sometimes rutabaga, turnips and/or butternut squash and chili peppers. Sometimes mashed. Sometimes chunky. Sometimes a little of both. Aim for balance in terms of color, flavor and texture.
The fats. Schmaltz, olive oil, butter or margarine.
The fruits. Pitted prunes, dried apricots, raisins/sultanas, dried cherries and sometimes fresh, seasonal fruit.
The spices. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom. Use Middle Eastern baharat and ras el hanout or Persian advieh, Spanish paprika or Indian curry to add complexity and counterpoints to sweetness.
The sweeteners. Honey, white/brown sugar, maple syrup or pomegranate molasses.
It all comes down to people’s ability to mix sweet and savory,” Cohen explains. “Tzimmes leans in on the sweetness of carrots and yams with warm, comforting flavors, but the sweetness can be jarring to some.”
The meats. Choose meats that benefit from stovetop or oven braising — short ribs, brisket or chuck roast. Meat tzimmes taste better the next day or the day after that. Another advantage: You can easily peel off the fat that solidifies on the surface. Chicken thighs also work for when you want a quicker turn.
The liquids. Beef, chicken or vegetable broth, orange and/or lemon juice, water, or even strong black tea.
What’s the deal with making a big fuss?
Loosely translated, tzimmes is Yiddish for “big fuss,” likely because of all that vegetable chopping. But there are workarounds.
Streamline prep. Buy pre-cut fresh or frozen veg. The love is in the finished dish. The prep? Not so much.
Strategize the pregame. Chop the vegetables ahead of time and refrigerate them. Or prepare the tzimmes ahead of time and freeze it.
Turn to tools. Slow cookers and Instant Pots are your friends.
Buy it. No time to cook? Purchase tzimmes for delis and Zingerman’s Roadhouse for dine-in and/or takeout during Passover.
The bottom line? There’s a tzimmes for any table — and it should be at more if them. Invite it to yours.
A Tale of Two Tzimmes
These are not your bubbeh’s tzimmes. But they’re excellent examples of building on tradition.
“You can do flanken,” Cohen says, “but putting tzimmes with chicken makes it weeknight accessible.”
“My grandmother made carrot tzimmes, but it was not a big deal, not a featured dish,” says Zingerman’s co-owner and founder, Ari Weinzweig.
He calls Joan Nathan’s piquant Southwestern Tsimmes Stuffed in Chilies “much better than what I grew up with.”
Crispy Chicken Thighs With Tzimmes
Yield: Serves 4
2 pounds bone in, skin on chicken thighs (4 medium), patted dry
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
To taste kosher salt
To taste freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1½ pounds rainbow carrots with green tops, cut into 2” pieces,
1 cup dried prunes, coarsely chopped
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
¾ cup chicken stock
1 garlic clove, finely grated
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a large bowl, toss the chicken thighs with 1 teaspoon of the orange zest, ½ teaspoon of the cinnamon and a heavy pinch of salt and pepper to coat.
In a large ovenproof skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Place the thighs in the pan, skin side down, and cook until the skin is golden and the fat has rendered, 8 to 10 minutes. Flip the thighs and sear the other side, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Raise the heat to medium-high, then add the onion to the skillet. Cook, stirring often, until softened and lightly caramelized, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon of orange zest and ½ teaspoon cinnamon to incorporate. Add the carrots, followed by the prunes and orange juice, and cook, stirring often, until the carrots begin to soften, and the orange juice glazes them, 10 to 12 minutes.
Stir in the stock and season with the salt and pepper. Place the thighs on top, skin side up, and transfer the skillet to the oven. Roast for 15 minutes, until the thighs have reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees and the carrots are tender.
Meanwhile, coarsely chop 2 cups of the reserved carrot greens and place them in a small bowl. Add the garlic and remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon the carrot top relish over the chicken and carrots, then serve.
Excerpted from “JEW-ISH: A COOKBOOK: Reinvented Recipes from a Modern Mensch” ©2021 by Jake Cohen. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Southwestern Tsimmes Stuffed in Chilies
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Pan spray for greasing the pan
¼ pound pitted prunes
6 medium peeled carrots, cut in chunks
3 medium sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled & diced
6 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
12 green or red Anaheim chilies
To taste pine nuts
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Mix all the ingredients except the cilantro, chilies and optional pine nuts in a greased 3 quart baking dish. Cover and bake, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, but not mushy, about 2 hours. Let cool.
Using a fork or a potato masher, coarsely mash some of the mixture with the cilantro, leaving some of the vegetables chunky. This can be prepared a day ahead; just refrigerate until ready to use.
Place the chilies on a parchment-lined sheet pan and roast in an oven preheated to 450 degrees, turning occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until the skin is black” Remove to a paper bag and let the chilies rest there until cool. Peel off the skin.
With a sharp knife, make a slit from the bottom of the stem to the point of each chili. Gently scrape out the seeds and rinse the inside of the chilies.
Pat each chili dry and stuff with the prepared tsimmes so that each chili is slightly overstuffed, causing the slit in the chili to open, exposing the filling.
Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.
Alternately, you can put the stuffing mixture without stuffing chilies in a greased 9” x 13” casserole dish and bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until it’s warm. If desired, add New Mexico fire roasted chilies, to taste, to the mix.
Garnish with pine nuts.
Adapted from “Jewish Cooking in America” by Joan Nathan, recipe provided by Zingerman’s Roadhouse.
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