You say potato. I say potato kugel. You say you’re in a stew? I say what’s the big tzimmes?
Pronounced Tzim-Mess. For those unfamiliar with the expression, tzimmesis a Yiddish word, generally understood to mean “a big fuss.”
In Jewish cooking terms, a tzimmes is essentially a casserole. Similar to a stew. Asked to bring a side dish to a Passover meal, for example, it would be expected that I make a big tzimmes of the request, stewing up something delicious and in “company-style.”
I don’t know which came first, the big fuss or the Eastern European dish, but I do know that to make a tzimmes involves some chopping, simmering and stewing, tzimmissing, if you will.
Like a good argument, a good tzimmes is both savory and sweet.
What goes into a tzimmes can be either vegetables or meat and any combination of fruit, most notably prunes. Given the binding nature of the matzoh eaten during the eight days of Passover, of all things that go into a tzimmes, prunes do make a modicum of sense. Prune it if you must, but dates, apricots, raisins, apples, pineapple, orange juice, lemon zest, dried cherries or cranberries all work as well.
Truth be told, I’ve yet to make a Big Tzimmes for Passover, nor a small one for that matter.
In cooking as in life, a tzimmes is what you make of it. And as I've discovered - long story short - tzimmes is easy as pie. Here’s what you do.
Take, Chop, Mix
A few carrots, peeled
4 sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds)
1 cup bite-size pitted dates (about 6 ounces)
1 cup dried apricots (about 5 ounces, chopped)
1 cup apple, sliced (optional)
1/2 cup dried cherries (Michigan-style and optional)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 (generous) teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamon
1/4 orange with rind (chopped in a food processor)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 fresh parsley
Heat, Stir, Simmer, Stew
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut carrots into 2-inch pieces. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil, and lower heat to medium; add sweet potatoes in their skins, and cook for 20 minutes, adding the carrots after 10 minutes. Drain in a colander, and set aside until cool enough to handle.
Peel sweet potatoes, and cut into 1-inch chunks. Place in a large bowl along with carrots.
Melt butter in a saute pan, add fruit, brown sugar, honey, orange juice and simmer for a minute or two, just until the mixture is heated. Mix with potatoes and carrots. Add remaining ingredients. Mix well, and transfer to a 2-quart baking dish.
Cover and bake for 30 minutes, basting with pan juices after 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and serve immediately.
Passover dishes also call for Passover plates. My all-time favorite is the plate my son Matt made in Sunday school - at the age of 5.
The Passover feast begins with symbolic food served in a ritual Seder meal. Let’s see... on the plate there’s:
parsley and a roasted egg, symbol of spring and rebirth
roasted lamp shank - symbol of the paschal lamb offering
matzoh - the "bread of affliction"
bitter herbs (horseradish) - to induce tears (and laughter)
charoset (a sweet apple-walnut “salsa”) symbolic of mortar and the toil of slaves
The Seder (meaning “order) is all about telling and retelling the story of Exodus, recited and sung from the Haggadah - Haggadahs come in all shapes, styles and lengths. The quicker the pages turn to the line, "Dinner is Served" - the better!
Gotta a favorite dish for Passover? Tell me about it. And thanks for stopping by.