What it is: A sweet, root-vegetable stew, tzimmes (pronounced “TSIM- miss”) is a traditional Ashkenazi dish customarily served at Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which this year commences at sunset Wednesday, Sept. 8. Traditionally made from sliced carrots and prunes or other dried or fresh fruits, with spices such as cinnamon, the dish may also contain white potatoes, sweet potatoes (an American addition) and, often, a small amount of beef brisket or flanken.
Although meat versions may be used as a main course, tzimmes is typically served as a side dish, as they do at The Bagel Restaurant & Deli in Lakeview and Skokie, where they make a vegetarian version. The Bagel co-owner Danny Wolf notes that the dish is “healthful, too — with lots of fiber, beta-carotene and vitamin A.”
Where it comes from: Tzimmes has its origins in Eastern and Central Europe in the late Middle Ages. The name is Yiddish, some theorize from the Middle High German word zuomuose (a type of compote or side dish) and others from a combination of zum (“to the”) and essen (“eating”). The Yiddish word has also come to mean a big fuss or commotion.
Jews serve tzimmes at Rosh Hashana, a holiday rich in symbolic foods, because custom calls for serving sweet dishes at the High Holidays in hopes of a sweet New Year. The carrots, traditionally cut into coin shapes, also stand for golden prosperity. Further, the colorful combination of harvest vegetables seems suited to autumn.
What to do with it: Tzimmes variants can include everything from cranberries to pineapple and it can be sweetened with sugar, brown sugar, molasses or honey. Some cooks like to make it sweet-and-sour style with lots of lemon, vinegar or sour salt, or zing it up with ginger and pepper. Some versions, particularly main-dish meat options, also add kneidlach (matzo balls or semolina dumplings).
Tzimmes can be made a day or two ahead of time and reheated for serving. You can mash leftover tzimmes, form it into cakes and pan-fry them.
The Bagel’s vegetarian tzimmes
Ashkenazi root-vegetable stew
Danny Wolf, co-owner
2 pounds carrots, pared and cut crosswise into 1-inch slices
4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes)
1 cup sugar or brown sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice or 1 teaspoon sour salt (citric acid)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
1-1/2 cups water
3 cups pitted prunes (dried plums)
Toss the vegetables with the sugar, lemon juic and spices. In a dutch oven or large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the vegetable oil, add the vegetable mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the vegetables just begin to color (do not brown).
Pour the water over, cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender (about 45 minutes). Add the prunes and simmer another 15 minutes. Taste, adjust the seasonings and serve. 6 to 8 side-dish servings.