“Don’t make a big tsimmes out of it” is an oft-heard Yiddish-tinged Jewish-American expression. What it means is: “It’s no big deal,” perhaps relating to the hard work involved in grating all those ingredients for the dish.
But for me as a child, tsimmes indeed was a big deal. Especially on Pesach.
Growing up in Minneapolis, Pesach was one of the highlights of the year. We loved planning and cooking the special Passover foods. The Pesach menu is engraved in my memory, as well as the way it came about.
In the midst of the Pesach cooking hubbub, we couldn’t decide what to serve for each seder. While one type of Carrot Tsimmes was usually served the first night and a different type served on the second, the meat vs. chicken issue had not been firmly resolved.
Once the issues were settled, I typed the chosen menus on blue index cards on our old Remington typewriter.
Since then, the seder menus became inflexible, subject to neither amendment nor modification. Gefilte fish on the first night; chopped liver on the second. Roast beef on the first; chicken on the second.
For years, the light blue cards occupied a place of honor on the refrigerator as soon as the house was cleaned of chametz. When my nephew first made a computer printout of the menus, we knew that a new generation — and a new era — had arrived.
Well, in Israel, we only have one seder, so I have to choose between No. 1 and No. 2. The first usually wins out. Note: These tsimmes recipes were prepared in the pre-food-processor era, and so, grated by hand.
There are other versions of tsimmes, of course; it seems the common denominator includes carrots, dried fruit, some sweetness and meat, all of which makes for a “ganz tsimmes” (a really big one).
My Mother’s Carrot Tsimmes No. 1
1⁄2 cup coarsely grated carrots
1⁄2 cup grated sweet potatoes or yams
1⁄2 cup grated white potatoes (any kind)
1⁄2 cup grated apple (any kind)
1⁄2 cup cut-up prunes
rind and juice of 1⁄2 lemon
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1⁄4 tsp. cinnamon
1⁄2 cup sugar
1⁄4 cup matzah meal
1⁄4 cup oil (not olive)
Mix everything well. Put in greased casserole or rectangular pan. Cover tightly with foil and seal edges.
Bake 11⁄2 to 2 hours at 300˚. Consistency will be mushy. Remove from oven and mix up to spread the moisture.
Reheats well. Cover with foil when reheating. If it dries out, add a little orange or apple juice while reheating.
Serves 4. May be doubled or tripled — or more.
My Mother’s Carrot Tsimmes No. 2
Note: If you have leftover knaedlach that has spent some time in chicken soup, the dish will be meaty.
4 cups sliced carrots
1 and 1⁄2 cups apple juice
1⁄2 cup whole prunes
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄3 cup honey
3 Tbsps. oil
1 lemon, juice and rind
Boil carrots and apple juice for 10 minutes with cut-up prunes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for about 30 minutes until carrots are glazed.
Add any leftover knaedlach (matzah balls); heat and serve warm.
Serves 6. May be doubled or tripled or more.
This is an easy tsimmes for the busy cook. Defrost the kishke, open a couple of cans and you’re done.
2 cans (29 oz. each) sweet potatoes or yams
2 cans (15 oz. each) whole baby carrots
handful of raisins or prunes
maple syrup and cinnamon, to taste
1 frozen kishke (meat or vegetarian), thawed
Preheat oven to 350˚.
Drain sweet potatoes and carrots. Mix in a lightly greased casserole dish. Stir in raisins or prunes. Add maple syrup and cinnamon to taste and toss to coat.
Slice kishke into rounds and lay across top of the casserole to cover.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until kishke is browned and the casserole is bubbling.
Serves 6 to 8.
This is an iconic recipe from the classic “From Manna to Mousse.” Okay, so you can substitute vegetable oil for the schmaltz (chicken fat), but, uh, it just won’t be the same.
1 lb. box of prunes
3 cups boiling water
2 Tbsps. chicken fat or margarine
2-4 lbs. brisket cut in 2-inch cubes
2 onions, diced
1 and 1⁄2 tsps. salt
1⁄4 tsp. pepper
4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and quartered
1⁄2 cup honey
1⁄2 tsp. cinnamon
Soak the prunes in boiling water for 30 minutes.
In a heavy iron pot or Dutch oven, brown beef and onions in chicken fat. Add salt and pepper, cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour.
Add undrained prunes, sweet potatoes, honey, cloves, and cinnamon. Cover and cook over low heat for 2 hours.
Note: If doubling recipe it is not necessary to double amount of prunes.
Serves 6 to 8.
Rivka Tal is a former Minnesotan who has lived in Jerusalem for the past 46 years. She is a food writer and translator. Email her at: talriv@gmail .com.