Of all the dishes of my childhood, none was more loathed than tsimmes. Right around Rosh Hashanah and Passover, this graced our table practically at every meal. But whereas come September, I had many more options food wise, being that it was harvest time and all, come March or April, Russian stores had little to offer and by little I mean sad-looking root vegetables. This is a lot like what the farmers’ market currently has as well, minus the sad-looking part.
For some reason, my hatred of tsimmes inspired my mother, against all odds, to make me love the mushy honeyed carrots. She’d stand over me as I shoved spoonfuls in my mouth, gagging in the process. It was not a pretty sight, but in the spirit of full disclosure I should also add that I was a very picky eater as a kid, so it could’ve just been that tsimmes was the straw that broke the camel’s, or in this case my mothers, back. Or maybe because she was so enamoured of the dish herself, she was hoping that we’d be share our enthusiasm over it. Sadly, that never happened, and I avoided eating and making tsimmes until I hit thirty. Tsimmes was my food arch-nemesis.
One fine day a few years ago, after my weekly trek to Union Square Market, I came home to realize that by some strange turn of events, I had bought carrots from three different farmers. There they were, piled high, on my Chelsea kitchen’s single tiny counter in their colorful glory: bright cheddar orange, pale creamsicle orange, and deep purple. They were nubby and covered in dirt, and there were nearly five pounds of them all together.
I could have made spiced carrot soup, but I already had a batch sitting in my fridge from a few days prior, so I thought about giving the carrots a nice, long braise alongside caramelized onions, some raisins and honey. My fruit bowl was housing a few oranges, which were beginning to look a bit soft – so I juiced them for the braising liquid along with some zest.
When I lifted the pot lid, I winced – the resulting mass was eerily reminiscent of my childhood adversary – the dreaded tsimmes, but it smelled so fragrant, so seductive that I sampled a spoon of it anyway. I had, accidentally, made my food arch-nemesis. Though it suddenly felt like our relationship was blossoming into a sweet and fragrant friendship.
I ate the whole mess standing by the stove, spoon in hand, greedily scooping out the carroty mush. And as soon as I’d finished it, I immediately wanted some more, regretting all those years of turning down seconds as a child. At least I finally learned, right?
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
1 medium onion, halved root to stem, and thinly sliced across
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4- inch rounds
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed
Juice of 3 oranges (about 3/4 cups of juice)
A generous pinch of black pepper
Zest of 1 orange
1. In medium heavy-bottomed pot, over medium heat, heat oil until it shimmers. Add the onions and cook for 5 to 7 minutes until soft and light-golden. Add carrots and cook for 3 minutes.
2. Stir in raisins, cinnamon, cardamom and cook for 2 minutes more. Meanwhile, stir the honey and the salt into the orange juice and mix to combine. Add the juice-honey mixture to the vegetables, sprinkle with pepper, reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Remove from heat, and stir in zest. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Serve, with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt, if desired.
Serves 2 to 4.