Wednesday, April 13, 2011

tsimmes

Tsimmes

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.

tsimmes mise

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.

golden raisins

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.

cooking down

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?

Tsimmes

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.

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15 Comments

  • 1
    Gail said:

    I just laughed out loud at the first line! I HATE TSIMMES, TOO, for all the reasons you state.
    Looks like I just might have to try this one!!!

    April 13, 2011 7:22 pm
  • 2
    Gayle said:

    I grew up with my mom making it from canned veggies. When I moved to the other side of the country and started having sedars with my friends, I began making the tzimis with roasted sweet potatoes, boiled white potatoes and carrots, dried apricots, fresh apples, local honey, and fresh ginger. Then top it with fresh roasted hazelnuts. The ginger is the secret. Now that I’m back living near family again, I still make the tzimis every year, and my little sister who never ate it growing up couldn’t get enough last year!

    April 13, 2011 9:27 pm
  • 3
    Gayle said:

    umm, also, apparently Gayle and Gail’s of all spellings have tzimis opinions!

    April 13, 2011 9:28 pm
  • 4
    Juanita said:

    Ah yes, like you said, right? Your palate “shifted” :-)

    In South Africa, it is very much the done thing in more traditional restaurants/boarding school kitchens/old-style home cooking to sweeten carrots with honey or sugar while boiling the life out of them, and then to toss them in a ton of butter. It’s almost as if people are trying to hide the true taste of the carrots or to convince themselves that they’re not eating vegetables? Anyway, I loathed this taste as a child, but now as an adult don’t mind occasionally eating these carrot monstrosities as well.

    April 14, 2011 3:30 am
  • 5

    Thats a lovely treat for a carrot lover! Have never heard such a recipe before. Looks so delicious and flavorful. Glad to find this lovely space through Twitter.

    April 14, 2011 6:59 am
  • 6

    I hated my grandmother’s tsimmes. As an adult, I should like it… in theory, it sounds great. But I can’t get over how much I hated it as a kid!

    April 14, 2011 8:44 am
  • 7
    Roze said:

    This looks delightful and not being Jewish, I’ll have to read up on the tsimmes thing, but I love carrots and with all those other wonderful ingredients this seems almost decadent and candy-like!

    Now, if you could just work out something for my food arch-nemesis: Brussels Sprouts!

    April 14, 2011 8:50 am
  • 8
    Radish said:

    Roze – have you tried roasting Brussels Sprouts with some olive oil and sea salt? Because that’s how they won me over!

    Everyone – who hated tsimmes as a kid – how hysterical that it’s not just me!

    April 14, 2011 9:12 am
  • 9

    That’s definitely how I would eat this! I don’t have any particular memories of tsimmes growing up, but I can see how if done poorly, it could be kind of retched.

    April 14, 2011 2:44 pm
  • 10

    What an adorable story. I have never heard of tsimmes so this was also culturally interesting too! For me, it was whenever butter and jelly were mixed together. I would swear it turned into cement!

    April 15, 2011 6:19 pm
  • 11
    Martha Joy said:

    I think this sounds lovely! But I was wondering if you could help me with a substitute for the orange juice? My husband is allergic to it. Would lemon or lime work? He can have that, but not anything remotely like an orange, like mandaring, etc. Also, not in large quantities.

    Alternatively, I could just eat all of it by myself ;)

    Is it supposed to be mashed together, or served as it is, in pieces? As I read it, it looks like it could easily be blended with some cashew/almond butter and water/milk/cream to be served as a soup. Any thoughts on that?

    April 18, 2011 5:15 am
  • 12
    Radish said:

    Martha Joy – given the acidity of lemon or lime juice, it wouldn’t be a good 1:1 substitute. Perhaps mixing apple and lemon juices together? You would have to experiment. As for blending it together, you can, again, experiment and serve as soup – but it would be a different dish all together – not tsimmes.

    April 18, 2011 8:07 am
  • 13
    Martha Joy said:

    Thank you for your suggestions. I suppose apple juice alone would be much too sweet. There’s is nothing quite like oranges in dishes like this… But as you say, lemon and apple together. Hm. I’ll get back to you if I try it :)

    I had never even heard of tsimmes before I read your post today, so for me it wouldn’t feel weird to make a soup out of it. The closest I can think of is my mother’s standard sidedish for white fish: Grated carrots mixed with black raisins and orange juice. Maybe pieces of orange and chopped almonds too. Served cold, as nothing is cooked.

    PS: As for mandarings… How could I not notice that one? -_-

    April 18, 2011 10:07 am
  • 14
    George In Canada said:

    Did I miss the line with the pronunciation?

    April 25, 2011 6:35 pm
  • 15

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