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Rosh Hashanah: Tsimmes, a mixed-up stew for Rosh Hashanah

Beets give added flavor to Lithuanian tsimmes  

In this story:

Polish-style Apple and Carrot Tsimmes

Carbonada Criolla, Argentinian Tsimmes

Lithuanian Tsimmes with Beets, Turnips and Beef


(Los Angeles Times Syndicate) -- Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and the anniversary of the Creation, which begins Friday evening September 29, ushers in a 10-day period of examination and repentance. It is also the precursor of Sukkoth, the fall harvest festival, which begins two weeks later.

"In Talmudic times," said Jerome Davidson, rabbi of Temple Beth-el in Great Neck, New York, "the harvest had more importance than the New Year." For these reasons, the Rosh Hashanah table traditionally is laden with delicacies representing optimism for a sweet future: dishes abounding with honey, raisins, carrots and apples.

One popular Eastern European dish served during this period is tsimmes, a baked stew of carrots, potatoes and sometimes meat, often with dried fruits. Like many Yiddish words, tsimmes is a corruption of the German "zum essen," to eat. Because it takes time to cut and peel the vegetables and bake the dish, the word came to mean making a big fuss over something.

My first encounter with tsimmes was in Jerusalem many years ago at the home of Israelis who were born in Argentina. Dramatically served in a large squash filled with sweet potatoes, meat and carrots, this stunning version also included peaches, corn and tomatoes.

I later learned that this was a Jewish version of a Latin stew called Carbonada Criolla. As Jews have done throughout history, Polish and Russian cooks who emigrated to Argentina brought tsimmes with them, making the dish more tropical, always observing the dietary laws. It was not until I married into a Polish Jewish family, however, that I tasted a more classic tsimmes. Until my mother-in-law passed away two years ago, each Rosh Hashanah she prepared for us her Polish version with carrots, apples and honey to start the New Year.

As children we would always dip apples in honey at Rosh Hashanah, wishing for a sweet New Year, but we never ate a stew of carrots, apples and honey. What did carrots have to do with happiness for the New Year? I soon learned that they did. Since carrots were one of the few sweet-tasting vegetables in Russia and Poland, they became a symbol of the wish of sweetness in the New Year.

"Mohrruben" in German and "mern" in Yiddish both mean carrot. They also mean to increase or to multiply. Thus, eating carrots at Rosh Hashanah reiterates the hope that the Jewish nation will multiply and be happy during the coming year. This hope is based upon the promise stated in the Bible as part of the covenant God made with Abraham. "He brought him forth abroad," and said, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if thou be able to count them"; and He said unto him, "Shall thy seed be" (Genesis 15:5).

Carrots cooked whole and then sliced into circles resemble coins in color and shape, signifying an increase in numbers and wealth -- i.e., a yearning for a prosperous year.

Until I traveled to Poland, however, I thought that my mother-in-law's meatless variation of tsimmes was just a family recipe. I soon learned, eating versions of vegetable tsimmes in Polish restaurants and perusing old Polish cookbooks, that a stew of carrots, sometimes carrots and apples, and sometimes carrots, apples and prunes is definitely a Polish as well as a Polish-Jewish dish.

After several trips to the former Soviet Union and Poland and numerous interviews in the United States, I have learned how regionalized tsimmes became through the hundreds of years of Jews living in Eastern Europe.

For Jews hailing from Lithuania, the stew often includes meat, turnips and grated beets, from Bialystok and other parts of Europe it might include a halkie or potato kugel topping as well as lima beans and honey. On this side of the ocean, Madison Avenue had its influence with canned crushed pineapples often added. In the Southwest it is sometimes stuffed into chilies and spiked with fresh cilantro. One innovative chef, Allen Susser of Miami, Florida, makes his with rhubarb. Brooklyn caterer Hava Volman roasts her vegetables and adds grilled pineapple at the end. Today, with potato peelers, great knives and every ingredient imaginable, there is no longer reason "to make a tsimmes" over tsimmes.

Polish-style Apple and Carrot Tsimmes

  • 2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into one-inch rounds
  • 6 large Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled and diced
  • 4 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup pitted prunes

Place carrots, apples, butter, salt, sugar and cinnamon in saucepan. Cover with about 4 cups water.

Bring to boil and simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes.

Add prunes and continue cooking another 5 minutes, or until carrots are tender.

Serve as is or mash slightly with potato masher. Serve as accompaniment to brisket or chicken.

Makes 8 to 10 servings as side dish.

(Adapted from "Cooking the Jewish Way," Interpress Publishers, Warsaw, 1984)

Carbonada Criolla, Argentinian Tsimmes

  • 1 (10-pound) large round squash, such as pumpkin or calabaza
  • 1/4 cup pareve margarine
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 4 pounds beef chuck, cubed
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 cups water or beef stock
  • 1 (12-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh oregano
  • 3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (about 2 pounds)
  • 3 large white potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled and diced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced in large chunks
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen corn kernels
  • 8 pitted prunes
  • 8 peach halves (canned)

Scrub outside of squash with vegetable brush. Trim bottom so that it will stand flat. Cut out lid 6 inches in diameter and remove pits and fiber from inside.

Smear inside of squash with pareve margarine and sprinkle with salt, pepper and water.

Place in large, shallow roasting pan. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven 45 minutes or until tender, but still firm. (You do not want squash to collapse.)

Meanwhile, brown meat in oil in heavy pot with onion and garlic.

Add water, tomatoes and oregano. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

Add sweet potatoes, white potatoes and carrots. Simmer, covered, for another 15 minutes. (You can make this 1 day ahead).

Add corn, prunes and peaches to meat mixture and either reheat or simmer 5 minutes more.

Fill squash carefully with meat and vegetable mixture. Replace lid and continue baking in oven another 15 minutes.

Serve immediately on large platter.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

(Adapted from "Jewish Cooking in America," Joan Nathan.)

Lithuanian Tsimmes with Beets, Turnips and Beef

  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 pounds flanken, chuck or brisket of beef
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1/4 cup honey or to taste
  • 8 carrots, coarsely grated
  • 1 turnip, coarsely grated
  • 1 beet, coarsely grated
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and quartered (optional)

Mix 2 teaspoons salt and pepper and rub into beef. Place in Dutch oven or heavy pot with onions. Brown slowly over medium heat.

Add flour, mixing well. Add water, stirring, until it reaches boiling point. Cover and simmer slowly for about 1 hour.

Mix honey in with meat, then add carrots, turnip, beet, sweet potato and remaining salt. Cover.

Bake in preheated 375-degree oven 1 1/2 hours, removing cover last 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

(Adapted from "Jewish Cooking in America," 1998.)

(Joan Nathan, author of "Jewish Cooking in America," is the host of the PBS series "Jewish Cooking in America With Joan Nathan.")

(c) 2000, Joan Nathan. Los Angeles Times Syndicate. Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.


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