This year is one where Passover, the Jewish holiday, and Holy Week, the Christian holy time, coincide. And though the two are different, there’s a wonderful vegetable dish, called tzimmes in Yiddish, that can work for both. It goes well with lamb, roast chicken and other good main dishes.
I spotted tzimmes somewhere on the web and thought it sounded delicious. For another opinion, I called my friend Gail Wartell in Belfast, who makes it for Passover. She told me that she loves it, and agreed to walk me through a rendition from her Eastern European Ashkanazi background.
In her Passover celebration, the seder plate is first, then a series of courses follow, with tzimmes usually accompanying the roast.
To be traditional, tzimmes has to have sweet potatoes, carrots, prunes and honey. Other ingredients are a little more fungible. In fact, if tradition doesn’t matter to your household, you can even mess around with the prunes and honey, substituting dried apricots, dates and maple syrup instead.
Gail has used dried cranberries, and one recipe I saw called for dried cherries. A little lemon and/or orange juice, brown sugar, olive oil and a dash of cinnamon helps form a bit of a glaze-like sauce.
Par boiling the sweet potatoes and carrots before mixing the fruits and sauce into the vegetables moves the process along and means it needs only an hour to bake. Otherwise you are looking at a lot more time to soften the vegetables to comfort-food level.
“I stir mine,” Gail told me, “You don’t want crispy in this dish, and I cover it in the oven for at least the first part of the baking.” If the dish is a little too dry — you need some juiciness — she might add orange juice. If it is too juicy, she takes the lid off the dish for the last part of baking.
After you’ve made this a couple times, you will see how to assemble it with minimal help from a recipe. Gail revealed that after 40 years of experience, “I never use a recipe, and kind of wing it.”
A hearty dribble of honey, a dash of cinnamon, a handful of raisins or dried cranberries, a generous splash of lemon juice, then baking and stirring until, as Gail said, “It gets a distinctive gooey texture.” If less gooey appeals to you, stir less.
No matter how you observe this week, or whether you don’t at all, you might just welcome a new vegetable dish for any occasion, and this fragrant, colorful, comforting mixture is perfect.
Tzimmes or Sweet Potato, Carrot, and Dried Fruit Casserole
2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into two-inch chunks
2 large sweet potatoes
½ cup prunes
½ cup dried apricots, optional
¼ cup raisins or dried cranberries, optional
2-3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and blanch the sweet potatoes whole for 10 minutes then add the carrots and cook them together for 10 minutes more. Take from the heat and drain.
When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, rub the skin off and cut the potatoes into chunks.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a greased casserole or baking dish, mix the potatoes and carrots, add the prunes, optional apricots, raisins or dried cranberries.
Mix the honey, oil, lemon juice, cinnamon and salt together and pour over the top of the vegetables and fruit.
Toss everything together, cover the baking dish and put into the oven.
After 30 minutes, stir the mixture, and replace in the oven.
Check and stir about every 10 minutes until the vegetables are quite tender or until they have baked for about 1 hour. Bake longer if you wish the mixture to be softer.
Serve garnished with parsley, if you wish.