You say potato. I say potato kugel. You say you’re in a stew? I say what’s the big tzimmes? Tzimmes.
Pronounced tzim-mess. For those unfamiliar with the term, tzimmes is generally understood as Yiddish for “a big fuss.” In Jewish cooking terms, a tzimmes is essentially a casserole. Similar to a stew. Asked to bring a side dish to a Seder meal, for example, it would be understood that I would make a big tzimmes of the request, stewing up something delicious and “company-style.”
I don’t know which came first, the big fuss or the Eastern European dish, but I do know that to make a tzimmes involves some chopping, simmering, and stewing, tzimmissing, if you will. Like a good argument, a good tzimmes is both savory and sweet. What goes into a tzimmes can be either vegetables or meat and any combination of fruit, most notably prunes.
In cooking as in life, as it turns out, making a tzimmes is easy as pie. Essentially it's take, chop, mix, and stew. —Vivian Henoch
Test Kitchen Notes
As author Vivian Henoch writes, tzimmes is a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish side dish, most often made during Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Passover. It’s typically prepared with sweeter root vegetables like sweet potatoes, yams, and carrots, plus prunes, raisins, and other dried fruits. It’s the perfect accompaniment to braised meats and rich starchy dishes, like noodle kugel, playing a similar role to sweet potato casserole on the Thanksgiving table. Best of all, and contrary to what its Yiddish name would suggest, cooking tzimmes is really no “big fuss.” Give the vegetables a rough chop and quick steam, give the remaining ingredients a quick simmer to mix, then throw it all in a pot and let it roast until soft, slightly sticky, and sweet. To make it even easier, you can prep everything up to the roasting portion of the recipe ahead of time, then finish it off in the oven a half hour before you’re ready to serve.
This version of tzimmes brings the dish into the 21st century. Sticky dates and dried apricots are a welcome refresh for the traditional prunes and raisins. Tart cherries and citrus in the form of lemon and orange juice give the dish a necessary punch of acid, which helps bring depth and balance to what could be one-note sweetness. I like to go the extra mile and add some lemon or orange zest, or both.
Tzimmes is a perfect dish for late winter-into-early spring, when the markets will still showcase the best citrus winter has to offer, but there's not much else besides root vegetables in the rest of produce department. While it has its origins as a traditional Jewish dish, tzimmes is a colorful and hearty side that anyone can enjoy. —The Editors
- Prep time 40 minutes
- Cook time 30 minutes
- Serves 8
4 to 6
sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds)
bite-size pitted dates (about 6 ounces)
dried apricots (about 5 ounces)
medium apple, sliced (optional)
dried Michigan-style cherries (optional)
fresh orange juice (processed with the rind)
fresh lemon juice
- Heat the oven to 350°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium. Cut the carrots into 2-inch pieces. Cook the potatoes in their skins for 20 minutes, adding the carrots after 10 minutes. Drain in a colander; set aside until cool enough to handle.
- Peel the potatoes and cut into 1-inch chunks. Transfer the potatoes and carrots to a large bowl.
- In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the dates, apricots, apple, if using, cherries, if using, orange juice, syrup, lemon juice, and brown sugar and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes, just until heated through. Transfer to the potato mixture and stir well to combine.
- Add the parsley and salt and toss well to combine. Transfer to a 2-quart baking dish. Cover and bake, basting after 15 minutes, for about 30 minutes total, until the potatoes are fork-tender and juices are bubbling.