In the town where I grew up, there were three churches and no synagogues.

Naturally, Jews were few and far between. We moved there in the 1950s because my mother liked the landscape. Abandoning our Ashkenazic background, she befriended our neighbors, pursuing standard American fare, such as candied carrots and mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows. So it's not surprising that I was in college before I got my first taste of tzimmes.

One Sukkot during the late 1960s, a boyfriend invited me to his grandparents' two-family house in Borough Park, a Brooklyn neighborhood that was mostly populated by Orthodox Jews. In their dining room, the usual foods graced the lace on their holiday table: challah, roasted turkey, brisket with onions, stuffed peppers and an apple kugel - no cream, of course.

"What's that?" I whispered, pointing to a bowl brimming with sweet potatoes and carrots, the color of molten amber punctuated by bold black prunes.

"Tzimmes," my boyfriend said.

"Tzimmes?" I asked, trying this sweet and savory medley. Catching a hint of honey, I wanted the recipe.

"You've never heard of tzimmes before," said his grandmother, piling a second portion on my plate. "In Yiddish, it means a big fuss or a lot of trouble."

"I don't know any Yiddish," I said, distracted by my ecstasy. Although I eventually broke up with that boyfriend because he was too much of a tzimmes, I was seduced by a burst of flavor as vibrant as autumn leaves.

Although tzimmes is most often associated with Rosh Hashana because of its sweet ingredients, the dish is also served at Sukkot, when piping hot casseroles full of fall produce are infinitely practical. In cold climates, hearty foods are popular for outdoor dining in sukkot, the harvest huts erected in backyards and decorated with dangling produce to celebrate the season's bounty.

Because Sukkot falls so deep into autumn this year, nothing could be more satisfying than a steaming tzimmes, whether it be your grandma's recipe or an updated version full of sassy ingredients.

Tangy Tzimmes

  • 2 1/2-3 lbs. yams, about 6
  • 1 1/2 lbs. medium carrots, about 10-12
  • 4 ounces branch of fresh ginger
  • 20-oz. can pineapple chunks
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 12-oz. box dried plums (pitted prunes)
  • 2 cups walnuts, chopped
  1. Peel yams, carrots and ginger. Cut yams into 8 chunks, carrots into quarters and ginger into 1/4-inch slices. Drain can of pineapples and reserve juice.
  2. Place yams, carrots, ginger, pineapple juice, orange juice, salt, lime juice and maple syrup into a 6-quart pot and cover. Simmer on a low flame for 45 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Add pineapple chunks and dried plums. Simmer and stir for another 15 minutes, or until yams are soft in the center when a knife is inserted.
  3. Before serving, place walnuts on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350-degree oven until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Check nuts often, as they burn easily. Turn tzimmes into an attractive bowl and sprinkle with walnuts.

Serves 12.

Savory Tzimmes

  • 1 1/2 lbs. medium-size carrots, about 10-12
  • 2 medium-size onions
  • 2 medium-size zucchinis
  • 4 baking potatoes, peeled
  • 3 lbs. cubed beef for stewing
  • Salt to taste
  • 5 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 3 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup dill, minced
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  1. Dice carrots, onions, zucchinis and potatoes. Reserve.
  2. Sprinkle beef with salt. In a large pot, sauté beef in 3 Tbsp. olive oil until lightly browned on all surfaces. Remove from pot and reserve.
  3. Drizzle remaining olive oil in pot and place diced produce inside. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika. Sauté and stir until produce wilts. Return beef to pot and stir. Mix in broth, wine and dill. Stirring every 15 minutes, simmer on a low flame for three hours, or until meat is tender when pierced with a knife. Add raisins and simmer another 15 minutes.
  4. Serve immediately, or bring to room temperature, store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, and reheat on low. Recipe freezes well.

Serves 10-12.

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