As a Jewish food blogger I usually get the same questions. They are about matzoh balls, authenticity, and the food of childhood. Among the more common ones in that last category are requests for two recipes: one for brisket and one for tzimmes. Both are considered classic Ashkenazi home cooking, both are centerpieces of many a festive meal. Readers want to relive their childhoods or feel “authentic” or just eat really good food, and they think of brisket and tzimmes. And until today…I had made neither for this blog.
Brisket is good- and even though I titled a prior blog piece “Beyond Brisket,” I cannot argue with this. Tzimmes is really good – third-helping good, stuff-your-face good, drown-in-prune-and-carrot good. And many recipes…well…they ask, “why not both?”
This is one of those recipes.
The backstory on tzimmes and brisket begins in medieval Germany, which is in some ways the Urheimat of Ashkenazi culture. There, cooking fruit with meat has been traditional for at least a thousand years, and the original tzimmes – derived from zum essen, “for eating” – was probably a spinoff of another local dish. As Jews migrated eastwards into what is now Poland, Lithuania, and Russia, the dish stuck – and became an institution. Brisket, in or out of tzimmes, was often consumed. It was from an undeniably kosher part of the animal, fatty, and somewhat cheap. That said, the large cut made it not a meat for every Shabbat – but rather one for special occasions. Hence, it became reified – and some would say deified. Today, both tzimmes and brisket have a legendary status in the Ashkenazi mindset. Many consider these dishes – especially the brisket – mandatory for any Jewish holiday celebration, and will be confused should a festive meal not include them. (Every Ashkenazi vegetarian I know has been asked the brisket question.)
I tend to serve dairy meals at festivities: nothing says “celebration” quite like butter. But tzimmes’ sweetness and heartiness makes it an excellent complement to meat – and the fattiness of a brisket or stew meat adds quite a bit of weight to tzimmes. That said, if you do have a dairy meal, a vegetarian tzimmes is still quite a hit.
This tzimmes with meat is a hodgepodge of Polish recipes. A Lithuanian recipe would be less sweet and somewhat more peppery, and feature more turnips and beets. I often use chuck meat, because kosher brisket is expensive and your author is a civil servant. I will be using brisket, however, this Rosh HaShanah.
Tzimmes with Meat
2 tsp salt + 1 tsp more for seasoning
1 tsp pepper + 1 tsp more for seasoning
1.5 lbs (750g) beef chuck or brisket, coarsely chopped
2 medium onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp white flour
3 cups boiling water
1/4 cup honey
7 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium-large turnip or 1 medium-large potato, peeled and diced
12 dried apricots, soaked in hot water* and chopped into quarters,
12 dried prunes, chopped
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 tsp cinnamon for seasoning (optional)
Vegetable oil or schmaltz
- Rub half of the salt and half of the pepper into the beef brisket.
- Heat a Dutch oven or deep cast-iron pot. Add oil, then the onions or garlic. Sauté for one minute.
- Add the beef and the rest of the salt and pepper. Brown the meat with the onions over medium heat.
- Add the flour and mix in thoroughly.
- Add the water and stir until the mixture reaches a boil.
- Cover and simmer on a low flame for one hour.
- Mix in the honey with the meat.
- Cook for one minute, then add the carrots, turnip/potato, apricots/prunes, and sweet potato.
- Bring to a boil, then simmer for one hour, or until the vegetables have softened and the water has reduced. The sauce should be quite thick. Stir occasionally, and add the salt, pepper, and cinnamon at some point during that hour. You can also bake it for one hour in a 375F/190C oven. Serve hot.**
*You can get away with doing this within fifteen minutes of using the apricots.
** One of my favorite heresies is to serve tzimmes with lokshen (noodles). Delicious!
Thank you to Ziva Freiman and Jeannie Cogill for participating in User Acceptance Testing.