Tsimmes is a Yiddish word for a dish (sometimes served as a side and sometimes served as an entree with meat) of mixed, slightly sweetened cooked vegetables and fruits. Every good Jewish girl grows up with her family’s Tsimmes, served at holiday dinners including the Passover seder. Undoubtedly, there are as many recipes for Tsimmes as there are for an Italian spaghetti sauce.
My mother’s tsimmes was not very memorable (sorry Mom!) and she never made it with meat. I assumed that this was the case because flanken (also a Yiddish word, meaning flank) was one of the worst cuts of beef you could eat, but often was the only one which the Eastern European Jews could afford. Who would want to remind themselves of this condition? I never really liked Tsimmes, always finding it too sweet and mushy. But some 30 years ago, my former mother in law, Rita, introduced me to flanken tsimmes, which she made every Passover. I loved the combination of the sweet vegetables and the somewhat salty meat. I have been making it ever since, changing an ingredient or a part of the process every few years. I only make it on Passover, after my once a year trip to the kosher butcher to buy the flanken (more on that in another post) and proudly serve it to family and friends.
Historically, since making tsimmes took time and various mixings, the Yiddish word came to mean: a prolonged procedure, an involved business or a BIG DEAL. Often people will say; “Don’t make such a tsimmes out of it!”
SO WHAT’S A BIG DEAL?
A BIG DEAL is making a Passover seder for 31 people;
A BIG DEAL is when your high school friend and her husband come to visit from Indiana to experience their first seder and she is your cooking side kick and moral supporter for three straight days;
A BIG DEAL is when the tsimmes tastes so good that a proclaimed vegetarian for the past twenty five years is compelled to eat the flanken because the savory smells, the vibrant orange color of the carrots and sweet potatoes, and the wide strips of browned meat evoke such fond memories of his Jewish heritage and family traditions;
A BIG DEAL is when you are fortunate that even though you have so few relatives still living, your friends honor you with their presence and make you feel like you have a large family;
A BIG DEAL is honoring long standing traditions and creating new ones for the years to come.
The first night of Passover was this past Monday night but since Passover lasts an entire week, I am going to take the liberty of making a few more posts about this wonderful holiday-its meaning and its traditions. Check back in a couple of days!
Yield: 1 large roasting pan full!
4 pounds carrots
8 large sweet potatoes
20 strips of bone in flanken
1 pound pitted prunes
1 cup orange juice
brown sugar, honey, maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste
Peel carrots and cut into 1 inch chunks. Peel potatoes and cut into 2 inch chunks. Set aside.
Place flanken in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper. Cook covered on low for 25 minutes. Remove flanken and place in a large roasting pan.
Put sweet potato chunks into pot and cook covered on low for 10 minutes and add carrot chunks. Cook an additional 10 minutes.
Remove carrots and sweet potatoes with a slotted spoon and place in the roasting pan with the flanken. Reserve the liquid. Add prunes and drizzle with honey and maple syrup and sprinkle with brown sugar, all to taste. Add orange juice and a cup of the reserved liquid.
Cover the roasting pan and bake for three hours or until the meat falls off the bone. Be sure to turn the mixture every hour so that the meat becomes evenly browned.
• Flanken can only be purchased from a kosher butcher but you could substitute beef short ribs if you don’t have a kosher butcher nearby.
• I have found that the enamel roasting pans (remember those blue and white speckled ones) work best as they brown the meat just perfectly.
• The quantities of maple syrup, honey and brown sugar is something you need to come up with on your own. Cooking is an art and not a science!