Rosh Ha Shanah Looms

I know that some  scorn what they think of as "Culinary Judaism", people whose entire observance of Judaism is food related. I see the food as part of the entire package.The same way that the musical modes of the High Holiday season , or the sound of the shofar get me thinking about mending my ways, the foods of the season really can't be separated from the experience of the holidays.

Traditionally, Tzimmis is made for Sukkot, the fall harvest festival.  But in one of those slightly skewed ways that my family follows tradition ( We are probably one of the only families where blue dishtowels are for meat dishes and red towels for meat- perhaps my grandmother was color blind or simply ornery in her own way), we have always eaten Tzimmis for Rosh Ha Shanah.

Given how early in September Rosh Ha Shanah is this year, there is a bit of madness to eating a heavy beef stew, when it very well might be hot out. I am however, a loyalist to Tzimmis on Rosh HaShanah. The summer of 1980 I was working in a young Judaea camp in Texas. That summer, central Texas was held in a  heatwave where the temperatures topped 100 degrees every day for two months. My mother wrote telling me that she would not be making Tzimmis that year. It seemed like too much work. I sent her a volley of letters protesting that decision. I begged. Even in that heat, not having Tzimmis on Rosh Ha Shanah seemd like a terrible loss. After many, many letters, I convinced my mother. We had Tzimmis that year.

The Tzimmis isn't one of those insipid, carrots only deals. It is a deep tasting stew made with beef, white and sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, beans and prunes. The tzimmis is flavored with paprika, salt pepper, cinnamon, brown sugar and lemon juice.

My mother gave me her recipe soon after I was married. Getting a recipe from my mother is a complicated thing. It probably took close to an hour on the phone. I scribbled the barest of notes in the fly-leaf of my Settlement Cookbook.

Today, I gave my older son the task of making the Tzimmis. He looked at my scribbled notes and kept checking back with me for clarification. He did all of the heavy work. I fine tuned the flavoring.

The Tzimmis is now in my freezer, awaiting the holiday.

soak 1/2 cup lima beans overnight - or heat in microwave for 10 minutes and then allow to sit for 30 minutes
brown at least 3 lbs stew beef  in a heavy pot
add two diced onions and continue browning- when brown, lower heat to medium
roughly cut
pre heat oven to 325
3-5 white potatoes
3-5 sweet potatoes
3-4 huge carrots or a bag of normal sized ones
add to meat

add  salt
1/3 c brown sugar
juice of 1 lemon
a glug of white vinegar

put tzimmis in oven, covered. Stir every 20 minutes or so. When the smell of the Tzimmis stops smelling like separate ingredients but like the flavors have melded, uncover. This will concentrate the juices. Stir the meat every 20 minutes or so so it all gets a nice chewy crust.

The tzimmis takes about 30 minutes of prep ( unless you are my son, who is, by his own admission a slow cook) and about 90 minutes in the oven. You don't have to be very precise about any of the ingredients. it needs to have a balance of sweet and sour, with a deep beefy undertone.


  1. Love the recipe (and the microwave technique with the limas -- makes your tzimmes a little cholent-y). I sometimes do it with flanken, if I can afford it, or, heresy, season it with ginger, cinnamon and black pepper for a Moroccan-style "tagine-tzimmes.

  2. Alan-

    I'm always happy when can impress a serious foodie like you. I do have a confession to make. We were out of paprika, because it tends to attract those awful pantry bugs. My sister had bought me a large tin in Hungary that I had to toss when it became infested. I did have a large jar of Fresh Direct's Rockin Moroccan spice rub which is mostly paprika. I added a bunch to the tzimmis, and it added a yummy low octive buzz of heat.

    I'm sure my mother who describes food she loves, as " Mild and delicious!", would not be happy with this year's Tzimmis. It passed muster with my chief taster, and that's all that matters to me.

    One of the things that I have been realizng more and more lately, is that there is far more of a connection between Eastern European and Middle Eastern food than one would think. Those culinary borders were pretty permeable.


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