Tzimmes in Yiddish means “a big fuss.” The Big Fuss is coming up next week, and I am buckling up for it. We are only a few people this year (the Decavore is staying at school) so menu will be roast duck along with the vegetable sides. The vegetables are the best part of Thanksgiving, and, given how bland turkey is, and how unimaginatively it is generally prepared, the meal can be fantastic without any meat at all.
I don’t know why it never occurred to me to try to incorporate tzimmes, which is a traditional Ashkenazi casserole made with carrots and fruit, and served on holidays like Rosh Hashanah… how is it this dish has not been coopted for Thanksgiving? If we are willing to eat marshmallows on yams, chestnut stuffing, and pumpkin pie, why not carrot and raisin casserole?
A number of years ago I was the Passover guest of chef Zarela Martinez, who made a buffet with an array of incredibly delicious Sephardic dishes. I have been searching for one of them for years. The name of the dish is lost and I can’t recall any of the ingredients (olives? chicken?) so I can’t ask Zarela. I just remember a rich gravy the color of burnt umber and still hold the irrational belief that I will know it when I find it. If you have ever worked in a bookshop, you will have encountered the customer who comes in and asks for “that book with the green cover” or “that book about Nebraska.” Sometimes there is the magical moment when you know what the confused person wants. A tired man came up to the register and asked for “the book with all the pictures.” This was 1985. I handed him A Day in the Life of America, and it was the book he was looking for! So I keep looking.
In the course of my on-and- off again hunts for that Sephardic stew, I recently came across a book called 52 Shabbats by Faith Kramer, which has an Indian-fusion version of tzimmes that was a huge hit at my house. This is a knock out vegan recipe that combines a spiced carrot dish from the Bene Israel Jewish community in India with traditional Ashkenazi tzimmes. “Curried” is an inadequate descriptor for this stew, which has fantastic depth of flavor- subtle heat from curry and mustard seed, as well as the mellowed spice of cardamom and clove. High praise for someone who doesn’t care for overly sweet main courses and who has a deep aversion to fruit in savory dishes. So you know this is good!
I frequently play with recipes I find. I do not recommend making any additions or changes to main ingredients or amounts of the spices for this one, as it has a really perfect balance of spice and sweetness.
Curried Carrot Tzimmes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon brown, black, or yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons garam masala or curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups chopped onions
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
½ teaspoon salt, divided
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound carrots, cut into ½-inch rounds
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch chunks
1 cup dried apricots
½ cup raisins (I did not have raisins in the cupboard and it was still okay without)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 large ripe banana, mashed
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley (I did not have any herbs in the fridge so sprinkled on some methi, dried fenugreek leaves, which worked well with the Indian flavors)
Faith recommends serving with plain yogurt, lime pickle, and/or chutney, but we tried it plain and it was fantastic.
In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and sauté until sizzling, about 1 minute. Stir in the garam masala, cardamom, cloves, and cayenne and sauté for 1 minute. Add the onions and sauté until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the garlic and sauté until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add ¼ teaspoon of salt, black pepper, and carrots and sauté for 10 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes, apricots, and raisins and stir until covered in oil and seasonings.
Add broth and banana. and bring to a simmer. Add chickpeas. Cover, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the carrots and sweet potatoes are tender but not falling apart, 30 to 40 minutes.
Remove the cover and simmer uncovered until the liquid is syrupy, about 10 minutes.
To serve, ladle the stew into bowls and top with a dollop of yogurt (or not if you want to keep it vegan), herbs, cilantro, and/or hcutney (if using). We had ours plain.
This can be made ahead for Thanksgiving, and keeps for several days in the fridge.