The word Tzimmes insinuated itself into languages of all countries where Jews have lived during the two thousand years of exile. Its meaning evolved from something sweet eaten on Rosh Hashana with a hope for a sweet year to anything sweet, delicious, beautiful, a bargain, an advantageous deal, etc. “Have I got a girl for your son, – a matchmaker would announce, – the very tzimmes of a girl!”
In this beautiful scene from Fiddler on the Roof, the three sisters dream about a tzimmes of a match. Unfortunately, as we all know, it doesn’t happen for them. In America, this word somehow acquired yet another meaning: a fuss or an uproar. I can’t imagine the reason for it as this is a dish that requires the least amount of fuss.
The most popular tzimmes in the US is carrot, or mehren tzimmes. Carrots belong to the list of symbolic foods served on Rosh Hashana, with a special blessing said over each one of them. Some of them are mentioned in the Gemorrah, but Magen Avraham says that any food whose name implies increase or abundance will do, and the names don’t even have to be in Hebrew, but could be in any local language. In Yiddish, mehr means more, and thus carrots have gained their significance. I will certainly make a traditional mehren tzimmes, which is also no big fuss, but for now, we are looking at a very unusual one, made with fasoles – red kidney beans. How did they get into this prestigious line up?
There is a traditional blessing on fenugreek, “that our merits should increase.” Rashi believed that fenugreek was the plant that the Gemorrah called rubia, and the word rubia has the same root as yirbu – to increase. Based on this interpretation, Yemenite Jews make a paste similar to curry served on Rosh Hashana with the appropriate blessing. However, since fenugreek was unknown to Eastern Europe, the substitution was initiated in Bagdad, using a red been stew called loobia, or lubia (I have mentioned it in my previous posts Almost Moroccan Salad and Lobio) which was how they pronounced rubia.
Contrary to the original recipe which is basically a spicy vegetable stew, sometimes with meat, our Tzimmes mit Fasoles is sweet, rather than spicy. Following the Ashkenazi (Eastern European) tradition, we smother everything in honey. This is a real no fuss recipe. It cooks for a long time, but I shorten it by precooking beans in a crock pot. First, of course, you have to soak them for at least a couple of hours. I soak all beans overnight.
Discard the water they were soaking in, cover with fresh water, turn your crock pot on high and go do something else.
When the beans are ready to the point of falling apart, transfer them to a stove top pot and cover with water. Give them a stir, to prevent from sticking to the pot.
Bring them to boil and add honey and cinnamon (you can also add nutmeg, but my husband doesn’t like it, so I don’t do it). You’ll have to adjust the sweetness to taste, but I cheat. If I think it’s not sweet enough, I add xylitol instead of honey. I think the level of sugar on Rosh Hashana is beyond tolerance as it is.
Stir it and bring to boil again. Reduce heat and simmer until most of the liquid evaporates. You’ll need to stir it occasionally and taste it for sweetness.
Keep it refrigerated and serve it cold. In my family it has always been everybody’s favorite not only on the holiday table, but also as a snack or even dessert. May our merits increase, and may all our loved ones and dear friends have a happy, healthy, and sweet year! Shana Tova! A Zis Yor!
- 2 cups cooked red kidney beans (1 cup dry)
- 1/2 cup honey or more to taste
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Soak beans for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. Discard soaking water, cook in crock pot or stove top until very soft. Stir as needed.
- Transfer to stove top pot, add water to cover, bring to boil.
- Add honey and cinnamon, stir, bring to boil, reduce to simmering. Simmer until most of the liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Adjust sweetness to taste.