Tzimmes is a Jewish dish of stewed vegetables and fruit, traditionally served as a side dish at Rosh Hashanah. The ingredients are cooked slowly over a low heat, making a thick compote. Recipes vary in different regions and even in different families, giving each dish a personal touch, but a traditional tzimmes is usually made with carrots, honey, dried fruit and sometimes brisket, adding sweetness to the New Year meal.
Recipes can vary greatly and might bear little resemblance to one another. Carrots most often are the main ingredient, but sweet potatoes sometimes have been substituted. Additional vegetables, especially root vegetables such as potatoes, might be included, and meat such as brisket is optional.
Different combinations of raisins, prunes, apples and other fruits might be included. Spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg might be added as well. Other recipes are made using only fruit.
Including tzimmes in Rosh Hashanah is an old tradition traced back to Germany and Eastern Europe. Foods sweetened with honey traditionally were included in Jewish New Year celebrations throughout the region. Winter root vegetables such as carrots and dried fruits were readily available even in this cold climate, bringing together the main elements of this dish.
Ingredients used in tzimmes, especially carrots, have a symbolic significance as well. The Yiddish word for carrot is merren, a word that also can mean “to increase,” a reminder for the diners to do more good in the coming year. Some also note that sliced carrots resemble gold coins and suggest that they might also represent a wish for prosperity in the New Year.
Spelling variations are common, and the dish is commonly referred to as tsimmes, tzimmis or tsimmis. The word tzimmes is Yiddish, and in addition to referring to this sweet dish, the word might refer to a mess or a fuss or bother. “Don’t make a big tzimmes” is a common Jewish phrase and a way of telling others not to complicate matters.
The dish’s name might be a reference to the recipe’s complexity and the work involved in preparing the vegetables and fruits, or it might refer to the way this dish stews until the ingredients dissolve into a homogenous “mess.” It also might be derived from the German words zum essen, meaning “to eat,” or a variation on the English word "simmer." It’s possible that more than one of these factors came together to give the recipe its name in a bit of wordplay.