If not for its proximity to Christmas, Hanukkah would be largely overlooked as a minor holiday, more akin to the significance of Labor Day in the US, rather than a blockbuster event. Adapted and transformed to align with Christian celebrations, it’s no less significant when it comes to family traditions. Any day is only as important as you believe it to be; Hanukkah, remembered for the miracle of survival, of light in the face of darkness, is every bit as relevant, inspiring, and comforting in the face of modern strife.
Is Hanukkah Really That Important?
That’s why, as a person that considers themselves more culturally Jewish than religious, I do love the rituals; lighting the menorah every night; the smell of frying onions and potatoes wafting through the kitchen; the exchanging of novelty socks. My associations with Hanukkah would no doubt confound my ancestors. Still, I’d like to think it might still resonate. At the heart of it all is the enduring story of hope and resilience, woven into the fabric of the culture, no matter what that might look like.
This year, since the Festival of Lights arrives well ahead of Christmas Day, it’s the perfect time to delve into the heart and soul of Hanukkah cuisine, recognizing our roots beyond latkes. Tzimmes, a humble yet richly symbolic dish embodies the essence of the holiday, encapsulating centuries of tradition and the enduring spirit of the Jewish people.
What Are Tzimmes?
Tzimmes, derived from the Yiddish word ‘tsimlen,’ meaning ‘to make a fuss,’ is more than just a culinary creation; it’s a piece of history on a plate. This sweet, slow-cooked medley of root vegetables, dried fruits, and honey, often accentuated with warm spices, serves as a reminder of the Jewish diaspora’s resilience and adaptability. Its origins date back to Eastern Europe, where Jewish communities sought ways to celebrate Hanukkah using the limited ingredients available to them.
Typically, carrots are an essential factor, sliced into tender rounds like golden coins, to represent a sweet and prosperous future, particularly relevant when observing Rosh Hashanah. In fact, carrots are one of the most commonly used foods in Eastern European meals, both for their symbolism and affordability. The Yiddish word for carrot means to increase or multiply, perhaps like rabbits, though that connection is purely accidental.
A Twist on Tradition
Each ingredient tells a story, though I’d like to write my own narrative. My tzimmes won’t look like your bubbie’s, nor will it look like hers before that. Changing and morphing with our circumstances is part of our collective history. This time, I’m using rainbow carrots for diversity and unity, purple sweet potatoes for their striking hue and abundance, and the figs instead of prunes for added texture and depth. As we gather around the table to savor this modern twist on Tzimmes, we honor our ancestors’ resourcefulness and unwavering determination while embracing the adaptability and creativity of our present.
Join me in celebrating the spirit of the season, creating another set of delicious memories, traditional, unconventional, and everything in between.