The Yiddish word tsimmes, or tzimmes, means to make a big fuss over something. It's also the name of an Ashkenazi dish of sweet potatoes, carrots, dried fruit and sometimes flanken or brisket, traditionally served at Jewish holidays.
You'd think, with a name like tsimmes, it must be a fussy dish, needing chopping, peeling and praying over to get right.
But the tsimmes I grew up with were simple vegetable side dishes, a pretty mix of orange-hued roots dotted with dark prunes and glistening with honey, baked until plush and velvety. Sure, there was some peeling and chopping, but next to frying latkes, pinching kreplach and rolling matzo balls, a pan of tsimmes was the one fuss-free part of the holiday preparation.
With that ease in mind, I created this tsimmes as a convenient holiday showpiece. Since Hanukkah is approaching, I wanted a one-pot dish that was festive enough for a holiday meal, yet easy enough to leave time to make latkes.
Tsimmes recipes vary greatly, but the version I grew up with included honey and orange juice to nudge the natural sweetness of the root vegetables and dried fruit. For this main-course version, I decided to nix the honey and use only orange juice, which reduces during simmering to a vibrant, tangy glaze.
I also substituted dates for the usual prunes, though almost any dried fruit will do. Dried cherries and cranberries add pops of color, while dried apricots blend in with the roots for a chewy-sweet surprise in every bite.
Tsimmes can veer into sweet-enough-for-dessert territory, which would cloy as a main. So another tweak was to add cumin and coriander to the cinnamon and ginger that typically spice the dish, because I wanted those earthy, musky flavors to ground it to the savory side.
Lastly, I added chicken to make the dish substantial enough to anchor the meal. Because root vegetables need to simmer for 45 minutes or longer to turn silky and plush, dark wmeat chicken is a better partner than breasts. Bone-in thighs will work, though the skin becomes limp after all that simmering. I call for boneless thighs because they get wonderfully soft and tender as they bubble away beneath the roots.
This tsimmes is such a simple, cozy main dish that the only fuss will be made over, not by, the cook who serves it.
Braised Chicken Thighs With Sweet Potatoes and Dates
This colorful meal is based on tsimmes, the classic Ashkenazi dish of sweet potatoes, carrots and dried fruit (and sometimes meat) typically served on Rosh Hashana and other Jewish holidays. This version includes boneless, skinless chicken thighs and spices, and lets everything simmer together in a Dutch oven until fragrant and silky. It's a festive one-pot meal that's sweet, savory and a little tangy from some orange juice used for braising.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total time: About 1 1/2 hours
2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (see tip)
2 teaspoons kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal), more as needed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 pounds sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick coins
1 cup dates or prunes, diced (or substitute other dried fruit)
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon grated or minced fresh ginger (optional)
1 (2-inch-long) cinnamon stick
1 large pinch ground cayenne or red-pepper flakes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
1 large leek, trimmed, halved lengthwise and sliced into half-moons
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or dill
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine chicken thighs, 1 teaspoon salt, coriander, cumin and pepper, tossing well. Set aside to marinate while you prepare the other ingredients.
In another large bowl, add the sweet potato, carrot, dates or prunes, lemon zest, grated ginger if you like, cinnamon stick, cayenne and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine.
In a 5- to 7-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high. Add as many pieces of chicken as comfortably fit in the bottom of the pan without crowding, and brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer chicken pieces to a plate as they brown. Repeat with remaining chicken, adding more oil as needed.
Add leeks, a pinch of salt and more olive oil to the pan if it looks dry. Sauté leeks until golden and tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
Place half of the chicken in 1 layer on top of the leeks. Top with half of the sweet potato mixture, spreading it out evenly over the chicken. Repeat layering with the remaining chicken and sweet potato mixture. Pour orange juice into the pan.
Cover pot, and transfer to the oven. Braise, covered, until the chicken and vegetables are tender, 55 to 70 minutes, stirring the mixture after 30 minutes. Sprinkle with herbs, and serve.
Tip: Because of the long braising time needed to cook the root vegetables, it can be tricky to use chicken breasts because they're liable to overcook.