Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Tsimmes

This dish of carrots cooked sweetly for a long period is a Jewish classic and there are probably a zillion ways to prepare it - every Jewish mother and grandmother has their own recipe, often handed down the family. As a child, I ate this sometimes at my grandparents' house to which we travelled once a month for a weekend feast, the whole family gathered round a long dining table. It was only years later that I actually had a go at making my own version.

The commonest way to prepare the basics is to cook the plain carrots alongside a beef brisket joint, simmering for ages, the meat then fished out to finish making the tsimmes and then bringing the meat and carrots together again on a serving platter. Delicious as this is, it's not practical for a solo diner, and anyway there are plenty of recipes for cooking tsimmes separately. Most versions involve simmering first then baking.

Sugar or honey is essential to boost the natural sweetness of the carrots and some people also add dried fruit - raisins or sultans, or perhaps some chopped apricots or prunes. Which way you go will depend on how sweet your tooth is. I like to keep it simple, though. In the absence of a large joint of brisket and half a dozen friends round to help you eat it, tsimmes still goes best with some sort of salty meat. Heresy, I know, but I like to pair it with a grilled gammon steak or bacon chop - a match made in heaven for my own palate.

 What you need:
250g carrots
1 very small onion
Unsalted butter
1/4 pint vegetable stock
1 heaped dessert spoonful light demerara sugar or honey
Lemon juice
1 heaped dessert spoonful ground almonds
1 egg, beaten
Black pepper

What to do:
Heat the oven to 180C. Grate the carrots very coarsely and chop the onion finely. Melt a knob of butter in a sauteuse and gently fry the onion until soft and starting to caramelise. Add the carrots, stock and sugar or honey, bring to the boil then turn the heat down and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Tip everything into a small oven-proof casserole. Grind in a little black pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice. Taste the liquid to check the balance of sweet and sour and adjust if needed. Stir through the almonds thoroughly. Now add the beaten egg and stir through again. Bake for 30 minutes.

Cook's tips: 
Keep the ingredients to a minimum. A pinch of ginger can pep up the tsimmes - traditionally this is the only spice acceptable to use. And while coriander is a popular partner for carrots, bringing it in here would mean it's no longer a tsimmes.

Use a good quality stock powder, such as Marigold vegetable bouillon which is much less salty than a stock cube, and don't make it too strong - a heaped teaspoon should be plenty for a quarter pint of stock.

Don't leave out the egg - a baked tsimmes should be set firm like a pudding and it needs the egg to bind it together. Be very quick beating it through so it doesn't start to scramble before you put the dish it in the oven.

Some recipes include potato or breadcrumbs for extra padding. I find potato only adds blandness. The breadcrumbs should be stirred through but you could sprinkle them over the top for a gratinée.