Day 206: Vegetarian Tsimmes ♥

'The Minimalist' Mark Bittman was in St Louis last night to promote his new book, The Best Recipes in the World, another tome of 700+ pages like his bestselling and my oft-cooked-from How to Cook Everything.

It was a small group of foodies gathered round, not a bite in sight, but I found him funny, cerebral and real, the kind of person you'd love to share a table with, even if he knew not one whit about food!

My thoughts on the new book after scanning maybe 100 pages, yes, in the vegetable section:
  • If you like How to Cook Everything and the Wednesday columns in the New York Times, you'll likely appreciate the new book too
    • It's classic Minimalist style with short ingredient lists and shortcut techniques
    • It's packed with substitution ideas -- this is also hallmark Minimalist and last night he quoted Jacques Pepin about kitchen artistry, 'You never step in the same river twice'
  • The recipes seem somewhat adventurous but not the least bit 'weird'
    • I 'study' classic-cuisine cookbooks but I rarely cook from them
    • This feels like one I could cook from every day
  • Most if not nearly all ingredients seem likely to be available in a middlin'-to-decent supermarket
    • Bittman says that so-called 'international' ingredients have been become dramatically more mainstream even in the last couple of years
Notable comments:
  • His take on the world's best cuisines: France, Italy, India, China and, the one he thinks might surprise, Mexico
  • About why he writes for the Times, despite it 'not paying well': It keeps him honest, keeps him cooking, even finding kitchens on the road Thoughts on the food blogging world: He pays minimalist attention, citing workload and a fear that if he were to start reading blogs OR writing his own, that obsessive-compulsive tendencies would take over (can anyone ELSE relate?)
  • While he signed my book, I mentioned making his Tomato Ginger Jam last summer using a bottle of chopped ginger -- to my surprise, he hadn't done this so I guess, yes, I really have "out-minimalized" the Very Minimalist himself!
So tonight, straight from the pages of the new cookbook, is what Mark Bittman calls Vegetarian Tsimmes, an Eastern European vegetable and fruit stew that's pronounced like this. This version is sweet potatoes and carrots and dried fruit and ... prunes, because yes, this is Prune Blogging Thursday over at David Lebowitz.

I figured on it being perfect for Thanksgiving tables. And it would be, yes. That said: It is sweet, in fact, sweet enough for the dessert table at a large potluck gathering -- I'm even tempted to mash some of the leftovers for a holiday pie.

I've never had tsimmes before and thus wouldn't have known there are meat versions except for the name, but I did find it crying out for meat, pork, specifically -- that's another idea for the leftovers

All in all, this was a grand introduction to Mark Bittman's new book -- and I do look forward to poring over and cooking from its many pages. And from the number of sticky notes already in place, I'd say that'll happen sooner than later.

Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Time to table: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Makes 9 cups

1 cup pitted prunes, about 6 ounces
1 cup dried cranberries, about 6 ounces (the recipe specifies dried pears)
1 cup dried figs, about 6 ounces (the recipe specifies chopped dates)
(the recipe also specified a cup of dried apricots which I didn't have and might not have used anyway since I was erring on the side of vegetables versus fruit)
Warm water to cover

1 pound carrots, peeled, cut in diagonal chunks
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cut in chunks (the recipe specified only 1 pound, again, I was erring toward more vegetables than fruit)
1 pound onions, diced

1 teaspoon ground cloves (the recipe specified a pinch, if you don't like cloves, use that, otherwise a teaspoon seemed right)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne
Salt and pepper to taste

Juice of 1/2 a lemon (oh my! I just now realized the lemon and honey were left out! hmm ... after tasting, I'd say the lemon is a good addition, the honey would only make it still sweeter)
1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon butter

Fill a Dutch oven with water (enough to cover the vegetables) and bring to a boil. Salt well. (The recipe didn't specify salt but I sure thought it'd have helped.)

Soak the fruit in warm water. (Or hmm, brandy? Yes, that'd be something.)

Prep the carrots, sweet potatoes and onion and cook nearly all the way. (The recipe says to parboil. I've had bad experiences with dishes like these where they take forever to cook in the oven if they're not mostly cooked beforehand. And again, I was thinking of Thanksgiving gatherings when oven availability can be iffy. So ...)

Preheat the oven to 325F. Scoop out 2 cups of the liquid and save. Drain the vegetables and return to the Dutch oven. Stir in the fruit (including the liquid), the remaining ingredients and about 1/2 cup of the potato/carrot liquid. (The recipe says a cup, this left an inch of liquid in the bottom.) Transfer to a well-buttered large casserole dish and top with dots of butter. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes (the recipe said 30 but that didn't seem enough, it also said to check occasionally and add more cooking liquid if the dish started to dry out, this didn't happen tonight). Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes to brown a little.

Per Serving: 103 Cal (12% from Fat, 6% from Protein, 82% from Carb); 2 g Protein; 2 g Tot Fat; 1 g Sat Fat; 23 g Carb; 4 g Fiber; 42 mg Calcium; 1 mg Iron; 24 mg Sodium; 3 mg Cholesterol, Weight Watchers 1 point
Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. Oh dear, now I know I really am channeling you. I just left a comment on Kitchen Parade saying that I had bought an immersion blender at Costco tonight (and you mentioned them in the soup recipe). Then I come here and find you talking about this cookbook, which I ALSO bought at Costco tonight! You know what they say about great minds thinking alike. I would have loved to have met Mark Bittman, and I had read about the cookbook on a couple of blogs. Looks great to me too.

  2. Thanks for the report, especially on the Q&A, which is often the most interesting part of author talks.

    "His [Mark Bittman's] take on the world's best cuisines: France, Italy, India, China and, the one he thinks might surprise, Mexico"

    My guess is that he thinks that Mexico might surprise because most Americans (including me) have not seen the diversity and complexity of Mexican cuisine. My exposure is limited to cookbooks by Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy, and Bayless' excellent PBS show, but even they reveal a wonderous variety not even hinted at by Mexican restaurants in the U.S. The reasons for this include the economics of the restaurant business, unadventurousness of U.S. palates, and the difficultly in obtaining Mexican ingredients in the U.S. Perhaps someday the restaurant scene will evolve to provide some Mexico's variety, but until then travel and cookbooks will be our connection to the true cuisine of Mexico.

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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe, whether a current recipe or a long-ago favorite. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. ~ Alanna