Among the descriptions of the Land of Israel in the Torah is: “A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey.” (Deuteronomy 8:8)
These five fruits — the vines refer to grapes, the honey to dates — and two grains are the Shivat Haminim, the Seven Species of the Land of Israel, perhaps the only place where these diverse species grow naturally in close proximity to one another. The kabbalists explain a deeper significance, with each fruit and grain corresponding to one of the seven sefirot (divine attributes) said to be possessed by every soul, as follows: wheat-kindness, barley-severity, grapes-harmony, figs-perseverance, pomegranates-humility, olives-foundation, dates-royalty.
These staples were eaten by our ancestors in biblical times in the Land of Israel, providing nutrients for the sustaining of life. Today, figs, olives, pomegranates, wheat, and dates are common ingredients in Israeli cuisine. While the more recent increase in olive oil consumption is due to the widespread recognition of its nutritional virtues, in the 12th century, Maimonides believed that olive oil was beneficial to the digestive system.
Since the technology for pickling and salting was unknown in ancient times, the olive was used solely for its oil, which was used in the anointing of kings, prophets, priests, and ritual items in the Temple. The dove brought Noah an olive leaf to show that the flood waters had begun to abate, so it became a symbol of peace or the yearning for peace through the ages. To symbolize this hope, the State of Israel chose olive leaves around a seven-branched menorah as its emblem.
The Seven Species are also prominent components of Tu b’Shvat seders, marking reverence for God’s bounty of nature as we celebrate the New Year of the Trees, which this year falls on Jan. 30-31.
MANDARIN ORANGE OLIVE OIL CAKE
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup whole milk
2 Tbsps. unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. (or more if preferred) mandarin orange zest
6 Tbsps. mandarin juice (approximately 6 mandarins)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
(You can use clementines or another variety of orange instead of the mandarins.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray loaf pan with nonstick spray. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, milk, butter, vanilla, zest, and only four tablespoons of the mandarin juice; set aside.
Beat the sugar and eggs with an electric mixer on medium-high two-three minutes, until light and fluffy.
Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture and the milk mixture alternately, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and mixing well between additions. (The batter will be thin.)
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake 60-70 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 30 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and remaining two tablespoons mandarin juice in a small bowl; whisk until smooth.
Drizzle glaze over the cooled cake; let set before
SEVEN SPECIES COUSCOUS
1 1/2 cups couscous (not “Israeli” couscous)
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup yellow raisins
1 cup chickpeas
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 small or medium red onion, diced
1/3 cup olive oil (or more)
1 1/2 tsps. lime juice
2 Tbsps. honey (regular or date)
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
1 pinch chili powder
2 stalks scallions, chopped
fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
Soak raisins in two cups hot water until softened, 10-15 minutes; drain.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over moderate heat. Add couscous and toast the grains, stirring or shaking the pan frequently, until grains become brown and fragrant. Transfer from skillet.
Add almonds to the hot dry skillet and toast them, stirring frequently. Transfer from skillet.
Bring the stock to a boil; add the couscous and stir gently just to mix.
Cover the pan, immediately remove from the heat; allow to stand about five minutes or until couscous is tender.
Fluff the grains with a fork. Mix in olive oil, lime juice, and honey.
Add the almonds, raisins, bell pepper, chickpeas, red onion, cilantro, and spices; toss. Sprinkle scallions on top prior to serving.