The holiday of trees brings feasts to the table
Tu b’Shvat, the 15th of Shevat on the Jewish calendar, was celebrated on Saturday, Feb. 11. The holiday marking the beginning of a “new year” for trees is the time when the earliest blooming trees in Israel begin a new fruit-bearing cycle.
The custom for Tu b’Shvat is to eat fruit, particularly from the “Shivat Haminim” (Seven Species): wheat, barley, olive, grapes, pomegranate, fig, and date honey. These seven plants and fruits sustained the Israelites in ancient times, and were described in the Torah as being plentiful in the Land of Israel. Sounds like a healthy diet to me — and easy to prepare since we no longer grind our own wheat or press our own olive oil.
In the good old days, Tu b’Shvat also meant collecting pennies in our blue Jewish National Fund (JNF) boxes to plant trees in Israel. (Note: JNF still accepts those contributions to plant trees.) And today Israel is the only country in the world that has more trees now than it did a century ago.
Relying on the Shivat Haminim as the basis for Tu b’Shvat menus means we can delight our taste buds with fresh, light, and flavorful dishes for different appetites and diets: vegan, paleo, vegetarian, and even gluten-free. Adding modern-day twists to the recipes of our ancestors can serve to contemporize our plates and our palettes. Try these recipes — one sweet and one savory — and maybe they will become year-round favorites:
Vegetable and Barley Casserole
2 T oil
2 sliced onions
1/2 cup rinsed barley
2 green peppers, sliced
2 carrots, cut into chunks
2 peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes (can use canned)
1 sliced zucchini, with skin
3/4 pound green beans
1/2 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
2 cups raw cauliflower
2 T lemon juice
3 T dry white wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 t salt
1 1/2 t paprika
1 1/2 t ground pepper
1/3 cup fresh chop parsley
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Saute onions in oil, 8-10 minutes. Remove onions from pan.
Combine barley and one cup water in a three-quart greased pan. Mix the vegetables (except onions) and place on top of the barley. Top with the sautéed onions.
Combine lemon juice, wine, garlic, spices, and parsley and pour over casserole. Bake covered 1 1/2 hours.
Raspberry Crumble Bars
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 t pure vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 t kosher salt
12 oz. raspberry jam
2/3 cups plain granola
3 T honey
1/4 cup sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Using a standing mixer, combine butter and add vanilla.
Sift the flour and salt together. With the mixer on low, add flour to the butter mixture until it almost becomes a ball.
Place 2/3 of the dough evenly on the bottom of a greased nine-inch square baking pan and about 1/4-inch up the sides. Spread jam on top of the dough.
Combine the granola with the honey and mix with your hands into the remaining third of the dough. Break the dough into small bits and sprinkle it on top of the jam, covering most of the surface. Sprinkle almonds on top.
Bake for 45 minutes until lightly browned. Cool completely and cut into bars.
Sprinkle lightly with confectioners sugar before serving.