Home February 2017 Tu B’Shvat

Tu B’Shvat

0217cookingFarmers are neither sowing nor reaping right now, so why is Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for Trees, celebrated in winter?

“The holiday began as a way to calculate the age of trees in order to tax the prior year’s harvest and predict the yield of the coming one,” writes Amelia Saltsman in “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen” (Sterling Epicure, $29.95). “The passages in Leviticus are specific: no food is to be harvested during the first three years of the tree’s life, a fruit offering of thanks is to be given in the fourth, and not until the fifth year are we to reap the benefits. Today’s careful farmer will tell you this is sound advice for the health of our orchards, for it allows the tree’s energy to go first to establishing strong roots.”

Tu B’Shvat (the 15th day of the month of Shvat), which falls this year on February 10-11, is celebrated in Israel with picnics and the planting of trees. Since the seventies, the spirit of the holiday has been expanded to include increased ecological awareness, an everyday, not just a holiday, concern. According to aish.com, Israel planted over 260 million trees in the last 50 years and is a world leader in solar energy and water conservation.

“Holiday foods honor the fruits of the earth, tree, and vine,” writes Saltsman, especially the seven species of the bible: figs, dates, pomegranates, olives, grapes (or raisins), wheat and barley. Some communities hold a Tu B’Shvat Seder, a custom established by Kabbalists of the 17th Century, and special haggadim have been written for this purpose.

Wheat and raisins combine with other fruits of the earth in Saltsman’s Roasted Roots. “This warming vegetarian stew is also delicious made with farro, spelt, barley or quinoa,” she notes. “Take advantage of all the available beautiful colors of carrots and beets.”

The so-called “Mediterranean Diet” with its emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, affords us much opportunity to enjoy the fruits of the earth. Joyce Goldstein, who appeared recently at the Irvine JCC as part of their chef series, has traveled throughout the Mediterranean and wrote a comprehensive cookbook/guide to the cuisines of this diverse area: “The New Mediterranean Jewish Table” (University of California Press, $39.95).

“There were no good cooks in my Ashkenazi family,” she revealed. “Vegetables were cooked until they were gray. Fortunately for me both my parents worked, so we ate out a lot. I discovered there was really good food out there; I just wasn’t getting it at home.”

Later she lived in Italy and traveled throughout the Mediterranean. “I decided that was the way I wanted to eat for the rest of my life,” she said.

In 1984 Goldstein opened Square One in San Francisco, “the first restaurant in the country that covered all the Mediterranean. I traveled all over the Mediterranean for research. I sought out Jewish neighborhoods in Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy, traveled throughout the Mahgreb—Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt—and the Arab countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. These distinct cuisines are often labeled ‘Sephardic,’ but that is a mistake. Each country has its own spice palate. “

Jews living in the Mediterranean had more contact with their gentile neighbors than Ashkenazi Jews did in Eastern Europe, she explained, and adjusted the local recipes according to the kosher laws. “Geography is destiny. For Ashkenazi Jews in Romania or Russia there was not a great assortment of vegetables and fruits. But in the Mediterranean there is a whole other palate to play with.”
Roasted Roots and
their Greens with
Wheat Berries and Horseradish Cream

Serves 8 to 10

Red beets will turn the dish magenta. Add them just before serving.

4 cups cooked wheat berries (from 2 cups raw)

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 to 3 bunches beats with greens attached, 1 1/2 pounds total

1 bunch small turnips with greens attached, about 1 pound

10 medium carrots, about 1 pound

2 onions

2 cloves garlic, finally chopped

1/2 cup raisins

1  bay leaf

1 to 2 cups vegetable stock or 1 cup canned diluted with 1 cup water

1 to 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

Horseradish cream:

1/2 cup crème fraîche or plain Greek yogurt

3 to 4 tablespoons prepared  horseradish

1 lemon

Kosher salt

1 Preheat oven to 400°F.

2 Heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil in small pot. Stir in cumin, coriander, 1 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds pepper; heat on low until oil shimmers.

3 Cut leafy tops off beets and turnips, leaving 1 inch stem attached, and reserve tops. Scrub beats well. Cut larger beets into halves or quarters. Toss beets in shallow baking pan with about 1 tablespoon of oil mixture; turn beets cut side down. Cover with foil; roast until almost tender, about 30 minutes. Remove foil; continue roasting until tender and browned in places, about 10 minutes more.

4 Cut turnips into halves or quarters. Cut carrots crosswise into 2- to 3-inch pieces. Cut very fat carrots in half lengthwise. Cut each onion into eight wedges. Toss turnips, carrots, and onions with remaining oil mixture in large shallow baking pan (or two). Roast uncovered until nicely browned, 30 to 40 minutes.

5 Horseradish cream: In small bowl whisk crème fraîche and horseradish. Stir in squeeze of lemon and pinch salt. Cover; refrigerate until serving.

6 Cut away and discard excess stems from beet and turnip greens, cut greens crosswise into strips 1 inch wide.

7 In large wide pot, heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Stir in garlic, wait 30 seconds; add greens and raisins. Cook until greens are wilted, 2 to 3 minutes (add greens in batches, if necessary). Add wheat berries, roasted vegetables, bay leaf and 1 cup stock; season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat about 10 minutes, adding remaining stock as needed for moisture. Stir in vinegar to taste. Ladle into bowls. Top with a little horseradish cream and serve.

Source: “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen” by Amelia Saltsman

Persian Chicken with Pomegranate and Walnut Sauce

Serves 4

Find pomegranate molasses in a well-stocked supermarket, a Middle Eastern store or online.

6 tablespoons olive oil

4 chicken thighs and 4 drumsticks; 8 chicken thighs; or 1 broiler chicken, about 2 1/2 pounds, cut into eighths

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3 yellow onions, chopped (about 4 cups)

1/2 cup pomegranate molasses

1/2 cup tomato sauce

2 cups walnuts, toasted and chopped

About 1 1/2 cups chicken broth

Fresh lemon juice and sugar as needed for sweet-tart balance

Pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional)

1 Warm 4 tablespoons of the oil in large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add chicken pieces and fry, turning as needed and sprinkling with salt, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon, until lightly colored on all sides. Transfer to plate.

2 Warm remaining 2 tablespoons oil in stewpot over low heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and tender, about 15 minutes. Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon; cook for a minute or two. Add pomegranate molasses, tomato sauce, walnuts, and 1 1/2 cups broth. Simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes. If sauce is too thick, add a bit more broth. Add chicken to the sauce, cover, and simmer until chicken is tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. If too sweet, add lemon juice. If too tart, add sugar to taste. Serve hot garnished with pomegranate seeds.

Source: “The New Mediterranean Jewish Table” by Joyce Goldstein

Jlife food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.

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