By Tina Wasserman
Tu B’Shevat is the celebration of the New Year for trees. This year it falls on Monday, Feb. 6. After the previous rainy season the trees were starting to bloom. The first tree to herald spring was the almond tree, and its fruit figured prominently in Jewish dishes.
In the 16th century, Kabbalists instituted the celebration of a Tu B’Shevat Seder which featured the seven species of agricultural products listed in the Bible. It is also a custom to eat one fruit that you haven’t eaten in a long time. Maybe that’s why my synagogue handed out bokser to eat. Not sure how it was eaten in the past but I can tell you that it could probably take a year to eat at the rate I was going in my childhood! By the way, today bokser is carob and we now use it as a substitute for chocolate.
Enjoy the following recipes as you celebrate the coming of spring in Israel.
Seven Species Muffins
How do you get all seven species from Israel into one dish? Well-respected nutritionist and blogger, Tori Avey, posted a recipe that I decided to adapt to make a great, healthy muffin to celebrate Tu B’Shevat. Enjoy!
- 5 large Medjool dates, pitted and diced
- 5 large dried figs, hard stems removed and diced
- 1¼ cups oat milk (almond milk or regular milk okay)
- 1 small 4-ounce container of unsweetened applesauce or ¼ cup homemade
- 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup barley flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 4-ounce container of pomegranate seeds or ¾ cup fresh seeds removed from the fruit
- ¾ cup raisins, golden or dark
- ½ cup dry roasted slivered almonds
- 2 tablespoons crystal sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon dry-roasted slivered almonds (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place muffin papers in 18 muffin cups or spray nonstick cooking spray into each muffin cup. Set aside.
2. Place the first 6 ingredients into a blender jar and blend until smooth and the consistency of fruit preserves. Empty contents into a 3-quart bowl.
3. Combine the next 5 ingredients in a 1-quart bowl and whisk together until the oil is completely incorporated into an emulsion.
4. In a third bowl combine the next 5 ingredients and then add the pomegranate seeds to the flour. Stir to coat the seeds with flour.
5. If the egg/oil mixture has separated, whisk to combine and then add to the fruit puree in the large bowl. Briefly stir to combine.
6. Add the dry ingredients to the liquid and stir just until the flour is almost gone.
7. Add the raisins and almonds and stir to combine.
8. Using a large ice cream scoop or a ¼-cup measuring cup, fill each muffin cup with the batter.
9. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with the sugar/cinnamon and nut blend and place in the oven.
10. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 18-25 minutes.
11. Remove from oven and, using a toothpick or knife, turn the muffins on their sides so that the bottoms will cool off and not become soggy.
12. When completely cool, store in a plastic bag or airtight container.
• Whenever a baked good contains fruit and/or spices it is best to wait an hour or so after baking before eating to allow the flavors to meld and be more prevalent.
• Coating bits of food like raisins or seeds with flour allows them to suspend throughout the batter rather than sink to the bottom during baking.
• I never change a recipe’s oven temperature for a convection oven. I just shorten the baking time. These muffins cooked in a convection oven for 18 minutes. All ovens are different and some convection ovens automatically reduce the temperature by 25 degrees so baking time might be longer than mine.
• Tori recommended a light olive oil. This oil is from olives that have been processed many times and treated with heat and chemicals to extract the last bit of flavor. I used extra-virgin but, if you think the flavor is too strong, you can use part olive oil and part vegetable oil. Both together will work.
Moshe’s Stuffed Figs
(Adapted for the home cook)
I ate at Moshe Basson’s Jerusalem restaurant Eucalyptus while attending an HUC-JIR board meeting. I had heard about his knowledge of biblical foods but was not prepared for the breadth and depth of his information. He is personable, relaxed (hard to believe for a man who has evaded an intifada against him), a great cook and an incredible teacher. Ten of us sat around a large round table while Moshe brought dish after dish to our table and explained about this vegetable and that herb. We were all so thrilled to have had the opportunity to experience Moshe’s expertise. After the meal, however, one fellow diner said that he couldn’t decide which he enjoyed more, the food on the table or the rapturous look on my face!
- 1 8- or 9-ounce package dried Calimyrna figs (about 24 figs)
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 small onions, about 6 ounces, finely diced
- 8 ounces boneless chicken thighs, finely diced
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons tamarind paste
- Additional water as needed
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
1. Place dried figs in a glass bowl and cover with 2 cups water. Microwave on high for 3 minutes and set aside while you make the filling.
2. Heat a 10-inch sauté pan over high heat for 20 seconds. Add the oil and heat it for another 10 seconds. Reduce the heat if the oil is beginning to smoke.
3. Add the diced onions to the pan and sauté the onion until golden brown.
4. Add the finely diced chicken thighs and HALF of all the spices to the onions. Sauté the chicken over medium-high heat until the chicken has lost its color and the spices are evenly distributed. Remove contents to a small mixing bowl to cool while you prepare the sauce.
5. Drain the figs, reserving the soaking water. Measure the liquid and add enough water to make a total of 2 cups.
6. Add the sauce ingredients to the used, unrinsed frying pan. Add the remaining HALF of the spices to the sauce and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir to dissolve the tamarind concentrate and cook until the mixture is smooth and slightly thickened. Set aside while you stuff figs.
7. Insert your forefinger into the opening at the top of the fig to enlarge the opening for stuffing.
8. Using your fingers, stuff the figs with the chicken mixture and place the figs in the sauce.
9. When all the stuffed figs are placed in the pan, turn the heat on and bring sauce to a boil. Cover pan, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
NOTE: Moshe suggests serving with rice or couscous.
Serves 4-8 people either as a main dish or as an appetizer portion.
• Calimyrna figs are Smyrna figs that were cultivated in California centuries ago. They are larger and best for this recipe.
• Although a food processor can be utilized to finely chop the chicken, I find it pulverizes it into a mass that is hard to separate when cooked. You could substitute ground turkey or veal for the filling and it would work well.
• Using the soaking liquid from the figs helps impart the fig essence to the sauce without having to overcook the figs to get the same result.
Poached Pears in Red Wine
Here is the perfect way to showcase grapes and wine to celebrate Tu B’Shevat.
- 1½ cups water
- Juice and zest of ½ lemon
- 1 cup red wine, preferably Zinfandel or Shiraz
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 3 medium D’Anjou pears or 4 small Seckel pears, peeled and halved if large
1. Place the water, lemon juice, zest, wine, sugar and vanilla in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes.
2. If the pears are small and you are keeping them whole, then use a long corer to remove the seeds and core from the bottom of the pear upward. Keep the stem intact on top. If you are using larger pears, cut the pears in half and remove the core with the seeds using a melon baller to scoop out the center of the core. As you finish preparing each pear, put it into the pan with the wine mixture.
3. Bring the pears and the liquid to a boil and then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until a knife easily pierces the fruit. Turn off the heat and allow the pears to soak until ready to use. Mixture may be refrigerated for up to a week.
4. Once the poaching pear is cold, you may proceed with the following sorbet recipe.
Spiced Pear Infused Wine Sorbet
- 2-3 cups poaching liquid from Poached Pears recipe
- 1 ice cream maker, preferably 1- to 2-quart size
1. Chill the poached pears in the wine poaching liquid for 2 or more hours or until liquid is quite cold.
2. Remove the pears from the liquid and set aside in a glass or plastic bowl.
3. Pour the liquid into the frozen container of a small ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s directions until a soft, but thoroughly frozen, mixture is formed. Store the sorbet in a sealed plastic container and serve when ready to use.
• I like to use D’Anjou pears because they feel less gritty on the teeth but any pear will do.
• If pears are very hard then it is best to let them ripen a few days, preferably in a brown paper bag. Carefully check every day so that they don’t overripen. When the stem end appears more pliable, then the pear is ready to poach.
• Alcohol will lower the freezing point of a liquid so that mixture will never get rock-hard. Sorbet will remain scoopable.
• If you don’t have an ice cream maker, freeze liquid in a tray and then use a fork to shave off portions. This is just as delicious.