By Tina Wasserman
The temperature was frigid last week, and today it is sunny and in the high 60s. On view from my kitchen window is a large patch of green daffodil stalks playing their annual game of “chicken” with winter.
In Dallas, we always have warmer weather that is interrupted by a week or two of cold weather before spring really appears. Each year, we worry that those daffodils will be destroyed by the cold, and each year, their bright yellow heads show winter who is boss.
In Israel, it is the buds on the almond tree that play “dare” with cold winter weather. When the buds first appear, it is usually four months after Sukkot and time to celebrate the beginning of the spring growing season. This celebration is called Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish Arbor Day.
As children, we were encouraged to give money to JNF to plant trees in Israel, definitely a much-needed purchase in the 1950s to fill in the parched land of the new state. Today, we are encouraged to eat from the seven species of produce mentioned in the Torah. Although not mentioned in Deuteronomy, almonds also figure prominently in this celebration because they are the harbinger of spring.
Almonds are considered to be the oldest cultivated nut, dating back 10,000 years. Some believe that the first documentation of almond cultivation was in the Torah, Numbers 17:23: “…behold the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had budded, and brought forth buds and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.” In truth, only almonds and pistachio nuts are cited in the entire Torah.
Enjoy some of these recipes that incorporate almonds and celebrate the renewal of the land in Israel.
Kale, Mango, and Almond Salad with Honey Ginger Dressing
Kale has gained widespread popularity as a healthy alternative to iceberg or romaine lettuce. A local supermarket started selling a salad that I loved, but it was drenched in dressing, which made the caloric content prohibitive. Here is my delicious salad that you can dress with as much or little dressing as you like, and you can even use peaches or oranges if you don’t want to mess with the mangoes (although they are really worth it).
1 pound fresh kale or 10 ounces baby kale
1/3 cup dried sweetened cranberries or cherries
½ cup slivered almonds, roasted
1 ounce candied ginger, about ¼ cup slivered (optional)
Honey Ginger Dressing:
½ cup prepared mayonnaise
2 tablespoons wildflower or clover honey
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar or any light fruit vinegar (apple cider, pear, etc.)
1 tablespoon canola or corn oil
½ teaspoon powdered ginger
1. If using whole kale leaves, pull the leaves off the stems, then layer the leaves on a cutting board. Using a chef’s knife, cut thin strips of kale and place them in a 4-quart mixing bowl. You should have about 12 cups.
2. Carefully cut the mango in half using a 5-inch utility knife or a special mango cutter. Remove the peel and cut the mango into ½-inch cubes. Add the mango to the kale.
3. If using the candied ginger, carefully cut the chunks into slices, then into thin sticks using a paring knife. Add to the kale mixture. Add the roasted almonds, then refrigerate the salad until ready to serve.
4. To make the dressing, place the mayonnaise in a 1-quart mixing bowl. Using a bar whisk, whisk the mayonnaise until it is smooth.
5. Add the remaining ingredients to the mayonnaise and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.
6. When ready to serve, toss the salad with enough dressing to coat all of the ingredients but not make it soupy.
NOTE: Cooked chicken, salmon, or grilled tofu can be added to this salad for a main dish.
• Kale is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family and is a relative of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and bok choy. It is grown in Israel and has become very popular because scientists have discovered its importance in promoting good health.
• The mango tree is a distant relative of the cashew and pistachio trees, and its origins lie in southern India. Today, there are hundreds of mango varieties in the world. Shelly, Omer and the very popular Maya mango were developed in Israel over 60 years ago.
in Hoisin Sauce
Not what you expect for Tu B’Shevat? Think again. Jews have had a presence in China and Asia for over one thousand year, and this is a great way to incorporate almonds into your holiday celebration or anytime. This recipe was always a big hit in my cooking classes.
1 pound boneless chicken breast
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon Cream Sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 tablespoons oil, divided use
1 medium green pepper, cut into ½-inch cubes
8 water chestnuts, cut into quarters
¼ pound fresh mushrooms, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
¼ cup whole roasted almonds
1. Cut chicken into ½-inch cubes.
2. Place chicken in a large bowl and sprinkle with cornstarch. Toss lightly to coat evenly. Pour in the sherry and soy sauce, and toss again to coat well.
3. Place the above ingredients and the remaining ingredients within easy reach.
4. Set a 12-inch wok or 10-inch skillet over high heat for 30 seconds. Pour in a tablespoon of the oil, swirl it about in the pan and heat for another 30 seconds, turning the heat down to moderate if the oil begins to smoke.
5. Immediately add the green peppers, water chestnuts, mushrooms and salt, and stir-fry briskly for 2-3 minutes.
6. Scoop out the vegetables with a slotted spoon and set them on a plate.
7. Pour the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil into the pan, heat almost to the smoking point, and drop in the marinated chicken. Stir-fry over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes until the chicken turns white and firm.
8. Add the hoisin sauce, stir well with the chicken, then add the reserved vegetables. Cook one minute.
9. Add the almonds. Stir to heat them through, then transfer contents of wok to a heated platter and serve at once.
• When stir-frying in a wok, cut all the foods into similar shapes and sizes to facilitate the cooking process.
• Vegetables are often cooked separately from meat because they require a different amount of cooking time. The separation of foods also ensure that the flavor of the vegetables will be distinct from the flavor of the meat, imparting layers of flavors to the dish.
If you think that this is your Bubbe’s Mandelbrot, think again — unless Bubbe’s were very hard and dry. This recipe is probably the original form of biscotti that is very dry and very hard…but very good.
Jews were sea traders in the 16th century, and biscotti were popular because twice-baking dried out the biscotti and made them less likely to get moldy or soggy. Did Jewish bakers create biscotti of this type? Hard to say, but since almonds were brought from Western China by sea traders, and since Jewish cooks used almond meal extensively, it is very possible that this is the forerunner of Mandelbrot (almond bread).
3½ cups flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup finely ground almonds
½ cup toasted almonds, chopped into large pieces
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil, preferably corn oil
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
½ tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1. Combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, soda, salt and ground almonds in a 1-quart bowl and set aside.
2. Cream sugar and oil in a 2-quart bowl on high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, zest, vanilla and almond extract, and mix until thoroughly combined.
3. Stir in flour mixture and mix well. Add the toasted chopped almonds and combine.
4. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Divide dough into four portions. Lightly oil your hands and gently form each portion into a log 10 inches long and 2 inches wide. Place 2 logs on each prepared sheet. Gently shape the soft dough into a uniform log that is now probably 12 inches long.
5. Sprinkle the tops of the loaves with the cinnamon and sugar mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.
6. Remove the loaves from the oven. Let cool for 5 minutes. Slice each loaf crosswise into ½-inch cookies. Place cookies cut side up and bake for another 5 minutes. Turn slices over and bake for another 5 minutes. Cool and then store in airtight container for 2 weeks or freeze.
• The addition of cornstarch gives the cookie a dense, but smoother, consistency.
• Ground almonds and oil make this cookie very hard, which is perfect for dipping into hot coffee or tea.