Fruitful Offerings From Israel For Tu Bi’Shvat
Janna Gur recently visited Toronto, Canada and provided a sneak preview of her magnificent new cookbook, The Book of New Israeli Food (Schocken 2008) for Tu bi’Shvat for the Jewish National Fund. Born and raised in the former Soviet Union, Janna Gur immigrated to Israel in 1974. She now lives in Tel Aviv and is the founder and chief editor of Al Hashulchan Gastronomic Monthly (On the Table), the leading Israeli food and wine magazine.
The Book of New Israeli Food (Schocken 2008) illustrates the sumptuous color, culinary diversity and history of today’s Israeli cuisine. The book offers a unique culinary experience for every occasion, richly spiced and imbued with cross-cultural flavors. It is enriched by Eilon Paz’s vibrantly colored photographs, along with short narratives about significant aspects of Israel’s cuisine, such as the generous and unique Israeli breakfast (which grew out of the needs of Kibbutz life), locally produced cheeses that rival those of Europe and a dramatic renaissance of wine culture in this ancient land.
Janna Gur shares her passion for the new Israeli food and the integrity of using pure Israeli ingredients. In her intriguing introduction to The Book of New Israeli Food, she describes Israeli food as a product of diverse cultures. The Jews of the Diaspora, settling in a homeland that was new to them, brought their varied cuisines to the table and integrated additional ingredients and ideas from their Arab neighbors.
Janna’s delicious, easy-to-follow recipes represent these influences and include some creative interpretations of classics by celebrated Israeli chefs including Beetroot and Pomegranate Salad, Fish Falafel in Spicy Harissa Mayonnaise and Homemade Shawarma. You’ll also find interesting recipes for Jerusalem Mixed Grill, Traditional Chopped Liver as well as Chocolate and Halva Coffeecake.
Here is an excerpt from Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Food about Tu bi’Shvat which falls on February 9, 2009 this year, along with some special recipes featuring fruits to celebrate the New Year for the Trees.
“Originally not a festival at all, Tu bi’Shvat was merely a date on the Jewish calendar, literally ‘the 15th day of Shvat.’ This was the date on which the age of trees was used for the purposes of tithing and taxing. Thus, in Judaica sources it came to be known as the New Year for the Trees. In Biblical times, Tu bi’Shvat was the day farmers brought the first fruits of their trees to the Temple in Jerusalem. When the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish People were exiled from The Land of Israel, Tu bi’Shvat lost much of its original significance, only to be rediscovered in the Middle Ages by Jewish mystics who imbued it with deeper symbolic meaning.
The Tu bi’Shvat Seder Meal was established by the Kabbalists of Safed, modeled after the Passover Seder and featuring the seven species of the Land of Israel: wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olive oil and dates, the staples of the Biblical Period...Jews all over the world marked the day by eating fruits of the Land of Israel, mainly dried ones like figs and dates, raisins and almonds…As far as food is concerned – every Jewish holiday must have some culinary aspect – Israelis still feast on dried fruit, even though fresh fruits abound even at the height of winter.”
Norene Gilletz is a cookbook author, cooking teacher and food consultant based in Toronto, Canada. Her latest book is NORENE’S HEALTHY KITCHEN: Eat YOUR Way to Good Health (Whitecap). For information about her cookbooks, cooking demonstrations and culinary services, call 416-226-2466 or visit her website at http://www.gourmania.com
FIGS STUFFED WITH BULGUR AND CRANBERRY SALAD
Figs, fresh or dried, with their sweet luscious flesh and firm skin, are perfect for stuffing. Here is a light healthy dish to enjoy.
10 fresh figs
Pomegranate concentrate, for serving
100 g (3 1/2 oz) bulgur wheat
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped coarsely
1 cup carrots, grated coarsely
2 – 3 Tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 Tbsp sesame seeds, roasted
3 Tbsp pecans, chopped
2 Tbsp pomegranate concentrate
Note: Pomegranate concentrate (also known as pomegranate syrup) is available in Middle-Eastern stores. If you can’t find it, boil pomegranate juice until it reduces to a syrupy consistency.
1. Soak the bulgur wheat in water for 4 – 5 hours, until it swells up and softens. Or, add half a cup of water to the wheat and cook in a microwave oven for 3 – 4 minutes until the bulgur softens and absorbs the water. Allow to cool.
2. Mix the bulgur with the other salad ingredients. The preparation up to this point may be done in advance and the salad kept in the refrigerator.
3. Halve the figs and scoop out some of the flesh, which you can add to the salad. Place 2 fig halves on each plate, heap on the salad, sprinkle with pomegranate concentrate and serve.
CHICKEN CASSEROLE WITH DRIED FRUIT ON A BED OF COUSCOUS
Inspired by Moroccan tagine cooking, this dish contains modern additions: wine, balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. Like the Moroccan original, it is served over a bed of couscous, which lovingly absorbs the rich sauce. Chicken is considered an “everyday” food, but this dish is fit for the most festive occasion.
12 chicken drumsticks
6 whole, small red onions, peeled
12 pieces (each 4-5 cm/2 inches long) of Jerusalem artichoke, peeled
250 g (9 oz) dried figs
200 g (7 oz) prunes
200 g (7 oz) dried apricots
1/2 cup oil
2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp brown sugar
3 Tbsp honey
1/2 cup soy sauce
5 cloves garlic, chopped
3 sticks cinnamon
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 level tsp turmeric
1 Tbsp cumin seeds, crushed
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups dry red wine
1/2 kg (1 lb 2 oz) instant couscous
1/2 cup walnuts, roasted
Note from Norene: Jerusalem artichoke is not truly an artichoke but a variety of sunflower, sometimes known as sunchoke. With its lumpy brown skin, it strongly resembles ginger root. The white flesh of this root vegetable is nutty, sweet and crunchy. It can be eaten raw or cooked. If you can’t find it, replace with parsnips or turnips, cut in chunks.
1. Mix all the ingredients for the marinade.
2. Arrange the chicken, onions, Jerusalem artichoke and dried fruit in a baking dish and pour over the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 3 hours, up to 24 hours.
3. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F).
4. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes or until the chicken turns shiny and brown. Baste the chicken occasionally with the liquid from the bottom of the pan. The dish up to this point may be prepared in advance and later heated in the oven.
5. Before serving, prepare instant couscous as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
6. Arrange the chicken casserole and sauce over a mound of couscous, sprinkle the walnuts on top and serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6
TU BI’SHVAT CAKE
Lots and lots of dried fruits and nuts and just a little bit of dough to hold them all together. The choice of fruit is all yours, the more the merrier. Just remember to combine different colors to make the cake more attractive. This dense, juicy, not overly sweet cake will keep for a long time.
60 g/2 oz (7 Tbsp) flour
60 g/2 oz (7 Tbsp) sugar
200 g (7 oz) assorted dried fruits (prunes, apricots, raisins, figs, papaya, cranberries)
200 g (7 oz) assorted nuts (walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Small pinch of ground cloves
1. Preheat oven to 150 degrees C (300 degrees F).
2. Mix flour, sugar, eggs and spices.
3. Chop larger dried fruits (apricots, prunes, papaya) coarsely. Add them with the rest of the fruits and nuts to the dough and mix thoroughly.
4. Transfer to a greased loaf pan and bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the cake is a deep golden-brown.
5. Cool completely and slice very thin with a bread knife, but only what you plan to serve. The unsliced cake keeps better.
Makes 1 loaf pan
Note: There is no oil in this cake.
CHOCOLATE AND DRIED FRUIT PETIT FOURS
Delicious sweets prepared in under five minutes.
200 g (7 oz) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
60 g (2 oz) butter
300 g (10 oz) assorted dried fruits and nuts (raisins, figs and apricots; walnuts, hazelnuts and pecans), chopped finely
1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or in a microwave oven. Stir well until smooth.
2. Mix the melted chocolate with the dried fruits and nuts.
3. Ladle 2 to 3 teaspoons of the mixture into small paper baking cups and freeze for 1/2 hour before serving.
Makes 26 petit fours
DRIED FRUIT COMPOTE
Simple, refreshing and delicious, this is the traditional ending to a rich Shabbat dinner or any other festive meal. Feel free to alter the ratio of the fruits according to personal preference. Remember to go easy on the apple rings as they swell considerably during cooking.
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup prunes, with pits (to maintain the shape)
1/2 cup dried apple rings
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
Half a lemon
1. Put the ingredients in a large saucepan. Add water to twice the level of the fruit.
2. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook for about 30 minutes. Adjust the seasonings, adding sugar if you like it sweeter.
3. Refrigerate and serve well chilled.
Serves 6 to 8