“For the Lord, your G-d, is bringing your into a good country, a land with streams of water, with springs and fountains welling up in the hills and valleys; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, of olive trees and (date) honey; a land where you will always have bread and lack nothing.” (D’Varim)Deuteronomy 8:8
I absolutely love this Scripture!! It is so true!! Israel is exactly as this is described – from the warm springs of Park HaMayanot/Sachne and Tiberias to the cold waterfalls of Banias and Ein Gedi. So beautiful! And the area around our town in the Galilee is surrounded by grove sand groves and groves of olive trees and pomegranates, ripe for the picking! And the figs…don’t even get me started!!! There are seven species of plants indigenous to Israel, each with their own Biblical and spiritual characteristics. They are fig, date, barley, wheat, pomegranate, grape and olive.
We are fast approaching the Fall Feasts, the Jewish holidays of Rosh HaShonnah (the New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Covering of Sins/Atonement); Sukkot (Tabernacles & Harvest); Shimeni Artzeret (Great Rejoicing); and Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah). The stores are all brightly decorated with holiday sales on clothes and home goods. The outdoor markets and grocery stores are full of late summer produce, and I am thinking RECIPES!!!! Today, I’ll incorporate the Seven Species into each recipe, giving the significance of each.
FIGS (Tay’ ah neem)
Did you know that there are over 70 varieties of figs???? Green, brown, red, purple, yellow – small and large. I didn’t until last year when John and I went wild fig picking in the Golan. Israeli figs ripen only at this time of year, late summer, and are best picked at sunrise before the bees come! There are both male and female fig trees, and the buds never open, but go on directly to the fruit. Some species are very seedy, others more fleshy, some are dry, others moist – and a couple varieties are actually poisonous in their alkalinity. Picking these can cause terrible itchy rashes, so we learned to take along gloves and a lemon to rub on our skin afterwards. I use the figs mostly to make my Tamar Gourmet Fig & Port Wine Conserves, but we absolutely devour them roasted on the grill or in the oven!!! They are so succulent, sweet, tender and delicious. Served on top a warm cheese or in a salad – yum!!!
Archaeologists here have unearthed ancient clay pots with pressed, dried figs – 3000 years old!!! They are said to be used to help with constipation, high cholesterol, and warts, and from Biblical times have been written of as a true aphrodisiac. There is a legend that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was actually a fig. The Hebrew word for fig, te’enah, is very closely related to the word for trouble, ta’anah. This is one kind of temptation that would be totally hard for me to resist!!! Adam & Eve, put fig leaves together to cover their nakedness after their great disobedience. The fig is spiritually symbolic of the virtue of patience because they take so darn long to ripen!!! And the fig tree is often used as a metaphor for Israel. With that said, I present an amazing, and easy to assemble salad-
CARAMELIZED FIG SALAD (Serves 4. Pareve or Chalavi)
- 8-12 ripe figs
- 2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Sea Salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 2 heads Endive
- Blue or Gorgonzola Cheese, crumbled
- Candied pecans
2 tsp Balsamic Vinegar (best quality for sweetness)
Wash and quarter the figs, checking thoroughly inside for any unwanted crawlies. Place the quartered figs on a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Wrap up well and put on the grill or into a 400*F/220*C oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Vent steam, and let cool. Do NOT throw out juices!!!!
Arrange washed endive leaves on a platter. If dairy meal, sprinkle the blue or gorgonzola crumbles. Lay the cooled roasted figs on top. Sprinkle the pecans onto the salad, and drizzle the fig/oil juice over that. Sparingly drizzle the Balsamic vinegar over top. Amazing!!!
OLIVES (Zay teem’)
Here in the Galilee the olives grow EVERYWHERE!!! Rows and rows! EVERYWHERE!!!!! It is a source of food, wood, cosmetics, light. The olive tree grows in the harshest of environments and lives for centuries!! The listed, gnarled tree and its oil are mentioned a lot in the Scriptures. The dove bringing good news to Noah carried an olive leaf in his beak. It is now the international symbol for peace. Kings and priests were anointed with pure olive oil – as in Tehilleem, (Psalm 133) – ‘Behold how good and pleasant is the dwelling of brothers in unity. Like the precious oil upon the head running down upon the beard of Aaron, running down over his garments, so the dew of Mt. Hermon descends upon the mountains of Zion.‘ Jesus spent his last night on earth in agony in the Garden of Olive Trees in Jerusalem, directly across from the Temple Mount. The symbol of modern-day Israel is a menorah flanked by olive branches (Zechariah 4:2-6). And olive leaves signifying the desire for peace decorate the insignia of the Israeli Defense Forces.
Because next month, I will be participating in the olive harvest, pressing, curing, and making olive oil, I’ll save the recipes for a later date…
POMEGRANATES (Ree moe neem’)
Pomegranates!! So beautiful – make great centerpieces!!! So healthy – in this season I drink my fresh squeezed pomegranate & orange juice every day for the antioxidants. Prevalent everywhere here in nature and in art! And so spiritual!!! I have learned to love them even more since I’ve been here.
We used to do homeschool lessons with the pomegranate. The pomegranate has 365 arils or seeds inside. Count them – and there are 365 laws in the Bible. Silver pomegranates adorned the hem of the robe of the High Priest. They were actually tiny tinkling pomegranate bells. The High Priest could only enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur each year to make atonement on behalf of Israel. If he was not perfectly pure, he would die – so a rope was attached to his waist. If the pomegranates stopped tinkling, it was a sign that something went wrong… Josephus Flavius described the oil lamps illuminating the inner colonnade if the Holy Temple. They were in the shape of pomegranates. If you cut the fruit in half across its equator, the Star of David is visible. The top of the fruit has a royal six-pointed crown that also forms a Star of David. The juice stains scarlet red – remember the saving power of the red blood on the lintels of the door of the Israelites escaping the angel of death in Exodus; the red pitch that covered both Noah’s ark and the baby basket of Moses; the scarlet thread that hung from Rahav’s window in Joshua…. lots and lots of meaning there. Especially at Yom Kippur.
So, I present you now with a fabulous great-for-company dish that is borrowed from the Jewish people of Northern Africa. A one-pot wonder, great in a crockpot for Shabbat, easy to make… I adjust the spices way down for my family, so be alert to that. Serve with Israeli Couscous or rice… and bread for sopping up the sauce!
NORTH AFRICAN CHICKEN STEW (serves 4-6. Basari, but can omit chicken & sub veg broth for vegetarians)
- 1 pound (1/2 kg) boneless skinless chicken, cut into bite sized bits
- 2 cups chickpeas, canned or cooked
- 1/2 cup dates, cut into slices
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- 1 tsp cumin
- 3/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp coriander powder
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 purple onion, cut into bite sizes
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
- 5 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 red bell pepper, cut bite sized
- 1 chipotle or ancho chili, minced (can omit if too hot)
- 4 carrots. peeled and cut up
- 1 cup broth (chicken or veg)
- 1 cup pomegranate juice, concentrate
- 3 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 Tbsp Silan (date syrup) or honey
- 1 juiced lemon plus the zest
- 1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro
- 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
- 2 Tbsp chopped pistachios
Mix the dry spices together in a small bowl. Coat the chicken pieces in the spices. In a large skillet, heat the oil and add the spiced chicken mixture. Brown on all sides. Set aside. In same pan, heat oil and sauce’ the onion, garlic, bell pepper, carrots, ginger & chili about 6 minutes. Add chicken back to skillet along with (canned or cooked) chickpeas. Stir in broth and pomegranate juice, honey or silan, and tomato paste. Bring to small boil, then turn way down to simmer until mixture thickens. In crockpot, I set on high 4 hours or low 6-8 hours.
Remove to serving bowl and top with sliced dates, pomegranate arils, pistachios, and fresh cilantro. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on top and add a dash of lemon zest as well. Fragrant and intensely flavorful meal!!
GRAPES (Ah nah veem’)
There is a song I used to love from waaaay back in my childhood. It was an Israeli song about the coming year in Israel. Despite all the hardships faced in the past year, next year was sure to be sweet – peaceful and relaxing. “Od tireh, od tireh, cama tov yee’hee’yeh” – how sweet it will be. We’ll sit on the patio at sunset with a big platter of freshly picked, cold, sweet red grapes. Today, I live the song… of course grapes are made into the sweet, holy Kiddush wine, but I’ve recently tried something new. You MUST try this one!! Easy, yet elegant and bursting with color and flavor! Serve it as a a pareve (neither meat nor dairy) dessert at any meal, or over a warmed brie with crackers. Oh – don’t forget that bottle of wine!!!!
- 1 cup red, seedless (or concord!!!!) grapes
- 1 tbsp honey or silan
- 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 tsp finely minced lavender leaves or rosemary)
- Sprinkling of freshly ground sea salt
Sooooo easy peasy!!! Just combine all ingredients and dump onto a piece of aluminum foil formed into a well sealed packet. Roast in the oven 220*C/400* F for 10 minutes. Pour over ice cream. Over sponge cake. Over warm goat cheese or Brie. Or just enjoy as is…
WHEAT ( Khee tah’)
Wheat is the absolute staple life. We use it to make bread. According to my friends in the Mystical City of Tsfat, wheat teaches us many spiritual lessons. It represents our ability to change and improve, a great lesson for this holy tie of year. According to Jewish tradition, the word “Adam” has two meanings: taken from the soil (ah dah mah’) – and man (likened to the divine adahmeh l’elyon)created in the image and likeness of G-d. There are two sides of human nature – the pure, the divine, and the sinful. The first side of the soul wishes to contribute to society, to act selflessly out of unconditional love. To love G-d and neighbor. The other side, the sinful nature (yetzer ha rah) is totally selfish, prone to sin. There is always an internal struggle over the two natures. We must learn to live our lives continually dying to self, choosing truth and good and right. Not easy at all. But in dying to ourselves, we produce much fruit. All of our actions are a reflection of our innermost being. What actions do you express?
The next recipe uses cracked wheat in a traditional Israeli cold salad, tabbouleh. With the addition of grilled veggies, and either chicken strips or feta cheese crumbles (not both), this makes a hearty meal. It will be one I serve in our Sukkah in a few weeks, to be sure!
TABBOULEH WITH A TWIST
- 1/2 pound (250 grams)cracked wheat (cook according to package directions)
- 1 cup chopped, fresh mint
- 1 cup chopped fresh flat leaf (Italian) parsley
- 1 lemon, freshly squeezed
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt
- 1 small purple eggplant
- 2 large zucchinis
- 1 purple onion.halved along the equator
- 1 whole garlic
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 cup feta crumbles (optional)
- 1 grilled seasoned chicken breast in strips (optional)
Cook cracked wheat according to package directions. Rinse, drain, let cool.
Brush sliced veggies with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill or oven roast until nice and tender (this includes whole unpeeled garlic). I find the grilling method lends an incomparable layer of depth of taste and smokiness.
In large serving bowl, combine the cracked wheat, mint, parsley, 1/4 cup olive oil, squeezed juice from lemon, salt and pepper. Add warm veggies. Squeeze the soft cloves of garlic from their skins. Toss and serve, chilled. If desired, you can dress this up with the addition of either crumbled feta cheese or chicken strips.
I’ve saved the date palm, the Tamar, for last. It is the Hebrew name I was given when I was born. I LOVE my name!!!! Tamar (pronounced Tah mahr’ – NOT Tay’marr!!) I love it’s deep meaning. From Tehillim, the Psalms -number 92: the righteous person will flourish like a date palm. It is a beautiful song we sing at the Shabbat table, and a beautiful dance. I love the image of the date palm, growing strong and stately in the barren desert land. Tall, thin, graceful, it bends in severe windstorms without breaking from stress like other, heavier trees.
And the fruit it produces is sweet, sticky, like caramel. The honey mentioned in the Scriptures was most likely the syrup extracted from the dates, Silan. At least this is what the archaeologists and anthropologists are now saying. I love to use this product! Very healthy and you only need a little to sweeten.
Date palms have been growing in Israel for thousands of years. Bedouins still feed ground date pits to their old, toothless camels who can no longer chew. The pits are rife with vitamins and nutrients. Fibers from the palm fronds are used to weave baskets and make ropes, mats, even sandals!! The fronds were used to make thatched roofs for houses, to build tabernacles, and to wave in praise of a passing King. Like the fig, the date palm comes in male and female.
Palms are labor intensive to be productive. When Max was in Mechina, he used to prune the sharp fronds in the early spring.
The female plant often has to be fertilized by hand with pollen from the male tree to produce fruit. Up and down ladders, all by hand. Because it is fairly salt tolerant, it grows in the desert and especially around the Dead Sea and Gaza areas. It can thrive where few other plants can. In the late summer, nets are cast over the hanging bunches of dates as they ripen. Everything is done by hand. After the sugar cane was brought to Europe by the Crusaders (who ripped up large swaths of Israeli palms and planted sugar cane), the dates & silan waned in popularity. The fresh dates are usually bright yellow or red in color and can be found attached to their stalks in bunches at the shouk. Most people are familiar with the sun-dried dates, brown and plump, glistening with stickiness.
Anyway, we just returned from a vacay in Scotland, where fudge is all the rage. Except it’s not like American fudge. It’s more of a caramel. So I found and made experiments using dates to make this scrumptious treat. It’s a British style fudge, or American style caramel – Israeli style! Easy! No cooking involved!
DATE CARAMEL FUDGE
- 1 cup dates (Medjoul are the best!!!!), pitted
- 1/2 cup tahineh (sesame seed paste)
- 2 Tbsp coconut oil
- 1 tsp pure vanilla or vanilla bean paste
- Sea salt
In a food processor, or in a bowl using an immersion blender (that’s what I did), combine the PITTED dates, tahineh, oil and vanilla. Blend until a thick, creamy paste is formed. Spread out in a parchment lined baking dish. Press down. Scatter sea salt on top. Put in fridge or freezer until hardened (fridge about 2 hours; freezer about 30-45 minutes). Cut into small, bite-sized squares, which can be wrapped individually in waxed paper.