We’re smack-dab in the middle of the rainy season here in Israel. Our summers are hot and dry and much like Southern California, things go from golden brown to crispy rather quickly. We start praying for the early and late rains at the holiday of Sukkot, usually in late October. And we are rarely disappointed! We always get at least a sprinkle. The real rains come in November/December, and if we are fortunate, last until the Passover holiday in April. The hills and mountains and fields come alive again, and Israel begins to look more like Ireland, clothed in her beautiful bright green suit.
Tu b’Shvat is a non-Biblical, minor festival celebrated in January/February (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat) – the beginning of the agricultural cycle. In Biblical times, worshippers would bring their offerings of fruit to the Temple. Because the ground is now soft and pliant after soaking up all the rain, it is an optimal time for planting trees, hence the New Year for Trees (we were the first to commemorate an Arbor day or Earth Day). According to the ancient Jewish sages, from this day the fruits begin to flourish revealing their true potential, so these mystics and writers of the Talmud created a new tradition. These sages (in the mountain city of Tsfat, right up the road from us) created a Tu b’Shvat seder, a meal with a set order, much like a Passover seder. Fruits and grains associated with the Land of Israel are consumed along with special prayers and readings – and, of course, four cups of wine from white to rosé to red.
The Mizrachi (Middle Eastern) and Sephardic (Spanish) Jews celebrated this feast heartily from the Renaissance until modern day. For Ashkenazi (European) like me – well, not so much. In the depths of winter, when the ground is hard and frozen, who can plant? And who is eating fresh fruit? Tu b’Shvat was always a minor, minor, rather forgettable day, marked by sending money to the JNF to plant trees in the Holy Land in remembrance of a loved one. Living here in Israel has changed my mindset.
For one thing, it’s a time when all the citrus fruits are exploding off the trees. We are blessed to be renting a home with amazingly productive lemon, pomelo, grapefruit, mandarin and clementine trees, and I’ve been picking and preserving for weeks now! (Recipes to follow!!!) Between rainstorms, we go walking in the neighborhood park (that’s about as far as we’re allowed under lockdown) where I’ve been foraging for wild asparagus. Asparagus in the store is super expensive, with a small bunch running upwards of $12.00 for a tiny bunch. So this is the one time of year when we can totally enjoy roasted asparagus with a little olive oil and some grated lemon rind. I harvested enough to make a cream of asparagus soup last week.
We also have the most wonderful, huge concrete planters outside each window. I have each planter filled with different edible delights: kitchen herbs; edible flowers like rose geranium and lavender; and two garden boxes filled with different types of lettuces, which are going gangbusters right now. My husband’s favorite winter green is mâche (pronounced mosh) which I used to grow in my California garden. I brought the seeds with me when we moved. It has a light, sweet, slightly nutty flavor and is great in the salad below. I picked a pomelo off our tree, and assembled the ingredients for the whole thing in less than ten minutes. So here are a few recipes using our local produce to enjoy for Tu b”Shvat:
Mache Salad with Pomelo (serves 4)
~ 2 cups washed macho leaves ~ 1 large pomelo, peeled, seeded and segmented with pith removed ~ 1/3 cup bleu cheese crumbles ~ 1/4 cup roasted, salted pecan halves ~ 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (the best you can get) ~ 1 Tbsp dijon mustard ~ sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Wash and dry the mache leaves (you might have to separate the little root) and place in a serving bowl. Sprinkle the crumbled bleu cheese on top. Arrange half of the pomelo segments on top of the salad. Sprinkle with pecans. Just before serving, our the dressing over. This is so fresh and delicious, I could eat it all day!
Dressing: Squeeze the juice from the remaining half of the pomelo. Place in a small mixing bowl. Add the dijon mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper. Whisk until a creamy emulsion is reached and pour over the salad.
My grandmother and aunts (from the Polish/Ukrainian shtetl) had the tradition of making the most luxurious eingemacht. They used to serve it during the winter months through the Passover holidays. Eingemacht is a Yiddish word for which there is no real translation. It’s kind of a cross between a chutney and a a preserve or conserve often made with dried fruits (available in the winter) and root veggies like carrots and beets and onions, simmered in honey and spices. Sometimes it would have nuts added in as well. Bubbe used to serve it on warm challah bread, and would use it to fill rugelach, the hamentaschen pastry for the Purim holiday, or spread over matzoh brie (a matzoh and egg frittata). I remember she always had a large crystal jar filled with eingemacht on the table. This is my version-
Eingemacht (makes about 4 pint jars) pareve
Ingredients: ~ 1 pound apples, peeled. cored and chopped ~ 2 cups dried apricots, chopped ~ 2 large brown onions, chopped ~ 1/2 cup brown raisins ~ 1/2 cup large yellow raisins ~ 1 large red bell pepper, chopped ~ 1 cup apple cider vinegar ~ 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar ~ 2 cups honey ~ 2 cinnamon sticks ~ 3-4 garlic cloves, minced ~ 1 tsp each, ground cloves, allspice, coriander, ginger ~ (optional) 1 small red chile or 1/2 tsp dried hot, red pepper flakes ~ 1 orange, rind grated, juice squeezed
Put all the above ingredients in a large heavy-bottomed pot or stainless steel saucepan. (I love my LaCreuset dutch oven for this). Slowly, over medium-high stove, bring to a boil, stirring to mix thoroughly. Let boil for about five minutes, then reduce heat to a low flame. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, on low for about 2 hours, or until a wooden spoon drawn across the base of the pot leaves a thick trail. Make sure to stir so that the mixture doesn’t burn on the bottom. It should begin to thicken and look glossy. Ladle into hot, sterilized jars and seal. You can then process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes. Keeps 1 year in pantry. Refrigerate after opening.
Lemon Curd (makes 3 half-pint jars with some left over) dairy
I’ve played around with this recipe until I’ve come up with a smooth, creamy, lemony sweet spread that we love on warm scones or with challah. I mix it into my goat milk yogurt in the morning and top it all off with a teaspoon of halvah granola for crunch. I’ve also whipped up a fancy and easy dessert that looks like you’ve been slaving in the kitchen, but is simple to make, light and elegant – all I do is buy pre-made tart shells, spoon a tablespoon of the lemon curd in, and top with whipped cream and a mint leaf. It’s also wonderful on the Passover or Easter brunch table.
Ingredients: ~ 4 large lemons, scrubbed and dried ~ 6 eggs, beaten ~ 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, diced ~ 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
Finely grate the lemon rind and squeeze out all the juice, straining to remove pips. Place the rind (about 4 TBSP) and juice (about 1 1/3 cups) in a heatproof bowl (I use a pyrex bowl) which fits over a saucepan. Stir in the eggs, and add in the butter pieces and the sugar. Place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture becomes thick and glossy and coats the back of a spoon. Spoon into hat, sterilized jars. Seal and store in a cool, dark place. Use within three months. Refrigerate after opening.