Tu Bishvat, the Jewish Holiday of Trees, begins on Sunday evening, Feb. 5. Also known as the New Year of Trees, Tu Bishvat is a time for tree planting and admiring nature, especially the beauty of trees. In Israel blossoming almond trees are considered a sign that the holiday has arrived, and almonds are a favorite item on Tu Bishvat menus.
Fruit platters are perfect for celebrating Tu Bishvat. Traditionally dried fruits and nuts are served because in the old days there wasn’t much fresh fruit at this time of year. Today people include both fresh and dried fruit in Tu Bishvat cooking, fruit platters and desserts.
In some communities it’s the custom to celebrate with a Tu Bishvat seder, a meal featuring different kinds of fruits and wine. At a Tu Bishvat seder at Shaarey Yerushalayim, a Los Angeles Sephardic synagogue, we enjoyed a tasting of the Seven Species of the Land of Israel — wheat, barley (both represented by cookies), grapes (represented by wine), figs (dried), pomegranate arils, olives and dates. The lavish holiday display included exotic fruit such as rambutan, dragon fruit and guava as well as freshly roasted chestnuts.
Pear Bread Pudding with Dried Cranberries
Caramelized pear slices make this pudding luscious. If you like, serve it sprinkled with granola. This dessert is based on a recipe from Melissa’s Produce.
Yield: 4 servings
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds Butterscotch Pears (Korean pears), Asian pears or European pears, peeled and cut in slices 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick
2 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
3 cups cubes of stale challah or French bread
About 3 tablespoons dried cranberries
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 or 3 tablespoons granola or crushed granola-type cubes or bars (optional, for sprinkling)
Powdered sugar (optional)
1.Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a square 8-inch baking dish or spray it with cooking spray.
2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup sugar and stir until combined. Add pear slices in an even layer, leaving space between them so they can brown. Cook, without stirring, for 8 minutes until fruit begins to caramelize. Turn slices carefully with tongs and cook for 5 to 8 minutes longer until fruit and caramel are golden brown.
3. Prepare custard by whisking together eggs, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, cream, milk, vanilla, cinnamon and salt.
4. Spread bread cubes in prepared baking dish. Pour custard mixture over bread. Press to make sure all cubes are soaked. Add 2 tablespoons dried cranberries.
5. Set pear slices on bread mixture in one layer. Top with remaining caramel from skillet.
6. Bake for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons pine nuts.
7. Bake for 20 to 30 more minutes or until fully set.
8. Serve warm, sprinkled with dried cranberries, pine nuts or granola and dusted with powdered sugar if desired.
Almond Cakes with Grapes
Handle these sweet buttery cakes gently. Made with mostly almond flour, they are delicate in texture. This dessert is based on a recipe from Gemma Stafford’s “Bigger Bolder Baking.”
Yield: 12 small cakes
1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon orange blossom water or almond extract
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 cup almond flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups halved red grapes, divided
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter 12 cupcake liners with soft butter or spray them with nonstick spray. Put them in a 12-cup muffin pan.
2. With a hand-held or stand mixer, beat butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs and orange blossom water and beat until combined. Add orange zest and beat until blended.
3. In a small bowl, mix almond flour and all-purpose flour. Stir into butter mixture. Fold in 1 cup of halved grapes.
4. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling them about half full. Top with remaining grape halves.
5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center of two or three of the cakes comes out clean.
6. Let cool for about 15 minutes, or until firm enough to handle. Remove from pan. Peel off paper gently. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Radicchio Salad with Dried Cherries, Walnuts and Blood Orange Dressing
Sweet cherries and maple-orange dressing beautifully balance the assertive taste of the radicchio in this tasty salad. Crunchy apples, crisp kohlrabi and radishes, and tender avocado and edamame contribute a variety of textures. This salad is based on a recipe from Nancy Eisman’s blog, Plant Based 411.
Yield: 2 to 4 servings
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1/4 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper oil, or to taste (optional)
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup, or to taste
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup shredded radicchio
1 cup chopped romaine lettuce
1 cup thin quarter-slices peeled kohlrabi
1 cup shelled edamame (green soy beans)
3/4 cup thin half-slices peeled carrots
1 1/2 cups diced red-skinned apples
1 ripe avocado, diced
1/2 cup dried cherries
3/4 cup red walnuts or other walnuts
1 cup thin half-slices watermelon radishes or other radishes
1. For dressing: In a small bowl combine mustard, shallot and orange juice and whisk until smooth. Whisk in sesame oil, hot pepper oil, tamari and maple syrup until blended. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
2. For salad: Mix radicchio and romaine in a shallow bowl. Top with kohlrabi, edamame, carrots and apples. Gently toss together. Top with avocado, cherries and walnuts. Arrange watermelon radish half slices around edge of bowl
3. Microwave dressing on High for 1 minute to warm it slightly; or heat it gently in a small saucepan over low heat. Drizzle dressing over salad and serve.
Carrot Kohlrabi Slaw with Almonds and Raisins
Yield: 2 or 3 servings
Almonds, raisins, sesame seeds and ginger dressing liven up this root vegetable and kale slaw. The salad is based on a recipe in “The Snowy Cabin Cookbook” by Marnie Hanel and Jen Stevenson.
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon grated gingerroot
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper oil, or to taste (optional)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 carrots (about 1/4 pound), peeled and cut in thin strips (julienne)
1/2 kohlrabi.peeled and grated
1/2 turnip, peeled and grated
1 small parsnip, peeled and cut in thin strips
1 small apple, peeled and cut in thin strips
1/2 bunch kale leaves, stemmed and finely chopped (abut 1 cup)
1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup raisins, dried cherries, or a mixture of both
1/4 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon minced chives
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1. Dressing: Whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, orange juice, ginger, honey, sesame oil and hot pepper oil in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil in a thin stream until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.
2. To make the slaw: Toss together the carrots, kohlrabi, turnip, parsnip, apple, kale, cilantro and most of raisins in a large bowl. Drizzle dressing over vegetables and gently toss to combine. Add salt to taste.
3. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter. Served topped with remaining raisins, almonds, chives and sesame seeds.
Tu Bishvat Fruit and Nut Platter
Use whatever fresh and dried fruits and nuts you like to make a Tu Bishvat platter. One fruit we usually include on our platter is dates, a favorite fruit in Israel. For a festive touch, decorate your platter or table with fresh flowers.
Yield: 4 servings
8 Medjool or other dates or coconut date rolls, or 1 cup dried fruit such as raisins, cherries or apricots
1 cup almonds, walnuts or other nuts —in shells or shelled, roasted, or chocolate coated
4 to 8 sliced fresh fruits such as pears or apples, or orange or tangerine segments or slices
1. Put the dates, dried fruits and nuts on a platter.
2. Cut fresh fruit shortly before serving so that apple and pear slices won’t turn brown and citrus fruit segments won’t become dry.
3. Arrange on a serving plate and enjoy!
Faye Levy is the author of “1,000 Jewish Recipes” and of “Feast from the Mideast.”
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