I had not even heard of Tu Bishvat until college when I attended a seder celebrating the holiday. And while it may sound a bit crunchy to celebrate a holiday for the trees, nuts and fruit, it comes at a time in our lives as modern Jews when appreciating our natural resources and the environment is more important than ever.
You can host a full-on seder, or also just take a moment to appreciate and acknowledge our relationship to the land. You can even make a batch of fruit-filled sangria, though my daughter and I decided to try our hand this year at chewy granola bars packed with dried fruit and almonds in honor of Tu Bishvat. We chose to use a combination of dried cherries, blueberries and raisins, though you could use any combo of dried fruit that you like.
This recipe was inspired by this version from Alton Brown.
2 cups oats
½ cup raw sunflower seeds
¼ cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp butter
½ cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup ground flax seed
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup mixed dried fruit such as apricots, raisins, cranberries, cherries, blueberries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8 square pan.
Spread the oats and sunflower seeds out on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring 1-2 times.
Meanwhile heat butter, brown sugar, honey and vanilla in a small saucepan over medium heat until brown sugar has completely melted.
Once the oats and sunflower seeds are done toasting, remove from oven and reduce heat to 300 degrees. Place oats, sunflower seeds, flax seed, cinnamon, salt, almonds and dried fruit into a large bowl. Add melted butter-sugar mixture and combine until completely coated.
Pour mixture into the prepared pan and spread out evenly using an offset spatula. This step is important to ensuring even granola bars.
Bake for 25 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Cut into bars and store in an airtight container.
Tu Bishvat is the perfect holiday for locavores, school kids and home cooks, alike. It’s a fruit-focsued holiday with plenty of room for creative cooking and connecting more deeply with the land as Spring approaches.
School kids love the field trips to plant trees while home cooks and chefs dream up new ideas for integrating the seven edible species mentioned in the Torah:
When M. returned from a quick trip to visit his parents in Israel, he brought back a tightly wrapped disc of plump, moist figs in his backpack. I immediately turned to Mollie Katzen’s latest vegetarian book The Heart of the Plate for inspiration on how to integrate these beauties into a dish where figs would be the stars while I stay true to eating within the growing season here in the Northeast.
5-6 ripe figs (dried are fine)
1-2 Tbsp fresh lemon or lime
3 ounces parmesan cheese
1 loaf ciabatta or sourdough baguette (fresh or day-old)
1 large or 2 small bunches lacinato kale (1/2 pound total)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, cut in half and then into 1/4 inch thick slices
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
lemon or lime wedges
Stem the figs and slice them lengthwise into about 5 wedges apiece. Place them in a medium dish and sprinkle with lemon or line juice. Toss gently to coat and set aside.
Shave strips of parmesan from the block of cheese, using a sturdy vegetable peeler. Lovely cheese ribbons will ensue. Set aside.
Slice the bread into approximately a dozen thin (as in almost see-through) slices. Larger slices from ciabatta can be halved for easier handling and consumption. Set aside.
Hold each kale leaf by the stem and use a very sharp knife to release the leaf from the stem (it's OK to leave the narrow part of the stem that blends into the leaf farther up).
Make a pile of leaves, roll them tightly, and cut crosswise into thin strips. Transfer to a large bowl of cold water and swish around to clean. Spin very dry and transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.
Place a large deep skillet over medium heat for about a minute. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the onion and 1/8 teaspoon of the salt.
Cook, stirring and/or shaking the pan a little, for 2-3 minutes, until the onion becomes shiny and is still this side of tender.
Transfer the hot onion to the kale in the bowl and stir everything around for a bit, then return the entire bowlful of kale-plus-onion to the pan. Stir-fry quickly - for just a minute or so - over medium-high heat until the kale turns an even deeper shade of green and wilts slightly.
Return it all to the bowl, tossing in the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt. You can add some of the parmesan ribbons at this point, if you like them to melt in slightly.
Remove the pan from the heat, wait a minute or two, then add the vinegar to the pan (stand back - it will sizzle), swirl it around, and pour what's left of it onto the kale. (It will most likely evaporate.)
Without bothering to clean the pan, return it to the stove over medium heat. Wait another minute, then add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and swirl to coat the pan.
Add the bread slices in a single layer and grill on each side until lightly golden and perfectly crisp.
Transfer the toasts to the kale, along with the figs and all their juice.
Toss quickly (no need to get things uniform), adding the remaining cheese and walnuts as you go.
Serve right away, passing a pepper mill over the salad and offering wedges of lemon or lime to be squeezed over the figs.
Happy Tu Bishvat! Today we celebrate the birthday of the trees by eating fruit, nuts, grains, and other things that grow from the ground. Some people like to plant a tree on Tu Bishvat, but personally, I just like to eat cake. For instance, this morning I had a piece of our scandalously delicious Banana Cake for Tu Bishvat. As some people have pointed out, bananas don’t grow on trees, but this cake is also packed with nuts, dates, figs and raisins, and I added some chocolate to my version, too. I cannot stress enough how unbelievably good this is. Definitely the best Tu Bishvat dish I’ve ever made.
But if you’re still looking, we have a lemon lavender cake I can recommend, and a lemon and almond semolina cake that will knock your socks off. Combine any of these with a hot cup of tea and you are guaranteed a sweet and happy Tu Bishvat.
Perhaps you’re one of the lucky people who went to a Tu Bishvat seder last night, where you drank delicious wine and sangria, maybe got to eat fruit salad, orange and maple baked tofu, granola, Israeli salad, or persimmon cupcakes, all which are yummy Tu Bishvat foods. There’s still time to make any of these recipes today if you missed them yesterday.
Or if you’re looking for a very low maintenance way to celebrate, how about just stopping by your local grocery and picking up a nice bag of trail mix. As you enjoy the dried fruits and nuts, you can think about all of the great things trees bring to your life. L’chaim! To trees!