Tu Bishvat is the perfect holiday for locavores, school kids and home cooks, alike. It’s a fruit-focused 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.