Honoring nature on Tu B’shevat


Once again, another Jewish holiday is creeping up on us and, again, I’ll learn the real way to celebrate it in Israel.

Tu B’Shevat (New Year for trees) begins on the evening of Jan. 15. Israelis will celebrate their appreciation of nature by planting trees and preparing feasts that include the Seven Species — wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates — as if this is something that isn’t done every day here.

In Israel, nature appreciation goes way beyond Tu B’Shevat. Resource conservation happens all year round, and it’s not limited to environmentalists and hippies. Everyone conserves resources. There is no other option.

While I do enjoy the occasional long shower, I’ve always considered myself to be careful when it comes to water usage, recycling, etc. But in Israel, I’m constantly reminded of how sloppy I’ve been. Growing up in America has led me to believe that my resource supply is endless. If resource conservation is the one habit I take away from my time in Israel, I will be satisfied.


On another note, I’m still getting used to the different seasonal produce here. Strawberries are in season, which is strange especially in light of the freak snow storm in Jerusalem a few weeks ago. There’s snow on the ground and strawberry carts are popping up everywhere. Can you imagine?
Winter couscous honors the holiday’s traditional seven species with wheat, dates and pomegranates, while allowing those of you who are stateside to honor the environment by sticking to seasonal winter produce of root vegetables. Hope you enjoy!

Winter Couscous
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, cut in large chunks
2 medium carrots, cut in large chunks
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut in large chunks
2 cups beets, peeled and cut in large chunks
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper (to taste)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon + 1 teaspoon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cups water
2 cups couscous
2 tablespoons tehina (sesame paste)
Juice of two medium oranges
Zest of one orange
1/2 cup chopped dates
Seeds of 1 medium pomegranate
1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
Handful of chopped parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees (preferably on bake convection setting). In a small bowl, mix together olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, coriander and cumin, In large bowl, toss vegetables, each vegetable in a little of the oil-and-spice mixture. Place vegetables, separately, on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Make sure there is plenty of space between the different types of veggies, no piling them on top of one another so that they can roast to crunchy perfection. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes until edges are golden. The onions may need to come out of the oven earlier than the other veggies, so check frequently to make sure they aren’t burning.
Meanwhile, bring 4 cups of salted water to boil. Add couscous, stir well and remove from heat. Cover pot tightly and let sit for 12 minutes. Varieties of couscous have different coking methods and time, so check the back of the package.

While couscous is cooking, prepare the dressing. Combine the tehina, orange juice and zest and chopped ates and stir thoroughly. Pour over roasted veggies and gently incorporate dressed veggies into couscous. Top with pumpkin seeds, pomegranate seeds and parsley. Serves six to eight.

Shaina Shealy is spending this year in Israel studying at Hebrew University as part of a graduate program sponsored by The George Washington University.

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