Tu B’Shevat marks the beginning of spring in Israel. The season of pelting rains has reached its peak and the previously parched desert terrain has transformed into self-sustaining, vibrant land beginning to bud with new life. The trees have started to emerge from their deep winter slumber and begin their new fruit-bearing cycle.
To celebrate this miraculous occasion, many customs and traditions have emerged. For years, Tu B’Shevat –- which is often dubbed the Birthday of the Trees or the New Year for the Trees –- has been marked by planting a tree in Israel. In more recent times, many people have chosen to eat at least one of the seven species that grow in abundance in the land of Israel.
In the 16th century, kabbalists developed a ritual meal for the holiday modeled after the Passover seder. The traditional Tu B’Shevat seder, which has grown in popularity in recent years, usually incorporates the seven species as well as groups of fruits and nuts that are used symbolically in the seder — nuts with shells and fruits with inedible outsides (oranges, avocado, pomegranates), fruits with edible seeds (blueberries, strawberries, figs), fruits with inedible pits (peaches, plums, dates) as well as red and white wine or grape juice.
With growing environmental concerns filling our minds and hearts, Tu B’Shevat has taken on an additional role: an ecological call-to-action, a Jewish Arbor Day that not only celebrates the trees’ bounty this season, but protects future bounties.
This year, why not start your own tradition and host a Tu B’Shevat meal that celebrates many of these traditions. At your seder, brainstorm ideas on how everyone can work together to present a united front against the dangers plaguing our environment. The steps can be as simple as vowing to unplug appliances when you are not using them or more complex, such as starting your own organic compost heap.
And, because no proper Jewish gathering would be complete without a delicious feast, create a healthy meal inspired by the seven species. A dairy meal could start with a cheese platter featuring a beautifully firm and salty Israeli feta cheese (available in local markets including Trader Joe’s) served with organic grapes, figs and an array of Israeli olives. Pomegranate salad dressing adds a special touch to a fresh salad of grapes, some cooked barley and wheat berries over fresh greens. Feel free to add other tree fruits like apples and some berries. Date-infused and surprisingly healthy chocolate chip cookies add a sweet ending to your special meal.
1 pomegranate, seeded
2 tablespoon coconut palm sugar
2 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup fruity, extra-virgin olive oil
To seed a pomegranate, cut the fruit in half. With one hand, hold it cut side down over a large bowl in your clean sink and use the other hand to whack the outside peel with the back of a wooden spoon until the seeds fall into the bowl. The fruit can splatter red juice that stains, so wear an apron and keep the fruit low over the bowl. Puree 3/4 of the seeds from the pomegranate in a food processor, reserving the remainder of the seeds to sprinkle into your salad. Strain the juice and pulp through a fine mesh strainer into a small saucepan. Discard the white insides of the seeds that remain. Heat the juice and palm sugar over medium low, stirring occasionally until it simmers and the sugar has dissolved completely. Remove from the heat and cool. Whisk in the
remaining ingredients and serve over cool, crisp greens.
Chocolate Chip Chickpea Cookies
Don’t tell the kids, but this recipe is a healthy, higher protein cookie that is still delicious! It can be made gluten-free as indicated.
1 scant cup coconut palm sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup oil
1 large egg
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and pulsed in a food processor until there are small chunks
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup dates, chopped
2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oats (make sure they are gluten-free oats if necessary)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Line three baking sheets with parchment. In a large bowl, beat together on medium speed the palm sugar, applesauce and oil until the sugar is dissolved, then beat in the egg and vanilla. Add the chickpeas, chocolate chips and dates and mix to blend with a large spoon. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, oats, baking soda and salt until blended. Add the dry ingredients to the chickpea mixture. Place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Drop chilled dough by the teaspoon onto the baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Do not press down. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the bottom edges turn brown. Cool on the cookie sheet for 15 minutes before placing on a cooling rack