Tu Bishvat, the Jewish holiday of trees, begins on Sunday evening, February 5th. Also known as the New Year of the Trees, Tu Bishvat is a time to plant trees and admire nature, especially the beauty of trees. In Israel, blooming almond trees are considered a sign that the holiday has arrived, and almonds are a popular dish on Tu Bishvat menus.
Fruit platters are perfect to celebrate Tu Bishvat. Traditionally, dried fruits and nuts are served, as there used to be not much fresh fruit at this time of the year. Nowadays people use both fresh and dried fruits in Tu Bishvat cuisine, fruit platters and desserts.
In some communities it is customary to celebrate with a Tu Bishvat Seder, a meal of various fruits and wine. At a Tu Bishvat Seder at Shaarey Yerushalayim, a Sephardic synagogue in Los Angeles, we enjoyed a tasting of the seven species of the Land of Israel – wheat, barley (both represented by biscuits), grapes (represented by wine), figs (dried), pomegranate seeds, olives and dates. The lavish holiday display included exotic fruits 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 delicious. Serve sprinkled with granola, if desired. 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 (Korean), Asian, or European pears, peeled and sliced into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices
2 large eggs
1/2 cup cream
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
3 cups stale challah or French bread
About 3 tablespoons of dried cranberries
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 or 3 tablespoons granola or shredded granola cubes or bars (optional, for sprinkling)
powdered sugar (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish or spray with cooking spray.
2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup sugar and stir until combined. Add the pear slices in an even layer, leaving space between them to brown. Cook without stirring for 8 minutes until the fruit starts to caramelize. Gently turn slices with tongs and cook for a further 5 to 8 minutes until fruit and caramel are golden brown.
3. Prepare the custard by whisking together eggs, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, heavy cream, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt.
4. Spread the bread cubes in a prepared casserole dish. Pour the pudding mixture over the bread. Press to ensure all cubes are soaked. Add 2 tablespoons of dried cranberries.
5. Place the pear slices in a single layer on the bread mixture. Top with remaining caramel from the pan.
6. Bake for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp pine nuts.
7. Bake an additional 20 to 30 minutes or until completely set.
8. Serve warm, sprinkle with dried cranberries, pine nuts or granola and dust with powdered sugar if desired.
Almond cake with grapes
Handle these sweet buttery cakes with care. They are made primarily from almond flour and 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 flower 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 the oven to 400 degrees. Butter 12 cupcake liners with softened butter or spray with nonstick spray. Place them in a 12 cup muffin pan.
2. Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and salt and beat until fluffy. Add eggs and orange blossom water and beat until combined. Add orange zest and beat until combined.
3. In a small bowl, mix together almond flour and all-purpose flour. Stir into the butter mixture. Fold in 1 cup of halved grapes.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups and fill them about half full. Top with the remaining grape halves.
5. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of two or three of the cakes comes out clean.
6. Let cool about 15 minutes or until firm enough to touch. Take out of the pan. Carefully peel off the paper. 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 flavor of radicchio in this delicious salad. Crunchy apples, crunchy kohlrabi and radishes as well as tender avocado and edamame ensure varied 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 chopped shallot
1/4 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon paprika 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
For the salad:
1 cup grated radicchio
1 cup chopped romaine lettuce
1 cup thin quarter slices of peeled turnip greens
1 cup shelled edamame (green soybeans)
3/4 cup thin half-sliced peeled carrots
1 1/2 cups diced red skin apples
1 ripe avocado, diced
1/2 cup dried cherries
3/4 cup red walnuts or other walnuts
1 cup thin ½ slices watermelon radishes or other radishes
1. For the dressing: In a small bowl, combine the mustard, shallot, and orange juice and stir until smooth. Stir in the sesame oil, paprika oil, tamari, and maple syrup until combined. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
2. For salad: Combine radicchio and romaine in a shallow bowl. Top with kohlrabi, edamame, carrots and apples. Throw together carefully. Top with avocado, cherries and walnuts. Place half slices of watermelon and radish around the rim of the bowl
3. Microwave dressing on high for 1 minute to slightly warm; or gently heat in a small saucepan over low heat. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve.
Carrot and kohlrabi coleslaw with almonds and raisins
Yield: 2 or 3 servings
Almonds, raisins, sesame seeds and ginger dressing liven up this root vegetable and kale salad. The salad is based on a recipe from 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 ginger root
1 tablespoon of honey
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon paprika 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 into thin strips (julienne).
1/2 kohlrabi, peeled and grated
1/2 turnip, peeled and grated
1 small parsnip, peeled and cut into thin strips
1 small apple, peeled and cut into thin strips
1/2 bunch kale leaves, stemmed and finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1/2 bunch coriander, roughly chopped
1/3 cup raisins, dried cherries, or a mixture of both
1/4 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon sesame
1. Dressing: Whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, orange juice, ginger, honey, sesame oil, and hot pepper oil in a small bowl. Slowly stir in olive oil in a thin stream until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.
2. For the coleslaw: In a large bowl, combine the carrots, turnip greens, beets, parsnips, apple, kale, cilantro, and most of the raisins. Drizzle the dressing over the vegetables and mix gently. Add salt to taste.
3. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter. Served with remaining raisins, almonds, chives and sesame.
Tu Bishvat fruit and nut platter
Use any fresh and dried fruits and nuts to prepare a Tu Bishvat platter. One fruit that we usually feature on our plates is dates, a popular 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, toasted, or coated in chocolate
4 to 8 sliced fresh fruits such as pears or apples or oranges or tangerines pieces or slices
1. Place the dates, dried fruit and nuts on a platter.
2. Cut fresh fruit just before serving to keep apple and pear slices from browning and citrus fruit chunks from drying out.
3. Arrange on a plate and enjoy!
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes and Feast from the Mideast.