A growing tradition of seders and special meals to celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees, has increased awareness of the holiday.
Several food customs are associated with the holiday, which originally was used for setting the age of fruit trees for taxes and other purposes. One custom is to eat a new fruit of the season. Another focuses on consuming the “seven species,” foods mentioned in the Torah as products of Israel — wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Some customs include other fruits and nuts mentioned elsewhere in the Torah or associated with Israel.
The Tu B’Shevat seder custom started in the 16th century and includes fruits with distinct characteristics: an inedible covering (such as citrus, pomegranates and pineapples), an edible covering but a large pit (such as cherries, olives and carob), and completely edible or containing small seeds (such as grapes).
Some of these Tu B’Shevat traditions are reflected in these two recipes.
Chicken with Olives and Tangerines
11⁄2 cups seedless tangerine sections (such as satsuma)
2 Tbs. grape seed or olive oil
2 lbs. boneless chicken thighs, cut in 11⁄2-inch strips
2 cups chopped onion
2 tsp. finely chopped garlic
11⁄2 cups chopped fennel bulb
11⁄2 cups chopped red bell pepper
11⁄2 cups butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup water
1⁄4 tsp. cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. black pepper
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
2 Tbs. finely chopped fennel fronds (optional)
Remove any excess white pith or strings from the tangerine sections. Set aside. Heat oil in large fry or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Brown chicken strips, remove. Add onion and garlic, sauté until golden. Add fennel, red bell pepper and squash. Sauté 2 minutes. Add water, stir well and cover.
Lower heat to medium and let steam, stirring occasionally and adding more water as needed (do not let the pan go dry), until squash is almost cooked through. Remove lid and raise heat to medium-high.
Add cinnamon, pepper, salt and browned chicken and sauté until chicken is almost cooked through. Add olives and tangerines. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until chicken is done.
Garnish with chopped fennel fronds if desired. Serve on top of cooked bulghur, couscous or barley.
Cherry and Carob Cookies
Makes about 24-30 cookies
1 cup nonhydrogenated pareve shortening, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup unsweetened, plain applesauce
2 tsp. vanilla
3⁄4 cup apple juice
21⁄2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup carob chips
1⁄2 cup dried tart, pitted cherries (or dried cranberries)
1⁄2 cup dried, unsweetened flaked coconut
1⁄2 cup walnut pieces
Using an electric mixer, cream shortening and sugar. Stir in applesauce, vanilla and juice. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. With mixer on medium speed, pour a third of the flour mixture into the shortening mix, and mix until well combined. Repeat with remaining flour mixture.
Stir in carob, cherries, coconut and walnuts. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray cookie pans with oil spray. Roll batter into 11⁄2-inch balls. Place on greased baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between cookies. Bake until golden with lightly browned edges, 15-17 minutes. Let cool on baking pans for 3 minutes and then move to cooling rack. Let cool completely before eating.
Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. She blogs at www.clickblogappetit.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.