kosher kitchen

Celebrating Tu B’Shevat with fun and meaning


Tu B’Shevat [this year on Wednesday, Jan. 31] is a wonderful, fun holiday that celebrates the birthday of the trees. It’s always meant that spring would be coming soon and that I could plant a tree to celebrate the birthday of one of my favorite plants.

When I was a kid, we had two huge weeping willow trees on the side lot of my house. Those trees seemed hundreds of feet high and many feet wide. The vine-like branches hung to the ground at least 5 feet from the huge trunk. The donut-shaped space under the leaves was my favorite place to play. I didn’t even mind the Japanese Beetles that occasionally made their home with me and I explored their green black bodies as I watched them eat the long, slender leaves.

One year, my father announced that the trees were sick and that, to avoid them crushing our house, they had to be removed. I cried. I was 9 and wanted my trees to continue to provide my place to read, write my stories and write and imagine. I needed the lullaby of the branches’ gentle rustle to help me fall asleep on summer nights. Sadly, the trees came down and the man who did the deed showed me the rotted insides and told my father we were lucky that they didn’t destroy our house.

That winter, as Tu B’Sh’vat arrived, I came home from Hebrew School and announced that we had to plant new trees. I decided we would plant apple trees as a birthday gift to my beloved willows. Despite the fact that our house was right on a busy thoroughfare, my dad planted three apple trees where the two willows had stood before. Five years later, we gathered enough apples to make two pies. I was ecstatic. Though these were not my beloved willows, they were beautiful, healthy trees. Each year, we marked their birthdays on Tu B’Shevat.

Tu B’Shevat is a holiday to celebrate the bounty of the earth and the trees that give us so much, including the very air we breathe. We owe them — and our precious earth —our care and respect.

There is a lovely seder that is performed for Tu B’Sh’vat. During the seder, four different kinds of juices and, traditionally, 15 different kinds of fruit are eaten. It is fun to work with your children to find the different kinds and colors of fruit juices and fruits for this ritual. Let them add their own touches to the holiday by making simple fruit and dried fruit treats. Some easy recipes for children to make are baked apples stuffed with dried fruits and nuts, and dried apricots stuffed with almonds and dipped in chocolate. Enjoy the holiday … and remember to plant a tree!. 

Breakfast with Almost all the Species (Pareve or Dairy)

1 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup raisins

1 cup puffed barley cereal

2 cups what flakes or small shredded wheat

1 cup oat flakes, or rolled oats

1 cup dried apricots, chopped

1 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/4 cup shredded or flaked coconut

3 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses

1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup, dark amber

2 cups plain or vanilla yogurt or non-dairy almond milk yogurt

Place the first 10 ingredients in a bowl and toss to mix. Place the pomegranate molasses and the maple syrup in a small bowl and whisk to blend. Spoon some yogurt onto a glass mug or bowl and top with some of the fruit/cereal and nut mixture. Drizzle with the pomegranate sauce. Repeat for a second layer. Makes about 4 “sundaes” with the cereal mixture left over for another treat.

Mushroom Onion Barley Kugel (Pareve or Meat)

Freezes well and is really delicious

1 cup pearl barley

2 cups water

12 to 14 ounces mushrooms, sliced button, or mixed

2 large onions, diced

1 leek, abut 4-5 inches, white part only, chopped

2 stalks celery, diced

1 carrot, finely chopped

2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

2 to 3 Tbsp. canola oil

2 cups vegetable broth or Pareve chicken broth or chicken broth or stock

1/4 cup flour

salt and pepper to taste

Place the water and barley in a large pot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 60- 75 minutes, adding more water of needed, until the barley is chewy, but not hard. Drain, cover, and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet and add the oil. Add the onions and leek and sauté until deep golden, about 5-9 minutes or so. Add the celery and carrot and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms give off their juices. Stir constantly for about 4 to 5 minutes until most of the liquid is reabsorbed. Add half the stock to the pan and mix to blend. Reduce heat to low.

Pour the remaining half of the broth into a small bowl and add the flour. Whisk until well blended and lump-free and pour over the vegetables. Increase heat to medium, stir well and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly to thicken slightly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat.

Add the cooked barley to the mixture and mix well. Grease a 9X13 glass or ceramic baking dish, and pour the barley mixture into the dish. Spread evenly and bake at 375 degrees for about 30 to 45 minutes, until golden. Serves 8 to 12.

Simple Pomegranate Dressing (Pareve)

3 Tbsp. Pomegranate Molasses

3 Tbsp. pure pomegranate juice

2-3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar or white balsamic vinegar

1-2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard, to taste

1-2 Tbsp. honey, to taste

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil or Canola oil or a mixture

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients, except the oil in a container with a tight fitting jar. Add the oil and shake vigorously to emulsify. Makes about 1 cup.

Date-Apricot-Fig Loaf (Dairy)

1 (1 lb.) package pitted dates, chopped

1 cup (firmly packed) dried apricots, chopped

1/3 cup chopped figs (optional)

2 tsp. baking soda

1-1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 eggs, slightly beaten

2-1/2 cups flour, sifted

1-3/4 cups boiling water

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Generously grease two loaf pans. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Chop the dates and apricots and figs, if using. Measure the apricots and place all in a large bowl. Add the baking soda, sugar and butter to the bowl. Add the boiling water and vanilla. Mix well until the butter is completely melted. Set aside to cool. Add the eggs, mix well and add the flour. Mix by hand until moistened. Batter will be lumpy.

Pour batter into 2 standard loaf pans that have been greased. Bake at 350 degrees 1 to 1-1/2 hours, until a tester comes out moist, but clean. Let cool before cutting.