Seven Species Salad

Posted: January 20, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , | 4 Comments »

Tu B’shvat, the Jewish New Year for the trees, is next Saturday and I’m still unsure of my plans. Originally I had wanted to throw my own seder but it seems more and more like I won’t have the time (or money) to coordinate it! Luckily there are many excellent organizations having their own event but it’s usually for the best, I’ve found, to do things yourself. Or at least, it can be more fun that way.

Since Tu B’shvat is minor — the two Jewish cookbooks I own barely give it a paragraph, let alone specific recipes — and since it has been reinvented many times, I’m going to assume that as long as one sticks to the basic idea of the holidays as a New Year for the trees, then you can interpret and celebrate it any way you’d like, including what recipes to make!

One consistent custom, however, is to eat the seven species of fruit and grain mentioned in the Old Testament, which are wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates; all of which are healthy, flavorful and nutritious. Just mentioning these foods all together sounds so wholesome, doesn’t it? The reason there generally aren’t recipes for Tu B’shvat is because the above-mentioned foods tend to be eaten separately and not cooked, like nibbling on a bunch of grapes rather than eating something deglazed in red wine, say. That doesn’t mean we can’t come up with something, hmm?

If you’d like to combine them all into one dish for efficiency’s sake, it’s very easy to transform this into a salad:

Seven Species Barley Salad
Serves 4 – 6

- 1 cup pre-soaked hulled barley, cooked and cooled (see below)
- 3 teaspoons pomegranate juice
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 4 – 6 figs, quartered
- Handful of red grapes, halved
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta or gorgonzola cheese
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup Whole wheat croutons (see recipe below)
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- Dates, sliced, for garnish
- Freshly ground black pepper

Note on the barley: though pearl barley is more common and takes faster to cook, the nutritious bran has been removed. In this way, pearl barley vs. hulled (complete) barely is like white rice vs. brown rice. If you want all the nutrition, go for the hulled, but you’ll need to pre-soak for many hours before cooking. Do this by placing the amount of barley desired in a bowl or container with double the amount of water and let sit on your countertop overnight. Done! You can even cook the barley in the water you soaked it in. Visit this website for more detailed info.

To boil barley: “The ratio of barley to water is 3 cups water for every 1 cup of barley. Over high heat, bring the barley and water, uncovered, to a boil. Cover, and reduce the heat to low. Allow the barley to simmer for 45 minutes. Do not add salt to your barley until AFTER it is cooked, since it can block absorption of water.

“Cooked barley will always retain some chewiness. You’ll know your barley is done when 20 percent of them have burst open. You can use the above method with non-pre-soaked barley too. Follow directions as above but cook for 1 1/2 – 2 hours instead.”

For the whole wheat croutons:
- Whole wheat bread
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Chopped fresh oregano, basil, thyme, or other favorite spices

Take a couple of slices of whole wheat bread and crumble into bite-sized pieces or smaller. In a small bowl combine oil and spices. Lightly coat the bread pieces in the mixture and place on baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees until crispy, a few minutes.

Ok, onto the recipe itself!

While the barley is cooling, in a small bowl, whisk together the pomegranate juice and a pinch of kosher salt. Add the olive oil and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Combine the barley, red bell pepper, figs, grapes, preferred cheese, croutons and sliced almonds. Add the dressing and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with date slices. Serve immediately or allow to sit in the refrigerator for up to 1 hour.

Important note: since I just made this up I haven’t attempted to make this recipe yet and I’m not sure if it works! Let me know if you try it yourself and tell me how it went! I suspect it needs lots of tweaking.

There are so many ways these seven ingredients can be combined! I’ll have more on that next week.

Freaky Fruits

Posted: January 13, 2010 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , | 6 Comments »

For my next couple of posts I’ll be discussing Tu B’shvat, the upcoming, though minor, Jewish holiday. Tu B’shvat (literally, the 15th of the month of Shvat) is the new year for the trees, kind of like Arbor Day. Never mind that there is an arctic wind currently blasting through the entire eastern coast of the US right now, but I digress. This year it falls on Saturday,¬†January 30th. [Note corrected date! Sorry! - Rita]

For centuries Tu B’shvat was nothing more than a tax day, like April 15th, since everyone was required to donate a tithe of their crops to their priests then. But in the 1600s, kabbalistic rabbis in the mystical Israeli town of Tzfat decided to claim Tu B’shvat as more of a spiritual connection to the physical land and began the custom of a Tu B’shvat seder much like on Passover, with 4 cups of wine and featuring Israeli-grown fruits and nuts, all holding special symbolic meanings.

Up until last year I had no idea there even were such things as Tu B’shvat seders — I mentioned this is a minor holiday — but another way this day is celebrated is through environmental action and planting trees. Many a Jewish person will remember receiving certificates from elderly relatives that a tree has been planted in their honor in Israel, and what’s cool is that this is still being done today. Bloomberg’s MillionTreesNYC? Been there, done that!

Another custom is eating a new fruit on Tu B’shvat, something you have never eaten before, or at least not one you’ve eaten in the past year.

Personally, I love fruit and eat tons of it. I wait all year for clementines to be in season and buy them by the 3 pound bagful, enjoying them while I can. I’ve learned to distinguish subtle varieties of apple and when I visit my parents in Florida I’m overjoyed that good, fresh papaya is available to taste! Recently I read a fascinating book called The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce and Obsession, a zingy title which basically says it all. In it, I learned of fruits that sounded like they came out of fantasy novels: dragon fruit, cloudberries, jaboticabas, and many, many more. The point is that it’s so wonderful that we live in a world where such a wide variety of fruits (and trees) exist.

Dragon Fruit

Dragon Fruit

So now, what to try this year on Tu B’shvat?

I’m somewhat limited by what’s in season, available and affordable, but I’m officially soliciting suggestions: what should my Tu B’shvat fruit be this year? Maybe guava? What if I already ate guava paste this year? Hmm.

Check back next Wednesday for recipes and more indepth explanation on what’s eaten on Tu B’shvat and why!

P.S. – I already ate dragon fruit.

Johanna: The Improviser

Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

Alyssa: The Triple Threat

Can do it all. And modest to boot.

Bakezilla: We Use Mixers Too

She likes to bake. Actually, baking is the only thing she does. It's a passion.

Rita: The Kosher Chick

Restrictions have nothing on her.