Have a tasty Tu Bishvat

I like to embellish my Tu Bishvat not only with dried fruit, but also with fresh fruits like citrus.

dried fruit 88 (photo credit: )
dried fruit 88
(photo credit: )
The vase sitting on my counter, of nectarine shoots with delicate pink flowers and tiny green leaves - a result of my husband's pruning of our fruit trees - is for me a lovely reminder that Tu Bishvat is arriving soon. The Holiday of Trees alerts us that it's time to plant and prune trees in our gardens before the growing season starts. In the kitchen, reflecting on the holiday prompts us to enhance our menus with the healthful foods that grow on trees - namely, fruits and nuts. The first mention of Tu Bishvat was in the Talmud but our tradition of respecting trees dates back to the Torah: "And when you come into the land you shall plant all manner of trees" (Leviticus 19:23). In Israel we clearly take this command seriously. "Israel was the only country in the world to enter the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees," according to the Web site of the Israeli Embassy in Washington. For celebrating Tu Bishvat, it's the custom to use dried fruits to enrich meals; in the past very little fresh fruit was available during the month of Shvat. I like to embellish my Tu Bishvat menus not only with dried fruit, but also with fresh fruits that have long been associated with Israel, like citrus and grapes. Coming up with new ways to use fruits and nuts in the kitchen is a pleasant exercise. At European-style restaurants nuts commonly top green salads, but in my home we find that Israeli diced vegetable salad benefits from a garnish of freshly toasted walnuts, pecans or other nuts. So do soups, especially those made from pureed vegetables. In France creamy chard soup topped with toasted hazelnuts is a classic. For the main course, anyone who does Ashkenazi cooking knows how good dried fruits are in meat or chicken tzimmes. Moroccan cooks add dried prunes and apricots to their sweet tajines, and sometimes adorn them with roasted almonds as well. In the vegetarian menu below, I have added traditional Tu Bishvat foods to familiar recipes. Spicy Moroccan carrot salad gains interest from a sweet accent of raisins. An Italian pasta dish with broccoli and garlic sauce is upgraded by a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts. For dessert, any basic cake becomes festive when served with a warm compote of dried apricots and prunes and sprinkled with toasted walnuts. SPICY MOROCCAN CARROT SALAD WITH RAISINS The sweet flavors of the carrot and raisins in this salad are balanced by a lemony dressing perked up with cumin and hot pepper flakes. In winter this salad is especially welcome when served warm. At other times you can serve it cold or at room temperature. 450 gr. medium carrots, peeled, sliced thin 11⁄2 to 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil 1 medium onion, halved and sliced thin 1⁄4 tsp. hot red pepper flakes 1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin salt and freshly ground pepper 11⁄2 Tbsp. strained fresh lemon juice 2 to 4 Tbsp. raisins In a sauté pan cover carrots with water, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until carrots are just tender. Remove carrots with slotted spoon. Pour liquid into a bowl. Dry sauté pan. Heat oil in pan from cooking carrots. Add onion and sauté over medium-high heat 2 minutes. Add 1⁄4 cup carrot cooking liquid, pepper flakes, cumin, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat to low. Add carrots and raisins. Simmer uncovered 1 minute or until sauce coats carrots and raisins are plumped. Off heat, add lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot, warm or cold. Makes 4 servings. PASTA WITH BROCCOLI-GARLIC SAUCE AND TOASTED PINE NUTS For this menu's entree, the pasta is dressed with plenty of broccoli. The chopped vegetable is turned into a sauce by being sautéed with garlic in olive oil, then is tossed with the pasta and with sun-dried tomatoes. If you like, serve the pasta with a bowl of freshly grated Parmesan or another flavorful cheese. 3 to 4 Tbsp. pine nuts 10 cups broccoli florets 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil 4 large garlic cloves, chopped Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 450 gr. fresh angel hair pasta or 350 gr. to 400 gr. dried 2⁄3 cup strips of oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes Toast pine nuts in a small skillet over medium heat, shaking skillet often, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Put broccoli in a pasta pot or other large pot of boiling salted water. Cover and bring to boil over high heat. Uncover and boil 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove broccoli with pasta pot basket or slotted spoon, reserving water. Rinse broccoli with cold water and drain well. Chop coarsely in food processor or with knife. Heat oil in a large heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté 5 seconds. Add broccoli, salt and pepper and sauté about 2 minutes or until heated through. Add pasta to the pot of boiling water. Boil fresh pasta uncovered over high heat 1 to 2 minutes, or dried pasta for about 4 minutes, or until tender but firm to the bite. Drain pasta and transfer to a large bowl. Add broccoli sauce to pasta and toss using tongs. Add sun-dried tomatoes; toss again. Taste and adjust seasoning. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings. RUSSIAN-STYLE APRICOT AND PRUNE COMPOTE This compote is flavored with tea, which Russians have long used for cooking dried fruit compotes. I also add fresh ginger, which contributes a delightful accent. Serve the compote warm or cold, as a sauce for sponge cake, cheesecake or vanilla ice cream, and sprinkle each portion with a few toasted walnuts. The compote also makes a pleasing, light dessert on its own. 225 gr. dried apricots 225 gr. pitted prunes 3 cups light tea, preferably oolong or Earl Grey 1⁄2 cup sugar 2 to 4 slices fresh ginger, about 60 mm. thick (optional) 1 lemon or orange Put prunes and tea in glass bowl. Cover with a plate to keep prunes submerged. Let soak 2 hours or overnight at room temperature. Gently transfer prunes and their soaking liquid to a medium saucepan. Add apricots. If necessary, add about 1⁄2 cup water or enough to nearly cover fruit. Add sugar and ginger. Cook over low heat, stirring very gently, until sugar dissolves. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Cut lemon in thin rounds, discarding ends. Remove any seeds. Add lemon slices to saucepan. Continue cooking about 5 minutes or until apricots and prunes are tender. Transfer to a bowl and let cool. Remove ginger slices if you like. Serve cold. Makes 6 to 8 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.