Pick of the crop

‘The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel’ is a rare species: a visual treat, a recipe repository and a wealth of information.

Chana Bracha Siegelbaum (photo credit: Courtesy)
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It’s no wonder this lush, hefty tome has received two Gourmand magazine “best cookbook” nominations.
The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel is a visual feast thanks to its exquisite oil paintings, photographs and overall graphic design and typography. The “meat” of the book is just as appetizing.
And the recipes are just one ingredient in the flavorful stew.
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum, founder of Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin for women’s holistic Torah study, devotes a section to each of the seven species the Torah identifies as having special significance to the Land of Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olive (oil) and date (honey).
Drawing on sources ranging from the Bible to Maimonides, mystics to modern nutritionists, she delves into each plant’s spiritual, halachic, nutritional and medicinal properties, followed by a few pages of recipes for that item (among them: wheat germ brownies, barley beet salad, jeweled grape fruition salad, chocolate grape leaves, and quinoa pomegranate almond delight).
It is the integration of all these elements that makes this book stand out. The individual reader may choose to focus on segments of particular interest, skimming over those that do not resonate. I gleaned valuable nuggets of information – for instance, that we traditionally place all 10 fingers on bread as we recite the Hamotzi blessing, corresponding to the 10 mitzvot that the Mishna Brura halachic commentary connects with producing bread, and the 10 words of the blessing itself. And I never before considered the implications of the common root of the Hebrew words for “barley” and “measurement.” Neither was I aware of the brain-health aspects of grapes.
As the author explains in the introduction, the book is based on material she uses in her yearly Tu Bishvat Seders and workshops; the book includes a comprehensive Seder guide, along with photos from her holiday table. (A small environmental quibble here: The tableware appears to be disposable plastic.) “Eating the Seven Species in a conscious way can promote our wellbeing, help connect us to the Land of Israel, and deepen our relationship with Hashem,” Siegelbaum writes. “Each of the Seven Species contains deep divine lessons for our spiritual lives.”
A two-page spread displays a chart showing how each of the seven species is linked to a particular kabbalistic trait, body part, bodily system, day of the week, and male and female biblical characters.
For example, figs embody netzah (endurance), bitahon (confidence), the right leg, the endocrine system, the fourth day, Moses and Hannah.
If mysticism doesn’t float your boat, skip to the charts and sections on nutrition – such as Siegelbaum’s theory about why wheat allergies have become so commonplace, or her explanation about free fatty acids and acidity in relation to olive oil. There is something for everyone.
The information in each section is abundantly footnoted, though the footnotes appear at the end of the section – a style I find cumbersome, as it requires flipping back and forth.
I would not hesitate to recommend this excellent and unusual book. Yet I was disappointed by what I believe to be two glaring omissions. First, there is no mention of shmita, the sabbatical year. This is puzzling in a book about the produce of the Land of Israel, especially a book published during a shmita year. Second, the concept of tithing is mentioned only in passing. I expected the topic to be treated at more length, and perhaps to see a tithing guide included.
Nevertheless, Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel – part of the publisher’s “The Wholesome Spirited Cookbook Nutrition & Health Series with Torah Teachings and Recipes” – is a welcome and worthwhile addition to Siegelbaum’s published works (I reviewed her Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion in 2010). I will try several of the recipes in the book, including this one:
3 cups water
1 cup hulled barley
½ cup raw green (or other) lentils
1 chopped onion
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 chopped zucchini
2 medium stalks sliced celery
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. miso
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. chopped fresh basil or ¾ tsp. dried basil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Heat water to boiling.
2. In a 3-liter saucepan, sauté onions in olive oil until translucent and slightly browned; set aside.
3. Sauté celery, mushrooms, basil and zucchini in olive oil for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently until the celery is crisp and tender; set aside.
4. Return the sautéed onions to the saucepan. Add the barley and lentils, and sauté for one minute or so.
5. Pour boiling water over the barley- lentil-onion mixture.
6. Cover and simmer for about one hour, or until the barley mixture is tender and all liquid is absorbed.
7. Add the remaining sautéed vegetables. Continue sautéing over medium heat for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.
8. Add miso and lemon juice.