Akara: Black-Eyed Pea Fritters

What should you serve when the last night of Hanukkah abuts the secular New Year’s Eve? The Yoruba tribe of West Africa offers the perfect recipe for a mash-up of traditions. It makes it possible for you to combine the American southern custom of serving black-eyed peas for good luck with the Hanukkah tradition of serving latkes. The result is akara, one of the most popular snacks in West Africa. [Read more…]

Fall Harvest Pumpkin for Sukkot

The holiday of Sukkot arrives at the most beautiful time of the year: The trees slowly transform themselves from lush tones of green to vivid shades of gold, ochre, vermilion, and fuchsia.

Nature beautifies our surroundings as we build our sukkot, booths, and decorate them with the seven species of the Land of Israel and the four species of Sukkot. Once our sukkah is built and adorned, it is traditional to serve a festive meal that celebrates the opulence of the fall harvest.

You can have fun picking your own pumpkins, apples, and cranberries. Pennsylvania has a tradition of gathering black walnuts in its forests.

The nuts come encased in a round, green fruit. The best way to extract the drupe is to hit the fruit with a hammer against a hard surface. You can harvest your own at Hill Creek Farm. Of course, you may purchase all of these fruits in your local stores.

Here is a delicious and easy recipe that incorporates the fall bounty. It is sweetened with locally produced maple sugar.

photo-3Harvest Stuffed Pumpkin

Adapted from Eat at Home.

  • 1 Sugar pumpkin
  • 2 Honey Crisp apples
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup shelled, black walnuts
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup maple sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Slice the top off the pumpkin.
  3. Scoop out the fibrous strands and seeds.
  4. Core and dice the apples.
  5. In a large bowl, mix the apples, cranberries, black walnuts, maple sugar, and cinnamon.
  6. Fill the pumpkin with this mixture.
  7. Cut up the butter, and insert into the filling.
  8. Place the stuffed pumpkin on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
  9. Bake for 90 minutes.
  10. To serve, scoop out some pumpkin from the sides along with the filling.

Baked Kale Chips

— by Challah Maidel

Gaining in popularity, kale is an amazing vegetable that is recognized for its exceptional richness in nutrients, health benefits, and delicious flavor.

Also known as borecole, kale is believed to be one of the healthiest vegetables around. Generally speaking, eating a variety of natural and unprocessed vegetables has proven to be beneficial to your health, but eating nutrient loaded kale on a regular basis may provide significant health benefits, including cancer protection and lowered cholesterol.

More after the jump.
Kale belongs to the Brassica family that includes cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, collards, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.

The health benefits that kale provides are primarily linked to the high concentration and excellent source of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K — and sulphur-containing phytonutrients. Kale also contains eye-health promoting lutein and zeaxanthin compounds. Beyond antioxidants, the fiber content of cruciferous kale binds bile acids and helps lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease, especially when kale is cooked instead of raw.

Just as addictive and crispy as potato chips, baked kale chips are a low calorie nutritious snack that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy.

Since kale has an acquired taste, I seasoned it with a bit of garlic powder, smokey paprika, chili powder, a drop of turmeric and ground pepper.

Baked Kale Chips

  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of smokey or sweet paprika
  • 1/3 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Wash the kale and dry thoroughly with paper towels.
  3. Pull the leaves off the center ribs in large pieces, and pile on a baking sheet. Discard the ribs.
  4. In a small bowl, mix oil and spices, and pour over the kale.
  5. Use your hands to massage the kale leaves until each one is evenly coated with the spice mixture. Do not drench.  
  6. Lay the kale leaves out flat on 3 or 4 full sized baking sheets. Do not overlap.
  7. Bake for 10-11 minutes until crisp, but still green.
  8. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before moving. If some kale chips are still a little flimsy or damp, remove the crisp chips and place the damp chips back in the oven for a few more minutes.
  9. Store in an air-tight container.

Yields 12 servings.

Festive Shavuot Sutlage (Rice Pudding)

— by Ronit Treatman

Shavuot is like sealing the deal on a marriage contract. It is the celebration of G-d’s giving of the Torah to the Jews at Mount Sinai. This is the moment when the Jews became a nation, when they accepted G-d’s commandments and pledged to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” (Exodus 19:6). Like any other wedding, the most important question is, “What did they eat?”

Rice-milk pudding recipe after the jump.
In Exodus 33:3, G-d tells Moses to go to the land which had been promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “Unto a land flowing with milk and honey.” It is said that when G-d gave the Torah, there was no time to perform kosher shechita (slaughter), and immersion of meat in salt water. The Ancient Israelites celebrated with a dairy meal. It is still traditional to serve dairy dishes on the first night of Shavuot.  

One of the most popular desserts among Jews of the Middle East is the Sutlage (in Turkey and the Balkans), or Muhallabeya (in North Africa). It is a milk pudding prepared with ground rice. The basic rice pudding is a blank canvas to which each celebrant adds his or her own special garnish.

Sutlage or Muhallabeya

  • 5 1/2 cups of cold milk
  • 1/4 cup of brown or white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup honey
  1. Place all the ingredients in a pot. Bring to a boil, while mixing. Cover the pot, and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  
  2. The fun for your family and guests is personalizing the garnishes. They can add any combination of the following:
    • Ground cinnamon
    • Chopped almonds
    • Chopped pistachios
    • Chopped walnuts
    • Chopped hazelnuts
    • Coconut flakes
    • Sultana raisins
    • Chopped dates
    • Chopped figs
    • Ground saffron
    • Lemon zest
    • Orange blossom water (use only a drop)
    • Rose water (use only a drop)
    • Vanilla
    • Ground cardamom
    • Pomegranate seeds

It is traditional to serve this rice-milk pudding chilled. This recipe is naturally gluten-free.

Winter Soup And Salad

— by Talia Goren

In these cold January days, what can be better than soup and salad? Try the delicious combination of mushroom-quinoa soup and heart of palm salad. It is gluten, dairy, meat and soy free!

Full recipe and picture after the jump.

Mushroom and Quinoa Soup

  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 1lb sliced mushrooms, cut in half or thirds
  • 2 cups raw quinoa
  • 3 shallots, sliced
  • 2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp fresh ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • Salt to taste
  1. Put vegetable broth and water in the pot on medium heat for 5-6 minutes.
  2. Add spices, stirring in between each addition and let simmer for another 5-6 minutes.
  3. Add mushrooms and shallots.
  4. Once it’s boiling, add quinoa and minced garlic. Simmer on low for 15-25 minutes, or until quinoa is cooked through.
  5. Serve with freshly ground black pepper!

Hearts of Palm Salad with Dill Dijon Dressing

For the salad:

  • 2 medium plum tomatoes
  • 2 parisian (or equally small) cucumbers
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 6 hearts of palm (if they are short. if they are long, you only need three). Note: make sure there isn’t extra salt or flavoring, you won’t need it!
  • 1 bunch romaine lettuce
  1. Chop tomatoes, cucumbers and onions into small squares.
  2. Slice hearts of palm (about 2cm each), and then in half.
  3. Separate lettuce and then slice into 2 inch pieces.
  4. Toss gently.

For the dressing:

  • 1 Tbsp Gluten Free Dijon Mustard
  • 2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  1. Combine all ingredients until mustard has incorporated into the olive oil.
  2. Drizzle on the salad, tossing well so it’s fully covered.
  3. Enjoy!

Talia spends a lot of her time in the kitchen preparing copious amounts of experimental foods, which she tests on her very patient and consequently well-fed family and friends. Although she came to the states from Israel when she was just a toddler, she retains her love of loud, passionate discussions and homemade hummus. When she is not in “balabuste” mode, she makes a living composing, singing and performing. Talia also gives workshops to young singers to teach them healthy vocal, performance and audition technique.

Creative Independence Day Skewers

Sizzling Kebabs— by Ronit Treatman

What should you serve the non-meat eaters in your circle for the Fourth of July barbecue? This year, surprise them with a delicious, satisfying meal of marinated vegetables and grilled cheese skewers.

Sheep’s milk cheese is good for grilling.  It can withstand very high heat without melting.  When you grill it, it develops a delicious golden crust and a firm salty texture.  You can mix your choice of vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, squash, eggplant, pepper, onion, and mushrooms in a marinade to infuse them with flavor.  Below is a recipe for a homemade marinade from Israel that will keep the inside of your vegetables moist when you grill them.

More after the jump.
Marinade Recipe For Vegetable-Cheese Skewers

  • 1-cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 limes, juiced
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  1. Whisk all the ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Mix in the desired vegetables with the marinade.  
  3. Cover with plastic wrap.
  4. Refrigerate for one hour.

Day 3/365Sheep’s Milk Cheese-Vegetable Skewers

  1. Soak some bamboo skewers in water.
  2. Dice your sheep’s milk cheese.  Trader Joe’s sells a wonderful sheep’s milk feta from Israel called Pastures Of Eden Israeli Feta Cheese.  This cheese works really well in this recipe.  You may also order Israeli specialty cheeses online.
  3. Thread the bamboo skewers with the marinated vegetables and cubed cheese.
  4. Grill over low-medium heat for 5-7 minutes.

Serve with rice pilaf and a crisp, green salad.  This repast is vegetarian and gluten-free.

Shavuot Centerpiece: The Savory Cheesecake

One Local Summer wk 11: zucchini ricotta cheesecake (whole)— by Ronit Treatman

Traditionally, Shavuot is celebrated with sweet cheesecakes and blintzes, redolent of cinnamon, raisins, and sugar.  It is what we eat as we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Sinai.  The basic unsweetened cheesecake is a neutral palette.  It invites creativity!  Many cultures have a tradition of preparing savory cheesecakes.  For this year’s celebration, surprise your guests with something a little out of the ordinary.  Prepare a piquant cheesecake for a special holiday treat.

More after the jump.
The Ancient Greeks are credited with inventing the cheesecake.  Archaeologists discovered cheese molds from 2000 BCE on the island of Samos.  In Ancient Greece, cheesecake was prepared for Olympic athletes.  The most ancient recipe for cheesecake was written down by the Greek physician Aegimus.  The ingredients for his cake were cheese, honey, and flour.  He instructed cooks to pound the cheese and honey together with a mortar and pestle.  Flour was to be added to form a type of batter.  The resulting dough was baked in a wood-burning oven.  This cheesecake was believed to give the athletes energy.

In 146 BCE Rome conquered Greece.  The Romans adopted the cheesecake, and added a few special touches to it.  They mixed the cheese with eggs, and lined the baking vessel with fresh bay leaves.  Marcus Cato, a Roman politician, was the first to record a recipe for this cake called libum.  Below is an excerpt from his agricultural writings in which he explains how to prepare libum.

Libum to be made as follows: 2 pounds cheese well crushed in a mortar; when it is well crushed, add in 1 pound bread-wheat flour or, if you want it to be lighter, just 1/2 a pound, to be mixed with the cheese. Add one egg and mix all together well. Make a loaf of this, with the leaves under it, and cook slowly in a hot fire under a brick.”

The Romans spread the cheesecake throughout their empire.  Each new place added its own special touch to the recipe, transforming it.  Today there are many cheesecake recipes from all over the world.  Here are some savory cheesecake recipes you may prepare for your degustation this Shavuot.

Savory Cheesecake With Caramelized Shallots And Olives
Adapted from The Chubby Vegetarian

For the crust:

  • 1 ½ cups breadcrumbs (or ground almonds for a gluten-free crust)
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves

For the filling:

  • 3 eggs
  • 6 oz. soft goat cheese
  • 15 oz. ricotta cheese
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-teaspoon fresh, minced rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  
  2. Oil a 9′ spring form pan.
  3. Grind all the crust ingredients together in a food processor.  
  4. Press this paste to the bottom of the baking pan.
  5. Bake the crust for about 7 minutes.
  6. Remove the crust from the oven.
  7. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan.
  8. Sautée the shallots until they are golden-brown.
  9. Add the wine, and reduce the heat.  
  10. Simmer until all the wine is absorbed.
  11. Place this shallot mixture and all the other filling ingredients in a food processor.
  12. Mix into a paste.
  13. Pour the cheese mixture over the crust.
  14. Bake for 50 minutes.
  15. Allow to cool.

Serve garnished with assorted cured olives, aged balsamic vinegar, and fresh parsley.

maple cheesecakeStilton Cheesecake
Adapted from My Recipes

  • 4 oz. Stilton cheese
  • 16 oz. cream cheese
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1-tablespoon flour (or ground almonds for a gluten-free recipe)
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. dry marjoram
  • ½ tsp. dry parsley
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Oil a muffin pan.
  3. Mix all the ingredients in a mixer.
  4. Pour the batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup completely.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes.
  6. After the Stilton cheesecakes cool, refrigerate for 4 hours.

Serve cold, garnished with toasted walnuts.

Florentine Cheesecake
Adapted from Yummly

For the crust:

  • 8 tbsp. butter
  • 2 cups breadcrumbs (or ground almonds for a gluten-free recipe).

For the filling:

  • 1-¼ cups grated Gruyere cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 20 oz. cream cheese
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ cup chopped scallion
  • 10 oz., baby spinach leaves
  • ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • ¼ tsp. paprika

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix the breadcrumbs and butter.
  3. Press this dough into an oiled 9′ spring form pan.
  4. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, until it just starts to brown.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  6. Microwave the baby spinach leaves for 3 minutes in a covered glass container.
  7. Mix the cooked spinach with the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl.
  8. Pour the cheese mixture over the crust.
  9. Bake for 65 minutes.

Serve warm with fresh sliced fruit.

For an easy-to-prepare yet exotic feast, try a savory cheesecake this Shavuot.  With the addition of some fresh baguettes and a crisp green salad, a savory cheesecake becomes the centerpiece of an unforgettable Shavuot feast.

Let Our Children Cook!

— by Ronit Treatman

In my family, the fun of Passover begins long before the Seder.  It starts with perusing all of our cookbooks and discussing which recipes will be prepared.  It continues with the shopping expeditions for all the specialty Passover supplies.  The celebration begins with the cooking.  In many homes, children are excluded from this step.  I believe that it is important to welcome the little ones into the kitchen, and to encourage them to prepare something that is kosher for Passover.  By cooking with us, children absorb treasured family recipes, and the laws of kashrut for Passover in a hands-on way.  This is a very special bonding time.

More after the jump.
The important thing is the process, not the end product.  Homemade dishes have a charm to them that professionally prepared foods cannot compete with.  Your child’s offering for the Seder will be sure to delight your family and friends.  Here are some suggested recipes.

Chocolate Covered Fruit

  • Pareve or dairy chocolate chips
  • Wooden toothpicks
  • Fresh strawberries, mango, bananas, raspberries, kiwi, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, pineapple, or any other fruit of your choice.
  1. Wash the fruit.  If using banana, mango, or pineapple, the fruit should be cut up (with adult help if necessary).
  2. Insert a toothpick in each piece of fruit.
  3. Place the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl.  Heat in the microwave for about one minute.  Stir the chocolate well.
  4. Dip the fruit into the melted chocolate.  Place it on a plate covered with a piece of parchment paper.  When the chocolate has hardened, transfer the fruit to a serving platter.

Matza Bark

  • Matza
  • Pareve or dairy chocolate chips.
  • Dried cranberries, cherries, figs, dates, mango, pears, or apricots.  Large dried fruits should be cut up.
  • Pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, shredded coconut, or any other nut of your choice.
  1. Place the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave for one minute.  Stir well.
  2. Dip the matza in the melted chocolate.  Strew the dried fruits and nuts of your choice over the chocolate.
  3. Place the matza bark on a plate covered with parchment paper.
  4. When the chocolate has hardened, transfer to a serving platter.

Almond Macaroons (Amaretti)

  • 3 cups ground almonds
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of almond extract
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Prepare a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
  3. Separate the yolks from the egg whites.  Reserve the yolks for another use.
  4. Mix the ground almonds, sugar, egg whites, and vanilla extract in a bowl.  
  5. Drop a teaspoon of dough at a time onto the parchment paper.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes.

You can vary this recipe by combining the ground almonds with shredded coconut and/or chocolate chips.

When the macaroons emerge, they will be very soft.  As they cool, they will harden.

Walnut Cake

  • One cup of ground walnuts
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Oil a 9-inch pan with olive oil.
  3. Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in one bowl, and the whites in another.
  4. Mix the yolks with 6 tablespoons of sugar in a mixer.
  5. Whip the egg whites with the salt and 6 tablespoons of sugar.
  6. Combine the yolk mixture with the whipped egg whites and the ground walnuts.  
  7. Pour the batter into the oiled pan.
  8. Place in the oven and lower the temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  9. Bake for 50 minutes.
  10. After this cake has cooled completely, it may be garnished with any of the following:
    • Powdered sugar
    • Whipped cream: Whip together 1 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and 1 tablespoon pure vanilla or brandy.
    • Fresh Berries
    • Chocolate Sauce: Heat one cup of heavy cream in a small saucepan, over low heat.  Add 1/4 cup of pure vanilla or Sabra Liqueur and mix well.  Pour in 1 cup of chocolate chips.  Combine until smooth.
    • Warm Apricot Preserves

As we begin the frenzy of preparing for the Passover Seder, we can benefit in many ways by availing ourselves of the help of our children.  This will be fun for them, and time saving for us.  When they present their creations at the Seder, the sweetest reward of all will be the look of pride in their shining eyes!

Venetian Passover Dishes: A Taste Of Multiculturalism From The Past

Venice Grand Canal— by Ronit Treatman

Visiting Venice is an incredible adventure!  Architecturally, it is one of the most sumptuous cities in the world.  Its Jewish history goes back to the tenth century, when Jewish traders first came to Venice to engage in commerce.  By the 1500s, Venice had the world’s first ghetto, in which Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and German Jews coexisted.  The community practically disappeared after World War II.  Currently, only about 500 Jews live in Venice.  It is possible to sample some Jewish Italian specialties in Venice’s only kosher restaurant, which is run by the CHABAD in the Ghetto Nuovo.  In order to really savor Venetian Jewish specialties, I turned to Alessandra Rovati, one of the few Jews who is originally from Venice.  She shares her family’s Venetian Jewish recipes on her Dinner in Venice website.

More after the jump.
Trying to find kosher food in Italy can be daunting.  When we visited Venice, I confidently asked our waiter in Italian about the ingredients in a sauce.  “Does it have pork?” “A porco?” I queried.  He threw his napkin down angrily and stomped off in a huff!  I had no idea why this question would have insulted him, until another waiter explained that “porco” is a slang word with many off color connotations.  I should have said “maiale.”  Trying to find authentic Jewish Italian food is just as hard.  It is possible to find Jewish artichokes, or “carciofi alla giudia” in any Jewish neighborhood in Italy.  We sampled these crispy, lemony artichokes in the Gam Gam kosher restaurant.  If you would like to taste genuine Jewish Venetian recipes, there is nothing better than getting yourself invited to a Jewish Venetian family’s home.  

In her site, Ms. Rovati invites us into her virtual home to share some unique Jewish recipes from Venice.  These recipes have been passed down in her family.  They are healthy, colorful, and full of Mediterranean vegetables.  Here is an adaptation of her Venetian spinach frittata.  Its ingredients reveal that it came to Venice with the Jews of Turkey and Catalonia.  This frittata is pareve, and kosher for Passover.

Venetian Passover Spinach Frittata
Adapted from Alessandra Rovati

  • 1 lb. baby spinach leaves, pre-washed, in a microwavable bag
  • 1 Spanish onion
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup of matza meal (you may substitute
  • ground almonds to make this gluten-free)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Granulated sugar
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons of pine nuts
  • 4 tablespoons of raisins
  1. Place the raisins in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Cover the bowl, and allow the raisins to absorb the water.
  2. Cut the onion in half, and chop up one half of it.  Reserve the other half for another dish.
  3. Pierce the bag in three spots, and microwave the baby spinach for three minutes.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a pan.  
  5. Sauté the chopped onion for about five minutes.
  6. Add the steamed spinach to the onion and stir well.
  7. Season with salt, pepper, and cinnamon to taste.
  8. Set the spinach aside and allow it to cool.
  9. Drain the raisins.
  10. In a bowl, blend the four, eggs, matza meal (or ground almonds), one tablespoon of granulated sugar, a pinch of salt, a pinch of cinnamon, raisins, and pine nuts.
  11. Mix the spinach into this batter.
  12. Take a large frying pan, and heat some olive oil in it.
  13. Pour the spinach batter into the frying pan.  Lower the flame to medium, and allow it to cook for a few minutes.  You can check the bottom to see when it turns brown.  When the bottom is brown, flip the frittata over.  
  14. Place the spinach frittata on a serving platter, and sprinkle it with some confectioner’s sugar.

This eggy, spinachy dish is a little bit sweet, and a little bit savory.  It is very satisfying, and works well as a vegetarian main course or a side dish.

All of Ms. Rovati’s recipes are straightforward, without too much fuss.  The featured ingredients are healthy, and the resulting dishes are both delicious and exotic.  This year, add a historic Venetian accent to your Passover Seder.  If you visit Ms. Rovati’s Facebook page, you will note that there are many discussions in Italian about different recipes.  Fortunately for us, her website is in English.  This will help us avoid both pork and vulgar affronts!

Nature’s Sweets For Tu B’Shevat

Assorted Fruit-Nut Balls. (Photo courtesy of Kothiyavunu.com

— by Ronit Treatman

Nut-fruit balls are nature’s perfect treat for Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year for trees.  These sweet and crunchy confections are also known as Sugar Plums in Europe, where they are a traditional Christmas treat.  The earliest known recipes for these candies hail from Ancient Egypt.  Dates, apricots, coffee, rice, lemons, sugar, and ginger did not arrive in Europe until after the Crusades.  Fruit-Nut confections have been enjoyed during Tu B’Shevat since before the first century BCE.  I like to celebrate Tu B’Shevat by indulging in all natural fruit and nut treats.  This is my way of showcasing the abundance provided by trees.

Recipes after the jump.  

Egyptian Ostracon from the British Museum

The oldest Egyptian recipe for “date candy” was deciphered from an ostracon from 1600 BCE.  Here is its translation.

Ancient Egyptian Date Candy

  • 1-cup fresh dates or ½ cup dried dates
  • ½ cup toasted, ground walnuts
  • ½ cup toasted, ground almonds
  • ½ cup of warm raw honey
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom

Mash the dates, walnuts, cinnamon, and cardamom with a mortar and pestle.  Shape the paste into walnut sized balls with your fingers.  Dip the balls into the warm honey, and then roll in the ground almonds to coat.

The following Sephardic recipes are adapted from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden.  These traditional Tu B’Shevat recipes are vegan, gluten-free, and diabetic friendly.  They are very tactile, and require no cooking.  

North African Date-Walnut Balls

  • 1 Lb. dried dates
  • 2 ½ cups toasted, chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup toasted, ground walnuts

Place the dates in a food processor.  Grind them into a paste, adding a little cold water if necessary.

When the dates are transformed into a paste, mix in the chopped walnuts.

Rub a little olive oil into your hands.  This will prevent the paste from sticking to your fingers.  Shape the paste into little balls.

Roll the date-nut balls in the ground walnuts to garnish.

Syrian Apricot-Pistachio Balls

  • 1 Lb. dried apricots
  • ½ cup toasted, chopped pistachios
  • ½ cup toasted, ground pistachios

Prepare in the same manner as above for the Date – Walnut Balls.

The following recipe is from Jewish Spain.  It is a celebration of the almond, the first tree that blooms in Israel in the springtime.  

Judeo-Spanish Dates Stuffed With Marzipan

  • Pitted dried dates
  • 5 ½ cups toasted, ground almonds
  • ½ lemon
  • 3 drops of almond extract
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1-cup water

Bring to a boil the water, sugar, and juice of ½ lemon in a saucepan.  Allow to boil for about 10 minutes.  Add the almond extract and ground almonds.  Stir well for about 3 minutes.  

Lubricate your hands with a little olive oil, so the paste does not stick to your fingers.

Stuff the dates with the almond paste.

Those of us celebrating Tu B’Shevat in the United States can have fun preparing fruit and nut balls from plants that are indigenous to North America.  The following recipe is subtly accentuated by the addition of brandy.

All American Fruit And Nut Balls

  • ½ cup toasted pecans
  • ½ cup toasted hazelnuts
  • ½ cup dried blueberries
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons brandy

Combine all the above ingredients in a food processor.  Shape into little balls.  Roll around in a mixture of toasted, finely ground hazelnuts.  

Tu B’Shevat in Israel is a time of revitalization as the longer and warmer days of spring arrive.  Rejoice the rebirth of the trees by enjoying confections made from their fruit. May this holiday mark the start of renewal and growth for us all.