Tahini-Carrot Cake for Tu B’Shvat

— by Ronit Treatman

During the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the “New Year of the Trees,” it is always freezing in Philadelphia. I enjoy celebrating with foods that incorporate dry fruits and nuts, to honor the trees, and in hopes that spring will arrive soon.  

One of Israel’s most creative chefs, Yaron Albalak, has created a cake for Tu B’Shvat which is infused with the flavors of Israel’s trees. Almond extract, date honey, dried apricots and pistachio nuts pay homage to the bounty nature has blessed us with.  

This moist, delicious cake pairs perfectly with a cup of hot tea.

Full recipe after the jump.
Tahini-Carrot Cake — Adapted from chef Yaron Albalak

For the batter:

  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur or almond extract
  • 1/2 cup raw tahini paste
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured dry apricots, chopped
  • 2 cups carrots, grated
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the garnish:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place all of the ingredients for the batter in a bowl, and mix well.
  3. Pour into an oiled Bundt pan.
  4. Bake for 50 minutes. (Check the cake with a wooden toothpick. If necessary, allow to bake longer.)
  5. Drizzle the cake with Silan date honey, garnish with shaved halva and pistachios.  

Colorful Couscous Salad

— by Ronit Treatman

Brighten up your table this winter with a hearty couscous salad, filled with chopped vegetables, dry apricots, and fresh cranberries.  The dressing is an exotic Israeli combination of tahini and silan (date honey).  

Recipe follows the jump.
Colorful Couscous Salad

For the salad:

  • 2 cups steamed couscous
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • Bunch of scallions, sliced
  • Bunch of cilantro, minced
  • 3 tablespoons of fresh cranberries
  • 4 dried apricots, diced

For the dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons raw tahini
  • 2 tablespoons Galil Silan Date “Honey”
  • 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place the ingredients for the dressing in a glass jar.  Seal tightly and shake well.

Mix the vegetables and couscous in a bowl.
Pour the dressing over the salad.

Honi The Circle Maker’s Carob Delicacies

— by Ronit Treatman

One of the most beloved stories told during Tu B’Shevat is that of Honi The Circle Maker Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit, 23a.

Honi was a great teacher who lived in Ancient Israel. He was known for drawing a circle on the ground and then praying inside it. He would not leave the circle until he was done.  

One day, he came upon an old man holding a shovel and a tiny sapling. Honi asked the old man, “Why are you planting this small tree? How long will it be before it can bear fruit for you to eat?”

The old man responded, “This is a carob tree. It will take seventy years for it to give fruit.”  

“Then why plant it?” Honi asked. “You will not live to enjoy it!”

The rest of the story and two carob recipes after the jump.

The old man responded, “When I was a young boy, I ate the fruit from the carob tree that my grandfather had planted. Now I am planting a carob tree for my grandchildren.”  

Honi smiled and continued on his way to teach at his Beit Midrash. Honi was very tired. He decided to rest for a while. Honi made himself comfortable on some grass, and watched the old man finish planting the carob tree. Honi closed his eyes and slept. He slept for seventy years! When he woke up, he saw a boy picking ripe carob pods from a large tree.  

Honi asked the boy, “Who planted this tree?”

“My great-grandfather,” replied the boy.

Honi understood what the old man was doing all those years ago. Each generation needs to take care of nature and leave a legacy of trees for those to come.  

Tasting treats made with carob during the Tu B’Shevat Seder is just as much fun as recounting this story. I like to use carob “honey.” This is the thick syrup that forms inside the carob pod when it is ripe. You may purchase carob syrup here.

Dibs Kharoub U Tahineh: Tahini and Carob Spread
This is a very ancient Middle Eastern recipe, the Biblical peanut butter and jelly.

  • Raw Tahini (available here)
  • Carob Syrup
  1. Mix one tablespoon of tahini with one tablespoon of carob syrup.  
  2. Spread over fresh, hot pita bread.


One of the most exotic eggplant dishes I have ever tried is a meze traditionally served in Turkey, Syria, and Jordan. It is made with grilled eggplant, almonds, and carob honey.

Nazuktan
Adapted from The Middle Eastern Kitchen by Ghillie Bassan

  • 2 eggplants
  • 2 tablespoons carob syrup
  • 3 tablespoons roasted, chopped almonds
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 chili pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 lemon, squeezed
  • 3 tablespoons plain yogurt (labneh is best)
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh, chopped mint leaves

  1. Roast the eggplants until they become soft.
  2. Allow the eggplants to cool to room temperature.
  3. Cut the eggplants in half, and scoop out the flesh.
  4. Mash the eggplant.
  5. Mix in all the other ingredients.
  6. Serve with fresh, hot pita bread.

Sinaia: Meat and Tahini Casserole

palestinian meat sinaiaFor the second week, I am getting through without smoking.

Memories from the last time I tried this made me believe that the task will be more difficult this time. On the one hand it’s encouraging, but then I think to myself that it really is not that complicated. What is the urgency in quitting? Why not smoke again?

Luckily I can transfer these lecherous thoughts to the kitchen.  Today I am thinking about a traditional Middle Eastern dish of seasoned ground meat baked with tahini sauce. Before we begin I should make one thing clear: Sinaia is entirely about the quality of the meat and the grinding. There is no choice but to grind it at home. I asked my wife if she would be able to stop by the best butcher we know to buy some meat.
[Read more…]

Tu B’Av: Finding Your Bashert

— by Ronit Treatman

When is your bashert selected for you?  According to the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Sotah 2a), forty days before a Jewish child is born, G-d chooses that child’s future spouse.  This person is called a bashert.  A bashert is one’s soul mate.  In the Jewish tradition, if you have not yet been united with your bashert, you have a very auspicious day to look for that person.  That day is Tu Be’Av.

More after the jump.
Last of the figsTu Be’Av, the fifteenth day of the month of Av, was the holiday of the grape harvest during the times of the Temple in Jerusalem (957 BCE — 70 CE).  On this day, marking the beginning of the grape harvest, there was a grape festival called Hag Hakeramim, the holiday of the vineyards.  Unmarried young women would wear white dresses and dance in the vineyards, hoping to attract a husband (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Ta’anit 30b-31a).  This holiday has been revived in modern Israel as Hag HaAhava, the holiday of love.

This year, Tu Be’Av begins at sunset on August third.  You can bring the magic of Ancient Israel’s vineyards into your life with a romantic Tu Be’Av dinner.  

Set the festive tone by serving good wine since, “wine gladdens the heart of the human being”  (Psalms 104:5).  For this very special Tu Be’Av dinner, I wanted to make sure that I would recommend the right wines to accompany the food.  I turned to Reuven Ribiat, the proprietor of Rosenberg Judaica and Wine for advice.  His store offers one of the best international selections of kosher wines that I have seen in the greater Philadelphia area.  Reuven is very knowledgeable.  He selects all the wines sold at the store, and often visits the wineries he sources them from during his travels.  

Begin your Tu Be’Av dance in the vineyard with an appetizer of figs and goat cheese.  The fig is an ancient symbol of fertility, sweetness, and abundance for Jews.  Call out to your intended with this roasted fig appetizer.

Roasted Figs With Goat Cheese
Adapted from Mark Bittman

  • 8 Fresh Figs
  • Soft goat cheese
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  1. Rub the figs with olive oil.
  2. Cut an “X” at the top of each fig.
  3. Dribble a few drops of balsamic vinegar inside the “X.”
  4. Scoop a tablespoon of goat cheese into the fig.
  5. Bake in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for about ten minutes, or grill on a barbecue.

Serve with a bottle of chilled Chenin Blanc.  

Fish in Tahini Sauce
Adapted from The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey by Janna Gur

  • 2 Lbs. Flounder fillets
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Olive oil
  • ½ cup tahini
  • Salt
  • Warm water
  • 2 lemons

baked cod with tahini sauce, chickpea salad and saffron riceContinue your dance by serving a dish which symbolizes fertility and good luck in the Jewish tradition.  For the main course, serve a Mediterranean fish, enveloped in a seductive tahini sauce.

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Brush the fish with olive oil, and sprinkle some salt on it.
  3. Bake the flounder for 15 minutes.
  4. Take the fish out of the oven, and let it rest while you prepare the tahini sauce.
  5. In a bowl, mix the tahini with about two tablespoons of warm water.
  6. Beat in the crushed garlic.
  7. Add one tablespoon of olive oil.
  8. Whisk in the juice of the two lemons.
  9. Taste the tahini to see if you like it.  Adjust the seasonings.
  10. Spread the tahini sauce over the fish.
  11. Cover the fish with the onion slices.
  12. Bake for 25 minutes in a 325 degree Fahrenheit oven.

Serve with rice, a green salad, and chilled Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.

Conclude your dance by melding some of the world’s greatest known aphrodisiacs together in one dish.  Chocolate, brandy, and nuts combined into one sensational cake!  This cake is best baked in advance to allow all the flavors to develop.

Golden Grand Marnier Cake
Adapted from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

  • 2 ½ cups cake flour
  • 1-cup sugar
  • 1-cup butter
  • ½ cup ground almonds
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1-cup sour cream
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 tbsp. grated orange zest
  • ¼ tsp. Grand Marnier or Brandy

Mini Chocolate Bundt Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.
  3. Pour into a baking pan that has been rubbed with butter and sprinkled with flour.  
  4. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes.

Grand Marnier Syrup

  • 1/3 cup Grand Marnier or Brandy
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a pot.  Stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Do not boil.
  2. As soon as you pull the cake out of the oven, invert the pan onto a cooling rack.
  3. Poke holes all over the cake.
  4. Brush half the Grand Marnier Syrup on the cake.
  5. Invert the cake onto a serving platter.
  6. Brush the rest of the syrup on the cake.
  7. Allow to cool completely at room temperature.

Chocolate Cream Glaze

  • 3 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tbsp. Brandy
  • 1-cup heavy cream
  1. Place the chocolate chips in a bowl.
  2. Heat the heavy cream in the microwave.
  3. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips.
  4. Mix vigorously.
  5. Whisk in the Brandy.
  6. Spread over the cake.
  7. Seal the cake in an airtight container, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

If this day turns out to be propitious and you should meet your bashert, how can you end your celebratory meal?  Reuven Ribiat tells me that champagne is the wine of love. Raise a glass of your favorite white or rose champagne. L’Chaim!  May you be blessed with chuppah!