The Jewish celebration of Tu B'Shvat [TOO bayshuh-VAHT] -- The Birthday of the Trees -- begins tomorrow night at sundown. In recent years, it has been common to hold a seder with ritual protocols and readings; but I'm just planning to enjoy traditional treats like dried fruits, nuts, olives and citrus. You know me -- I'm always there for the food!
(FYI: At work, we have beautiful trays of fruits and nuts which were ordered from the Houston Pecan Company to enjoy in honor of the holiday; they do a fabulous job, so if you ever need to send gifts or just want some goodies for yourself, be sure to order from them!)
Anyway .... A town like Ann Arbor, of course, is a perfect place to celebrate Tu B'Shvat! Planting trees and enjoying the fruits that they bear are two of the primary traditions for the day, perfect for my beloved town's eco- and health-consciousness. Nurturing trees is so vital a tradition in Judaism that Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai (who lived from 30-90 A.D./C.E.) is quoted as saying: "If you should be holding a sapling in your hand when they tell you the Messiah has arrived ... first plant the sapling, then go out and greet him."
According to MyJewishLearning.com: "The Bible expresses a great reverence for fruit trees as symbols of God's bounty and beneficence. Special laws were formulated to protect fruit trees in times of war and ensure that the produce of trees would not be picked until the trees were mature enough and tithes were given from them. In order to calculate the age of trees, both for determining when they could be harvested and when they were to be tithed for the Temple, the Talmudic Rabbis established the 15th day (Tu) of the month of Shvat as the official 'birthday' of trees."
As opposed to many Jewish holidays where it's traditional to eat cholesterol-laden challah or latkes fried in oil (which is, of course, half the fun!), this is a party where you're actually encouraged to eat nutritious fruits. So whether you eat a savory meal like the chicken dish I offer below, or enjoy fresh fruit out of hand, join me in celebrating Tu B'Shvat as we wait through the frigidly cold winter until all those beautiful trees bloom again in spring ....
Braised Chicken Thighs in Lemony Olive Sauce
3 tablespoons oil
3 pounds chicken thighs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, halved, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons shawarma spices (available at Middle Eastern markets; substitute a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne, cardamom, and garlic powder if needed)
1/2 teaspoon ground sumac (available at Middle Eastern markets)
1/3 cup Sicilian Lemon Balsamic Vinegar (available at Fustini's Oils and Vinegars)
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup green olives with pimientos, chopped
Heat oil in a large, deep-sided skillet over medium heat. Season both sides of the chicken with the salt and pepper, and place into the skillet skin-side down.
Cook for 10 minutes until nicely browned. Turn the chicken over and cook for 5 minutes on the other side. Remove the chicken to a plate.
Saute the onion and the garlic until the onion is translucent. Sprinkle in the spices and cook for 1 minute.
Combine the vinegar and the broth; pour into the skillet and bring to a boil. Return the chicken to the skillet, skin-side up.
Cover the chicken, then turn heat to "medium-low" and cook for 35 minutes. Place the chicken on a serving platter and boil the sauce down to reduce it until it has thickened. Stir in the olives.
Pour the sauce over the chicken, and serve hot.
Makes 4-6 servings.