Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Birthday of the Trees

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.



Candace said...

Mary, this looks amazing! I have no idea where I can find some of the ingredients to make this recipe around here but I will be looking for them. You can be sure of that. Thank you, once again, for taking the time to not only share your wonderful recipes and photos but for also sharing your culture with us, as well. I find it sooooo interesting. Blessings to you on this Tuesday, sweet friend! Candace

Leanne said...

One of the things I love (one of the MANY things) about my visits here is that I always LEARN something . . . this was a perfect post for that! My ignorance knew nothing of Tu B'Shvat, my friend. Is it appropriate for me to wish you good tidings on this day? Well, I send them, anyway!!! Love the post!

Jenn said...

Now that sounds really good...Lemon Balsamic?? I have got to find some of that!! YUM! I will help celebrate Tu B'Shvat also it seems, as I planned bringing a snack to work that consists of dried cranberries and nuts!

Cranberry Morning said...

Ooo, this is an interesting recipe! Those shawarma spices are new to me. And anything with olives has to be good!

keri said...

I'm In! Have a great Holiday!

Sherri said...

Yum!! I love anything that has the lemony in the recipe:)!!! Totally wanna try this! Visiting for tasty tuesday:)

Robin said...

Love that... plant the tree first and then go meet the savior. I think that anyone who had a love for nature would feel the same. And anyone who was a savior would have a love for nature. I do see the circle. Great post. I think that we don't plant our trees before we run out and do all sorts of other unimportant crap. Instead we leave a lot of stuff sitting around to rot. Our priorities, as a society, are all messed up. We need to plant our trees first so that we have roots. Did you watch that video over the weekend for the song The House That Built Me? We need roots. Really liked this post. Thanks Mary. Hope you are doing well. Wish you would let us know more often. We worry. By we, I mean me.

Sheila said...

I love learning about the Jewish faith through your blog, Mary. Thanks for sharing. And, I love trees and their fruit, so what could be better?

a moderate life said...

Hi Yenta Mary! So good to see you on the hearth and soul hop! Thanks for stopping by and linking up this lovely recipe and great story on the birthday of the trees. I always love when faith celebrates the earth like that, giving thanks for the goodness she provides for us! I hope you have a blessed holiday! All the best, Alex

Lee said...

I found this post and your blog through the Hearth 'n Soul Hop, and made this dish the next day. It was so good, we're making it again tonight! If my DH cosigns eating the same dish 2x in 3 days, you know it's a winner! Thanks so much for sharing. Looks like these blog hops work; you got yourself a new follower!

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