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New Year for the Trees

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Tu B’Shvat is this week and is the perfect day to reflect on how we might better take care of the earth and its resources. Though the holiday has changed throughout the centuries, Tu B’Shvat can be a day to celebrate the unique partnership between man and nature. It appears that now, more than ever, we need to be more conscious of everything we do and how it affects the planet.

This seasonal menu is perfect for Tu B’Shvat or any festive meal this winter.

Citrus Salad with Beets, Candied Kumquats and Tangerine-Honey Vinaigrette

The beautiful citrus sections or supremes, in French, look picture perfect on a plate and are easy to cut.

Start with a sharp paring knife and cutting board. Cut off a small section from the top and bottom of the fruit. This will give the fruit stability and keep it from rolling around.

Cut down the rind from top to bottom following the curve of the fruit. The goal is to remove the rind and the pith (white bitter part) but not the fruit. Continue until all of the rind has been cut off.

Hold the fruit in one hand and cut ½ into the fruit at one of the dividing membranes. Cut on the other side of the segment along the membrane. This should release the segment or supreme. Continue until all of the segments are cut out. Squeeze the juice into a bowl and discard the membranes. Reserve the juice for the fish sauce.

Kumquats are beautiful and irresistibly cute when you see them in the store. They are not for eating out of hand, though, as they are very sour and bitter and need a bit of WORK before they can be added to your menu. You need to plan ahead at least 3 weeks to candy kumquats. This should not discourage you however. Once candied, the kumquats are delicious and will hold up for several months in the refrigerator in their syrup.

Serves 4

2 cups assorted citrus sections (grapefruit, blood oranges, tangerines, Meyer lemons)

1 fennel bulb, white bulb only, fronds reserved for garnish, shaved on a mandolin or cut thinly and put in acidulated water to preserve the color (water with lemon juice)

2 red or golden beets

1 cup candied kumquats

2 cups baby spinach or baby arugula or favorite sturdy greens

1/3 cup tangerine juice

2 tablespoons best quality honey

¾ cup best quality extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400

  1. Lightly rub beets with the tablespoon of olive oil and wrap them in aluminum foil. Roast the beets until they are easily pierced with a paring knife (about 45 minutes-1 hour). Set aside to cool. Once cooled, peel the beets and slice them into thin wedges.
  2. Slice the kumquats into ¼ inch sections and discard the seeds. Drain the fennel.
  3. Whisk the tangerine juice, honey and olive oil together. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. Before serving, toss all of the salad ingredients together in a bowl or arrange on individual plates and drizzle lightly with vinaigrette. 

Candied Kumquats

3 cups sugar

3 cups water

2 pints kumquats, stems removed

  1. Bring the sugar and water to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Cool completely.
  2. Place the kumquats in a clean jar with a tight fitting lid. Pour the cooled syrup over the kumquats. The kumquats are buoyant and need to be weighted down. I place a piece of parchment paper over them and weight it down.
  3. Place the kumquats in the refrigerator and in 3 weeks the kumquats will have softened and will be sweet and slightly sour. Store the kumquats in their syrup for 2-3 months. 

Pomegranate Date Relish with Marinated Chicken Paillard and Barley Pilaf

For the Relish

I love the harmony of sweet, sour and spice in this relish. The dates become soft and gooey and the crunch of the onions and pomegranate seeds are the perfect counter point to the quick cooking and brightly flavored chicken breasts.

1 cup red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes

¼ cup honey

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

2 cups pitted dates

½ cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses or syrup

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup pomegranate seeds

¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley

Salt and pepper

  1. Heat the red wine vinegar, crushed red chilies and honey until the mixture comes to a simmer. Add the sliced red onion and dates and remove from the heat. Allow the onion and dates to marinate in the pickling liquid for 30 minutes.
  2. Remove the onion from the pickling liquid, reserving the liquid, and coarsely chop the onion and dates.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and 2 teaspoons of the pickling liquid.
  4. 4.   Salt and pepper to taste.

For the marinade

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Zest and juice of 1 orange

1 glove of garlic, grated on a micro plane

1 medium shallot, finely minced

1 tablespoon honey

¼ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

1. Whisk all of the ingredients for the marinade together.

For the Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to ¼ inch thickness

Place the chicken in a medium container and pour the marinade over the pounded breasts. Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours but no more than 6 hours.

  1. Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade and discard the marinade.
  2. Heat a large sauté pan or griddle to medium high heat. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil.
  3. Place the chicken breasts in the hot pan, being sure not to over-crowd the pan or the chicken will not get crispy and brown. Cook the breasts on the first side for 3-5 minutes until they are browned and slightly crispy. Turn the breasts to the other side and cook an additional 3 minutes until the breast is lightly browned and cooked through(you can test this by gently pushing on the breast and checking for firmness). If it is firm, it is done.
  4. Serve the chicken breasts with the relish and barley pilaf. 

Herbed Barley Pilaf

1 ½ cups barley

¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley

¼ cup chopped fresh mint

¼ toasted pine nuts

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Suggested garnishes: pomegranate seeds, lemon slices

  1. Place the barley in a medium sauce pan. Add 3 cups of water and cook the barley, covered, over medium heat until the barley is soft but with an al dente texture, about 30 minutes. Transfer the barley to a large mixing bowl.

Stir the rest of the ingredients with the barley and garnish with pomegranate seeds and thinly sliced lemons.

Laura Frankel is an Executive Chef at Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering and author of numerous kosher cookbooks including Jewish Cooking for All Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes. To purchase her books, click here. For more articles by Laura, click here.
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