Celebrating Tu Bishvat With Exotic Chicken

The holiday can be so much more than mixed nuts and dried figs.

Roasted chicken and eggplant in pomegranate and date molassesVered Guttman

Tu Bishvat is a versatile, ever-evolving holiday. It started off as an agricultural holiday in the land of Israel, helping Jewish followers calculate the age of a tree and the tithe given of its fruit. Later, Tu Bishvat became a day of planting new trees in the young state of Israel.

In the diaspora, it served as a day of longing for the land and its goodness. Celebrated for centuries in Ashkenazi communities by eating fruit, starting in the 17th century, Sephardi and Middle Eastern communities commemorated the holiday with a special Tu Bishvat seder, a custom that is attributed to the kabbalists of Safed. Feel free to choose whichever Tu B’Shvat tradition that works best for you.

There’s a lot to long for when you’re away from the Land of Milk and Honey: The sweet smell of fresh figs, almost exploding with juice in the summer. The moist fresh dates I’ve yet to find in America. The sweet prickly pear (sabra) fruit. The bitter olives, delicious and aromatic guavas, sweet and sour apricots, sweet carob pods picked straight off the trees. It’s hard to pretend that the shrunken, dried versions of these wonderful fruit we get outside of Israel is any compensation for the real thing.

In many households, Tu Bishvat was reduced to a bowl of mixed nuts and dried fruit in the center of the table. But it’s easy to incorporate the seven species (the seven types of fruits and grains known as the main produce of Israel) into main and side dishes, salads and of course, desserts.

Below are recipes for chicken in pomegranate and date molasses, roasted with eggplant (the fruit I actually miss the most). A glaze of pomegranate molasses, date molasses (silan) and olive oil incorporate three of the seven species into one delicious dish. A side dish of rice with raisins and pistachios adds another species. A Tu Bishvat dessert will be posted here later this week.

More options for a full Tu b’shvat meal were posted here earlier. Chestnut and farro overnight stew, Cherry, saffron and chicken pollow and roasted walnut and dried cherry tabulleh. And for dessert, a date and honey cake and an almond and orange braid,

Pistachio and raisin riceVered Guttman

Roasted chicken and eggplant in pomegranate and date molasses

Date molasses (known as silan or date honey in Israel) is available at kosher and Middle Eastern markets.

Pomegranate molasses is available at Middle Eastern markets, and some specialty and natural foods supermarkets (such as Whole Foods). When choosing the molasses, try to look for the lightest, thinnest ones.

Serves 6

Ingredients:
½ cup date molasses (silan)
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
⅓ cup olive oil
Kosher salt
1 eggplant, peeled in stripes and cut into 2 inch cubes
2 lb. baby potatoes, or golden potatoes cut into 2 inch cubes
6 chicken thighs
6 chicken drumsticks

Directions:
1. Put eggplant cubes in a large bowl, cover with water and mix in 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Set aside for 30 minutes and up to two hours.

2. Oven to 400 degrees.

3. Mix date molasses, pomegranate molasses, olive oil and 2 teaspoons kosher salt in a bowl.

4. Wash and pat dry chicken. Drain and pat dry eggplant. In a large bowl, mix chicken and eggplant with the date molasses mixture. Spray a large oven-proof pan (I used a 12” round pan) with oil, arrange potatoes at the bottom, sprinkle with a little salt, then arrange chicken and eggplant on top of potatoes, push eggplant cubes aside so they don’t cover the chicken pieces.

5. Roast for 45 to 50 minutes, basting chicken and eggplant 4 times during the roasting, until the chicken is cooked through and eggplant is soft. It is crucial to baste both chicken and eggplant to keep them moist, so don’t skip that step. Serve immediately.


Pistachio and raisin rice

Use any combination of roasted nuts and dried fruit in this simple Tu BiShvat rice.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large yellow onion, halved then thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon cardamom
2 cups Jasmine rice, washed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup roasted or roasted and salted pistachios
1 cup golden raisins
Grated zest of 1 orange

Directions:

1. In a large skillet heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cardamom and sauté, stirring occasionally, until onion is brown and caramelized, about 30 minutes. Reduce the heat if the onion gets browned too quickly.

2. In the meantime cook rice. In a sauce pan over medium-high heat heat one tablespoon olive oil, add rice and fry while stirring for 1-2 minutes. Add kosher salt and 3½ cups boiling water, bring to boil, lower heat to lowest, cover and cook for 10-13 minutes, until rice is cooked. Set aside.

3. When onion is ready, transfer rice to a large bowl and add onion, pistachios, raisins and orange zest. Mix gently and serve.