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Food of Istanbul for Tu B'Shevat

orange salad

The smells and tastes of the fresh spices, herbs, vegetables and fruits in the Turkish market linger in my nose, on my tongue and in my mind. How better to retain these memories my recent travel to Istanbul than by recreating them in my own kitchen. Starting with this inspiration, I then realized that Tu B’Shevat begins on the eve of February 7, 2012. Tu B’Shevat celebrates a New Year for the Trees-specifically the fruit of the tree and the vine. It’s a celebration of renewal and ecological awareness.  I picked up a non kosher cookbook I had bought before my trip about the food and customs of Turkey; and there, in the beginning pages, is a column referencing the publisher’s Ethical Trading Policy. They acknowledge that they use a lot of wood pulp to create the paper for printing their books. To balance that, they have a program to plant new trees to replace the ones they are using in order to assure that forests are maintained in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible way. I decided to work with this book and a Sephardic Kosher cookbook I bought in the Zulfaris Museum gift shop, in Istanbul, to bring you recipes that are delicious, can be made in kosher kitchens and that also reflect the characteristics of Tu B’shevat.

Tu B’Shevat is all about the seven species (Shivat Haminim) that are plentiful in Israel and are mentioned in the Bible. They are: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. To mark the holiday in the simplest way, many people make a point of eating from this group of fruits and school children plant trees. Another custom, observed by many, is to prepare a Tu B’Shevat Seder modeled after the Passover Seder and which includes four cups of wine: both red and white. This custom began in the 17th century with the Kabbalists from Safed and spread from Safed to Sephardic communities from Turkey, Italy and Greece to Europe, Asia and North Africa.

The choice of foods for the Seder get a little more complicated dealing with fruits/nuts with inedible outer shells and edible inner cores (coconuts,oranges,pine nuts, pistachios ..), edible fruits with inedible cores (olives,dates,avocados…), and completely edible fruits. (strawberries, grapes, figs…)

Here are several recipes I worked out using my Sephardic Kosher cookbook, my non kosher Turkish cookbook, and my pictures and memories of the vegetable and fruit dishes I ate in Istanbul.  These are not quickie recipes that can be done in an instant; but, if you let it, the time it takes to prepare them brings you back to another world and another time-like a vacation.

Chicken with Apples, Onions, and Pomegranates

Orange, Red Onion and Olive Salad

Halibut with Pomegranate Molasses and Herbs

Bulgur with Carrots, Nuts and Dates

Grape Leaves Stuffed with Herbed Lamb and Rice

Dried Fruit Compote