Mushroom-Barley Soup. Photo by Judy Zeidler

Tu B’Shevat recipes: Savoring winter’s bounty


Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees, is the time of year in the Mediterranean region when the trees are just starting their early bloom. Called Las Frutas (The Fruit), by the Sephardim, it is observed by planting new trees, and is a time when family and friends celebrate at the table by eating a variety of fresh winter fruits and vegetables.

The ingredients that mark the holiday — which will be celebrated this year on Feb. 11 — include nuts, grains, legumes, dried fruits and winter citrus. They symbolize the cycle of the seasons, and hold the seeds for the future. It is a time to celebrate, as our ancestors did, with fabulous winter meals.

With all this in mind, one can be creative in deciding how to plan the menu with recipes that everyone is going to be able to enjoy, including the vegetarians and vegans among the family.

Begin with Mushroom-Barley Soup — the technique of sautéing all the ingredients brings out the intense mushroom flavor of this robust soup. For the main dish, try Risotto With Mushrooms. There is only one way to prepare an authentic risotto: The rice is not boiled in water but is sautéed in broth, which is added gradually and must be watched constantly. Invite guests into the kitchen to help stir, while you prepare their dinner. Serve in heated, shallow soup bowls — the authentic Italian way.

For dessert, eat everyone’s favorite Tu B’Shevat cookies, Lemon “Shortbread” Cookies topped with creamy Lemon Icing, and sing a hearty “Happy Birthday!” to your trees.

MUSHROOM-BARLEY SOUP

– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 onion, diced
– 2 stalks celery, diced
– 2 carrots, diced
– 3/4 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
– 2 tablespoons soy sauce
– 5 tablespoons pearl barley
– 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
– 1 tablespoon dry sherry
– Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large heavy pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté onion, celery and carrots, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

Add stock, soy sauce, barley, thyme and sherry. Reduce heat to low, cover partially and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, ladle into heated soup bowls.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

RISOTTO WITH MUSHROOMS

– 6 tablespoons unsalted margarine
– 1 onion, finely chopped
– 2 1/2 cups Arborio rice
– 6 to 8 cups hot vegetable stock
– 1/2 cup thinly sliced domestic mushrooms
– 1/2 cup sliced dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in water for 30 minutes
– 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
– 1/2 to 1 cup cream
– 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
– Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large heavy skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter until foamy. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until soft. Add the rice and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add 1 or 2 ladles of stock or enough to cover the rice. Cook, stirring constantly, as the stock is absorbed. Continue adding stock a little at a time, until the rice is just tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

In a small skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and sauté the domestic mushrooms until soft.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the porcini mushrooms from their soaking liquid to a bowl. Strain the soaking liquid into a small saucepan; bring to a boil and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until thick and the flavor intensifies.

Add the sautéed mushrooms, the porcini, parsley and cream to the rice mixture. Mix well and cook 3 to 4 minutes longer. Risotto should be served al dente — creamy and chewy — never mushy, so do not overcook. When the rice is tender but firm to the bite, blend in 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese and the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Season to taste, with salt and pepper. Serve immediately in heated shallow bowls. Garnish each serving with the reduced porcini liquid, and serve the remaining Parmesan in a bowl, to be passed separately.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.  

LEMON “SHORTBREAD” COOKIES WITH LEMON ICING

– Lemon Icing (recipe follows)
– 1 cup unsalted margarine
– 3/4 cup sugar
– 2 1/2 cups flour
– Grated peel of 1 lemon
– 1 cup toasted ground walnuts or pecans

Prepare the Lemon Icing; set aside.

Preheat the oven to 300 F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until well blended. Add flour and lemon zest and beat until crumbly and moist. Blend in the nuts.

Divide the dough into 4 portions; on a floured board, knead each portion into a ball. With palm of hand, press each ball into a smooth, flat disc 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick. Cut into rounds and cut each round in half. Arrange the cookies on a greased, foil-lined or Silpat-lined baking sheet in symmetrical rows to economize space. Leave space to allow for spreading.

Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool on racks. Decorate with Lemon Icing.

Makes about 2 to 3 dozen cookies.

LEMON ICING

– 1 1/8 cups powdered sugar
– 1 egg white, unbeaten
– 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
– 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine sugar, egg white, lemon juice and vanilla. Beat at low speed until the sugar is dissolved. Then beat at high speed until mixture is light and fluffy. Cover with damp towel until ready to use.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.


Judy Zeidler is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

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