JNS.org – Winter fruit might seem less spectacular than the much more time-valued offerings of summer, but oranges and pears in particular, while quiet and “common,” can be the unexpected stars of simple savory dishes.
This is perfect for Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year for trees, which is a relatively unsung holiday. Sparkle up your Tu B’Shevat seder with an easy but surprising sweet potato-pear soup, which goes perfectly with a winter salad featuring crunchy, colorful leaves refreshingly coated with orange sections and a yogurty-orange vinaigrette, and exuberantly dotted with pistachios (also from trees). Finish the meal with an old-fashioned cake brimming with apples and walnuts, and studded with cranberries.
Cranapple Walnut Cake
Servings: about 8
Back by popular demand from the original “Moosewood Cookbook,” this recipe now appears, adapted slightly, in “The Heart of the Plate.” You will likely want to serve this a la mode with some excellent vanilla ice cream. If you anticipate this need, be sure to have the ice cream on hand before you begin.
The cake is quite sweet as is. If you are going to serve it with the ice cream, you
might want to reduce the sugar a notch or two—maybe to 1½ cups. If you buy extra-fresh whole cranberries in season and freeze some, you can enjoy them year-round. No defrosting necessary. Use nonstick spray.
1 ¾ cups (packed) light brown sugar
½ cup grapeseed or canola oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (also called “white whole wheat”)
(could also be unbleached all-purpose)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
2 medium apples (about ½ pound)—peeled and thinly sliced
½ cup chopped walnuts (chopped to the size of peanuts)
½ pound fresh (or frozen) whole cranberries
1) Lightly spray a 9 X 13-inch pan with nonstick spray. Heat the oven to 375°F.
2) In a medium-large bowl, beat together the sugar, oil, and vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
3) In a second bowl, combine the flour with the other dry ingredients until thoroughly blended. Add the dry mixture to the wet, stirring until combined, folding in the fruit and nuts as you go. The batter will be very thick.
4) Patiently spread the batter into the prepared pan (take your time spreading it in place) and bake in the center of the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, and the top surface is springy to the touch.
Winter Salad with Radicchio, Oranges, Pistachios, and Yogurty-Orange Vinaigrette
Romaine and arugula join forces with radicchio and fresh orange sections, and an orange-laced yogurt dressing coats the leaves, allowing a scattering of pistachios to adhere at random. If you choose to form a bed of couscous or extra yogurt underneath each serving, you will be rewarded with an extra layer that both absorbs the delicious trickle-down juices and also boosts the volume of the dish, herding it into light main-dish terrain.
You can wash and spin the salad leaves (keeping them cold and very dry), prepare the vinaigrette, and section the oranges well ahead of time. Dress and finish the salad immediately before serving.
The tangy vinaigrette, free-standing, will keep very well—for weeks—in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. Shake well, or stir from the bottom, before using.
1 heaping tablespoon finely minced shallot
1 teaspoon agave nectar or honey
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt (rounded measure)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup plain yogurt (regular or Greek)
½ pound very fresh radicchio (any type)
A handful of small arugula leaves
About 6 perfect, crisp romaine leaves
2 oranges, sectioned
1/2 cup lightly toasted pistachios
Optional Enhancement : Spread a bed of yogurt and/or couscous on the plate underneath the salad, as a bed to catch the dressing (and to make this more of a light main course).
1. Combine the shallot, agave or honey, orange juice, vinegar, and salt in a small bowl, and whisk to thoroughly blend.
2. Keep whisking as you drizzle in the olive oil, keeping up the action until it is completely incorporated.
3. Stir/whisk in the yogurt and mix until uniform. Cover and refrigerate until use.
4. Have the cleaned, dried salad leaves in a large-enough bowl. Break them into bite-sized pieces as desired.
5. Add about 6 tablespoons of the vinaigrette, tossing as you go, to thoroughly coat all the leaves. Add the orange sections toward the end, mixing them in gently so they don’t break.
6. Sprinkle in the pistachios with the final toss, and serve pronto.
Sweet Potato-Pear Soup
Fresh pears and sweet potatoes are puréed together and finished off with touches of cinnamon and white wine. This unusual combination is slightly sweet, slightly tart, and deeply soothing. My original version (published in “Still Life with Menu”) included milk or cream. This version is vegan-friendly, using oil instead of butter.
Use any wine that you enjoy drinking. And perhaps serve the rest of the bottle with
the soup. Be sure to use the moist, orange variety of sweet potato (not the drier, starchier white type).
2 medium-sized sweet potatoes (1 pound)
4 cups water
One 3-inch stick cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons salt
3 large ripe pears (any kind but Bosc, which are too grainy)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter—or grapeseed or canola oil
¼ cup crisp white wine
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice (to taste)
Cayenne or white pepper (optional)
1) Peel sweet potatoes, and cut into small (about ¾-inch) pieces. Place in a large saucepan with water, cinnamon stick, and salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until tender (about 10 minutes). Remove the cover and let it simmer an additional 5 minutes over medium heat. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick, and let the sweet potatoes rest in their cooking water while you fix the pears.
2) Peel and core the pears, and cut them into thin slices (about ¼-inch).
3) Melt the butter (or heat the oil) in a heavy skillet over medium heat, and swirl to coat the pan. Add the pears, and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, or until quite soft. Add the wine, cover, and simmer about 10 minutes longer over lowest possible heat.
4) Transfer the pear mixture to the sweet potatoes-au-jus, then purée everything together until smooth with an immersion blender (You can also use a stand blender in batches, and then return it to the pot.
5) Add lemon or lime juice to taste, plus a touch of cayenne or white pepper, if desired, and serve the soup hot. (It reheats well, if necessary.)
With more than 6 million books in print, Mollie Katzen is listed by the New York Times as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time and has been named by Health Magazine as one of “The Five Women Who Changed the Way We Eat.” Her new book, The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation, was published in September 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.