This year, from sunset on February 3 until nightfall on February 4, Jewish communities around the world observe Tu Bishvat, often called the New Year for Trees, or, in Israel, Arbor Day. The holiday has become a day for heightened ecological awareness.
The name comes from the Hebrew date for the holiday: the 15th day of Shevat. Tu stands for the Hebrew letters Tet and Vav (together they have the numerical value of 9 and 6 which equals 15). Tu Bishvat is a recent name; the date was originally called Hamisha Asar BiShvat, which means the same.
In the early 20th century in Israel, the Jewish National Fund devoted the day to planting eucalyptus trees to stop a malaria plague in the Hula Valley. Today, on every Tu Bishvat, the Fund schedules major tree-planting in large forests in Israel.
In Jewish communities in the United States we observe Tu Bishvat by special seders and also by eating fruit, especially some of the seven “fruits” of the crops praised in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (honey).
To celebrate Tu Bishvat this year I decided to prepare a recipe that was given to me many years ago for a Mediterranean-style chicken that uses three of the “fruits”: raisins (dried grapes), dates and olives and olive oil. Over the years I have modified the recipe so much that it has become my own. One nice feature of this recipe is the pre-marination. You simply place the chicken and its other ingredients in the baking dish, cover it tightly, refrigerate it and it marinates overnight. The next day simply remove the baking dish from the refrigerator, allow it to warm up slightly at room temperature, about 1 hour, then pop it in the oven and bake it. A word about seasoned salt. You can purchase and use the well-know brand or you can mix up a fragrant and economical batch using the signature recipe (page 66) in Food, Family and Tradition.
Tu Bishvat Chicken
Tu Bishvat Chicken
Makes: 8 servings
2 chickens (about 3 pounds each) cut into serving pieces
½ teaspoon Seasoned Salt
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke bottoms, drained, coarsely diced
¾ cup dates, pitted, diced
1/3 cup raisins
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup pitted Manzanilla (Spanish green) olives, with or without pimento
2 cloves garlic, minced
Spray a 9 by 12-inch glass or enameled cast iron baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Lay chicken pieces in the dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
In a separate medium bowl combine all remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour evenly over the chicken.
Cover the casserole with aluminum foil sprayed on one side with nonstick cooking spray, sprayed side down. Refrigerate overnight.
The next day, when ready to cook, remove chicken from the refrigerator and let warm somewhat at room temperature for 1 hour. Fifteen minutes before cooking, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bake chicken covered for 30 minutes. Uncover, baste and continue cooking, basting occasionally, until cooked through and golden, an additional 1 to 1 ½ hours.