a piece of light fish on a plate with cucumbers on top
Grilled Ono with Cucumber (Photo/Josie A.G. Shapiro)

Tu BiShevat plan: Hug a tree, pick a lemon, zap a yam

One thing I miss now that my daughters have aged out of Jewish preschool is watching them sing “Happy Birthday,” make birthday cards and hug the trees at Tu BiShevat. They still hug trees, of course. After all, we live closer to Berkeley now than ever. But the full experience of a large class of 3-year-olds serenading a tree in the backyard of a mezuzah-laden school has ended.

Aside from the commonly known traditions of planting trees and celebrating the rights of trees to rest for a year without plucking their fruit, there aren’t too many customs related to Tu BiShevat, which falls on Feb. 11 this year.

However, we are guided to eat from the seven sacred species that the Torah says are abundant in Israel. These are olives, dates, barley, wheat, honey, vines (mostly referred to as grape vines) and pomegranates. And, of course, we are to eat fruit from the trees.

My favorite fruit to use when cooking for Tu BiShevat is a lemon. Thanks to trees all across the Bay Area, lemons are lush and easy to find. As you prepare to celebrate our leafy branched friends, pluck a few lemons from your neighbor or your grocery’s citrus section and get ready to have some fun.

Grilled Ono with Cucumber
Serves 4 to 5

1½ lb. ono
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 lemon, juiced (divided)
1 cup diced Persian cucumber
3 Tbs. cilantro, coarsely chopped
Salt and black pepper

In a sealable container, place ono, a fish also known as wahoo. Add the olive oil and all but 1 Tbs. of juice from lemon. Seal container, shake gently and marinate for 10 to 20 minutes. Preheat grill. Season fish with salt and pepper. Depending on thickness of fish, grill 15 to 18 minutes (flipping halfway through cooking time). Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, combine cucumber, 1 Tbs. lemon juice, cilantro, salt and pepper. Mix. Serve on top of fish.

a square white bowl with a mix of vegetables
Green Beans and Tomatoes with Olives (Photo/Josie A.G. Shapiro)

Green Beans and Tomatoes with Olives
Serves 4 to 5

1 small yam, scrubbed
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 cup onion, diced
1 tsp. garam masala
15-oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp. garlic, minced
15-oz. can diced tomatoes
½ lb. green beans, trimmed and cut in 1-inch pieces
Salt and black pepper
½ cup Moroccan olives (optional)

Prick scrubbed yam all over and cook in microwave 5 to 6 minutes until cooked mostly all the way through. Let cool. Cut in 1-inch pieces and set aside.

Heat oil in a French oven. Add onion, sauté 3 minutes. Add garam masala and sauté 1 more minute. Add garbanzo beans, sauté 5 minutes. Add garlic, sauté 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and cut-up yam. Simmer 8 minutes. Add green beans and saute 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with olives if desired.

Barley with Dried Figs
Serves 4

2 cups water
1 cup barley
4 Tbs. olive oil, divided
1 tsp. salt
½ cup dried figs, coarsely chopped
⅔ cup chopped parsley
3 Tbs. lemon juice
Salt and black pepper

Bring water to a boil. Add barley, 1 Tbs. of olive oil and salt. When boiling again, turn heat to low and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Add chopped figs, and simmer 10 more minutes until barley is tooth tender. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes more. Drain excess liquid, if needed. Stir in parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper as desired.

Josie A.G. Shapiro

Josie A.G. Shapiro won the 2013 Man-O-Manischewitz Cookoff and is the co-author of “The Lazy Gourmet.”