Honeyed freekeh with dried fruit and almonds (Photo/Faith Kramer)
Honeyed freekeh with dried fruit and almonds (Photo/Faith Kramer)

Honey, fruits and nuts star in this Tu B’Shevat dessert

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The New Year of the Trees, or Tu B’Shevat, is a joyous time to eat fruits and fruit-based dishes. Honeyed Freekeh with Dried Fruits and Almonds combines flavors and traditions from the global Jewish experience for a not-too-sweet dessert to celebrate the holiday (this year from sunset Feb. 5 to sunset Feb. 6).

Freekeh, roasted young wheat grain, is cooked with spices, honey, almonds and dried fruits and drizzled with silan (date syrup) to honor the day known to Sephardic Jews as Las Frutus — The Fruits. With a few tweaks (see variations) the recipe can be made vegan or into a parve side dish.

What once marked the 15th of Shevat as the date when the first fruits of cultivated trees were offered up at the Temple has morphed into a celebration of fruits and an exploration of spirituality. Many Jews will participate in a Tu B’Shevat seder exploring fruit and its symbolism. Customs also include eating the “seven species” mentioned in the Torah — wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates — as well as foods, including carob and nuts, associated with the ancient land of Israel.

Honeyed Freekeh with Dried Fruits and Almonds

Serves 6

  • 1 cup freekeh (see Notes)
  • 2 cups chopped dried fruit (see Notes)
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • ½ tsp. saffron threads (optional)
  • ½ cup chopped or slivered almonds
  • ½ cup honey
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ tsp. ground cardamom
  • ⅛ tsp. dried ground ginger
  • ⅛ tsp. salt
  • 1-2 Tbs. sugar, or to taste
  • 1-2 Tbs. lemon juice, or to taste
  • 2-3 Tbs. silan, carob molasses or honey
  • 1 Tbs. grated lemon zest
  • 2 Tbs. chopped mint

Rinse and drain freekeh. Put dried fruit in bowl. Cover with boiling water. Let sit 10-20 minutes or until fruit is softened. Strain, reserving liquid. Measure. If more than 2½ cups, discard excess. If less, add water to reach 2½ cups.

In large saucepan, melt butter with oil over medium heat. Stir in freekeh. Sauté for 1 minute. Pour in reserved liquid. Stir. Bring to simmer, stirring occasionally. Crumble in saffron (if using), and stir. Cover, and adjust heat to keep at simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Stir in fruit, almonds, honey, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and salt. Raise heat to return to simmer, stirring occasionally. Cover; adjust heat to keep at a simmer, and simmer for about 25 minutes or until freekeh is tender but still has a bit of resistance at the center. Liquid should be evaporated. (Add water as needed.)

Stir in 1 Tbs. sugar and 1 Tbs. lemon juice. Taste again, and add in more sugar and/or lemon juice if desired.

Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Drizzle serving dish(es) with silan, and scatter zest and mint on top.

Spiced Variation: Add ½ tsp. Aleppo or Urfa chili flakes with the other spices. These do not contain seeds, so they are milder than regular red chili flakes. To substitute, use ¼ tsp. red chili flakes or ⅛ tsp. cayenne powder.

Side-Dish Variation: Freekeh makes a great side for chicken. To adapt, use 2 Tbs. olive oil instead of the butter and oil. Add chili flakes as described above, and omit sugar and silan. Garnish with zest and chopped parsley. Serves 4-5.

Vegan/Parve Variation: Sub parve margarine for the butter, or use all olive oil. For a vegan dish, substitute agave for honey.

Notes: I prefer whole freekeh, but cracked freekeh or medium or coarse ground bulgur works well. Cooking time will be about 10-15 minutes shorter.

For dried fruit, use any combination. I use raisins, pitted dates, figs, apricots and/or pitted prunes. Measure after chopping into ½- to ¾-inch pieces. Use raisins whole.

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is faithkramer.com. Contact her at [email protected].