Originally published at My Jewish Learning.
Over the last decade, seders for Tu Bishvat have spiked in popularity. This growth is largely due to the contemporary Jewish community’s interest in “greening” ritual and holidays. Every year, the number of organizations turning to Tu Bishvat to inject some sustainability-awareness into their annual programming grows, as does the collection of environmentally-inspired haggadot for Tu Bishvat available online. (Like this one from My Jewish Learning, this one from Hillel, and this one from Hazon.)
The downside is that some people shy away from celebrating the holiday precisely because it feels too “hippie” or eco-spiritual. But while the Tu Bishvat seder, which was originally developed as a mystical celebration by kabbalists in 16th century Safed, provides a helpful structure for celebrating Tu Bishvat, there are no official rules for the holiday. The lack of halakhic requirements means that seders can be tailored to meet their hosts’ personalities–even if they happen to prefer fine china over bicompostable dishware.
The Seder Structure
Borrowing from Passover’s four cups of wine, the kabbalistic seder for Tu Bishvat is divided into four parts that correspond to four “worlds.” This notion of the importance of the number four repeats itself in multiple ways: through assigning a season and mystical attribute to each world, through drinking four cups of wine, and by dividing the foods eaten during the seder (generally a feast of fruits and nuts) into four categories that reflect human nature. Each of these components attempts to coax another level of contemplative thought, creativity, and wonder from seder participants.
Variations on the Theme
The five seder menus below share two key elements of the kabbalistic model:
- One glass of wine served in each “world,” moving from all white to all red
- A feast of fruit and nuts that corresponds with the kabbalistic attributes: fruits that are hard/inedible on the outside and soft on the inside in world 1, fruits that are soft on the outside and hard/inedible inside in world 2, fruits that are completely soft/edible in world 3, and no fruit in world 4
Beyond that, they vary widely in personality and presentation. So choose the seder menu that suits your tastes (or create your own) and have a wonderful Tu Bishvat!
Go ahead and let your eco-freak flag wave.
World 1: walnut pesto (recipe below) served on flaxseed crackers
World 2: date muffins spread with peach preserves
World 3: strawberry and blueberry smoothie “shots” blended with organic yogurt
Any organic or local wines will do. If you’re looking for kosher options, go with Yarden Organic Chardonnay for white and Baron Herzog Merlot for red.
Arrange the room with comfy pillows spread around the floor, hang colorful tapestries, and set low tables with tea lights, scented candles, and potted bonsai trees.
Elegance need not take a backseat on Tu Bishvat.
World 1: Lemon tartlets with an almond crust (recipe below)
World 2: Avocado-stuffed deviled eggs
World 3: Poached pears in wine syrup
With all that fruit on the table, you are going to want some cheese. Make a few small cheese boards to set around the table for mid-seder snacking.
Proper wine pairing is crucial to the seder’s success. Consult with your local wine seller to find the perfect bottle for each course. Be sure to start with a sparkling Prosecco or champagne to kick things off in style.
Use cloth napkins with elegant napkin rings, your finest china, and good flatware (naturally). Set small sprays of roses in miniature jars around the table. Tie individualized place cards around the stem of a small apple and place in the middle of each plate.
For first timers, the key is simplicity.
Create a few beautiful platters of whole fresh and dried fruit and nuts, and let the food shine for itself. Group the fruit and nuts from each “world” together on the platter to ease the guesswork–make sure to have a couple of options from each category.
Use your favorite table red and basic white wine.
Float a few tea-lights in bowls of water, and set bouquets of fresh, fragrant herbs (rosemary and thyme work especially well) in mason jars around the table.
Celebrate Jewish foods from around the world on Tu Bishvat.
World 1: Middle-Eastern inspired baklava
World 2: Hungarian fruit soup with peaches and plums (recipe below)
World 3: Sephardic quince and apple candies
Feature kosher wines from Israel, Italy, and Spain at your table.
Use music to set the mood–make a playlist of Jewish music from different cultures and let it play in the background throughout the seder.
THE CHOCOLATE LOVER
Because no holiday is complete without chocolate.
One word: Fondue. Have platters of fruit and nuts from each “world” interspersed around the table (the fruit should be cut into bite-sized pieces). In the center of the table, place a fondue pot filled with melted chocolate for a tasty and interactive seder (fondue recipe below). Don’t forget to provide sticks or long forks for dipping.
Ask your local wine seller for chocolate port and use it in place of the red wine. Another option is to skip the wine altogether and substitute it with chocolate. Start with a piece of white chocolate in the first “world” and slowly progress to milk chocolate, bittersweet, and–finally–decadently dark.
Lay a light brown tablecloth on your table and use dark brown napkins fastened with cream-colored rings for a sweet effect. Top off the table with this almost-good-enough-to-eat chocolate bar candle.
Vegan Walnut Pesto
2 cups packed basil leaves
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pulse basil and walnuts in a food processor. Add garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice and pulse again until smooth. Add nutritional yeast and salt and pepper to taste and pulse until just blended, pausing to scrape down the sides as needed. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
Lemon Tart with Almond Crust
Slightly adapted from Bon Appetit
1/3 cup almonds, finely ground in food processor
1 1/4 cup flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
6 Tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter cut into pieces
2 Tablespoons (or more) ice water
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons sour cream
Stir together almonds, flour, sugar, salt, and ginger in a bowl. Add butter and, using two knives or your fingers, mix together until it resembles coarse meal. Add ice water, a little at a time until moist clumps of dough form. Gather dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour or up to 1 day.
Preheat oven to 375. Roll dough onto a floured surface to a 12-inch round and transfer to a 9-inch diameter tart pan with a removable bottom. Fold dough overhang inwards, pressing to adhere and forming double-thick sides. Pierce dough with a fork and freeze for 20 minutes. Bake crust until light golden, about 30 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes.
While cooling, whisk lemon juice and sugar in a bowl. Add sour cream and then whisk in eggs until well blended. Pour mixture into crust. Bake tart until filling is set (about 35 minutes), covering crust edges with foil if they begin to brown too quickly. Cool tart completely on a rack and refrigerate at least 2 hours before slicing and serving.
Hungarian Fruit Soup
Slightly adapted from Matthew Goodman’s Jewish Food: The World at Table
2 pounds peaches, pitted and chopped
1 pound plums, pitted and chopped
7 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
Juice and zest of one lemon
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Up to 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
Put fruit, water, and salt in a soup pot and bring to boil. Add lemon juice, zest, cinnamon stick, vanilla, and 1/4 cup sugar. Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cinnamon stick.
Puree the soup in the pot with a hand (immersion) blender, or in batches in a standard upright blender. Transfer to a bowl and stir in additional sugar, to taste. Refrigerate overnight and serve with sour cream.
Easy Chocolate Fondue
1 pound semisweet chocolate (spring for high quality), chopped
1 cup heavy cream
Heat cream into a saucepan over low heat. Bring to a simmer and add chocolate, stirring until smooth and melted. Transfer to a fondue pot to keep warm.