We are coming on to Tu B’Shevat and I wanted to share a recipe as well as discuss why the Mediterranean Diet is the healthiest in the world. Believe it or not – the two subjects go hand in hand.
It’s amazing to me how much energy is put into keeping slim, preventing heart disease, improving diabetes risk and other health issues caused due to diet. The Mediterranean diet is the healthiest in the world. Studies show it is favorable to heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, and asthma, and even can help prevent dementia.
Mediterranean diets may vary depending on the country of origin of local nuances. But they share many commonalities and consist of plenty of fresh vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes and fruits. Extra virgin olive oil is the predominant fat because the region is rich in olive trees. Meals are often accompanied by wine in moderation.
The Italian diet is low in fat. The Spanish have more fat in their diet due to more use of olive oil. The Israeli diet is different in that it is influenced by the West in its use of eggs, dairy products and meat. Still the Israeli diet is rich in fresh vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers) and fruit (figs, dates, etc) and grains. Think of bulghur and faro, to name a few.
So why is the Mediterranean diet so healthy? Due to its high anti-oxidant content. Our bodies produce supercharged oxygen and nitrogen molecules which are harmful unless we neutralize them with anti-oxidants. Natural foods and plants – the basis for the Mediterranean diet - are full of anti-oxidants and defend our bodies from these supercharged oxygen molecules.
Now to Tu B’Shevat. The birthday of the trees is Tu B’Shevat celebrated on the 15th of Shevat, is January 25. It is the day the trees begin their fruit bearing cycle and we eat the fruit of those trees mentioned in the Torah that grow in Israel - figs (te’enah), dates (tamar), olives (zayit), grapes (gefen), and pomegranate (rimon). We also add wheat (chitah), barley (se’orah) to complete the list of seven species. All are loaded with anti-oxidants. Each grows well in the Israel.
These were the staples of the ancient diet. Add to that almonds (shaked), the unofficial eighth species, due to all the almond trees in Israel that bloom right around Tu B’Shevat. The seven species are still important agricultural foods for Israel, but they no longer dominate the country’s produce.
It has become trendy to have a Seder on this holiday. Each of the four courses introduces fruits and the seven species. The first glass of wine is white, the second mixes a little red wine into the white wine, increasing the darkness of the wine in the third glass. The fourth glass of wine is completely red wine.
I think it is a cool idea to have a dish that includes the seven species. I did a lot of research for ideas and every recipe had one or two or three of the species. I wanted a recipe that incorporated all seven. It took a little creativity to come up with one recipe that included them all, but I did it!
So here is my Sephardic take. I created a luscious – absolutely divine - Seven Species Couscous Salad using pearl barley, all of the fruits, and whole wheat croutons! Mint and lemon help this dish pop in your mouth.
Wait till you try it my Seven Species Couscous Salad! It is a meal all by itself. This recipe is included in my cookbook Backyard Kitchen: Mediterranean Salads, available on Amazon.
Seven Species Couscous Salad
- 4 C water or vegetable broth
- 1 TBS salt
- 2 C Pearl Barley (1 lb)
- 12 figs, quartered
- 12 pitted dates, sliced
- ½ C pomegranate seeds
- ½ C slivered almonds
- ½ C feta (optional)
- Mint leaves for garnish
- 1/4 C olive oil
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- 2 TBS chopped mint
- 6 slices whole wheat bread, cut into pieces
- 1/4 C parmesan cheese
- 1/3 C olive oil
- 2 TBS grape juice
- Grate rind and Juice one lemon
- 1 tsp. wine vinegar
- 1 ½ tsp Kosher salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- Boil water. Add pearl barley, olive oil and salt. Simmer 20 minutes covered until water evaporates. Turn off heat and let sit.
- Prepare croutons by mixing olive oil, salt, pepper, and mint together in the bottom of a bowl. Mix in the whole wheat bread and add parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes to crisp.
- Whisk dressing ingredients together to make vinaigrette.
- Place cooked pearl barley on a platter. Pour on vinaigrette and mix.
- Sprinkle figs, dates, pomegranate seeds, almonds and croutons on top. Add feta if using.
- Garnish with mint leaves. Serve warm and enjoy!