Restaurateurs Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook discuss how to put together a different kind of seder, yet one that's very appropriate for this time of year.
Steve: Yes, Mike?
Mike: You want to plan a seder?
Steve (silence): Are you feeling OK?
Mike: Why do you ask?
Steve: Because it is January and you’re asking me if I want to plan a seder.
Mike: Oh yeah, not a Passover seder, a Tu B’Shevat seder. Totally different situation. It’s like a tree birthday party, a celebration of fruits of the tree. I mean, the kabbalists were into it!
Steve: Cool, we could invite Madonna and Britney and Ashton and Demi.
Mike: Well, actually, either Ashton or Demi. Otherwise, it might get awkward.
Steve: So what else do we need? Do we use a designated seder plate? Do we sing? Wait a minute. We don’t have to eat matzah all week, do we?
Mike: No, no, absolutely no matzah. But still four glasses of wine and instead of a seder plate, we eat different types of fruit that represent parts of our conscious and subconscious. For example, the first fruit we eat has an inedible shell and a soft interior, like a walnut or a coconut, to signify the strength of the earth and the need for our spirits to be nourished.
Next we eat a fruit with a pit in the center like an olive or a date to remind us of the life-sustaining powers of the earth. (At this point, I might add a bit of Bulgarian feta and sliced apple to remind me of winter menu “sustenance” for Zahav … just saying.)
We follow with fruit that is soft and entirely edible, like figs or grapes to symbolize God’s omnipresence.
Steve: Figs, dates, grapes, olives … sounds pretty delicious.
Mike: Sure does, bro. Add pomegranate, wheat and barley, and you’re also celebrating (drum roll) the shivat haminim, otherwise known as the seven biblical species of Israel. Include these in your seder and you are symbolizing the relationship between the biblical land of Israel and the contemporary state.
Steve: This doesn’t sound that difficult. In fact, all of these symbolic foods are quite delicious — so delicious that even my kids might actually enjoy eating them.
Mike: Totally. And taking a minute to consider and appreciate all these fantastic fruits is so important, especially today. We’re all so used to going to the store and purchasing fruit as a product. We rarely get to experience the relationship between the earth and its produce directly. And that’s exactly why we celebrate Tu B’Shevat.
So gather your friends, family and local Kabbalah-loving celebs and try out a seder. It is a relatively new practice (16th century) so have fun with it.
Barley-Stuffed Grape Leaves with Pomegranate Juice
16 large grape leaves, brined (available at most specialty grocery stores)
1 cup barley, soaked overnight
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 Tbsps. chopped cilantro
2 Tbsps. chopped red onion
1 tsp. ground fenugreek
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 potato, peeled and cut into 8 slices
3 cups pomegranate juice
1⁄2 cup seedless grapes, halved
1 Tbsp. chopped dill
additional kosher salt,
additional olive oil
Preheat the oven to 300˚.
Lay the grape leaves out on a cutting board or plate.
Mix the barley, garlic, cilantro, red onion, fenugreek, salt and olive oil very thoroughly.
Divide the filling between the leaves.
Roll the leaves up like a cigar while making sure the sides are tucked in mid-way.
Line the bottom of a medium sauté pan with the sliced potatoes, and place the grape leaves on top. Try to keep the grape leave bundles as close together as possible (a hexagonal pattern works the best), with the seam side down.
Sprinkle additional salt over the stuffed leaves, if desired.
Pour the pomegranate juice into the pan and cover the sides of the pan with 1 sheet of parchment paper and 2 sheet of foil.
Place in the oven and cook for 2 to 3 hours or until barley is tender, when pierced with a knife and all of the pomegranate juice has been absorbed.
Uncover, and allow to cool to room temperature, in the sauté pan.
Once they are cooled, carefully remove them from the pan onto serving plate.
Sprinkle the grape leaves with the grapes, dill and additional olive oil, if desired, and enjoy immediately.
(Can be refrigerated for up to 4 days — the potatoes are delicious fried or used for soup.)
Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook, co-creators of Citron and Rose, Zahav and other local restaurants, write a monthly column for the Jewish Exponent.