The holiday of Tu B’Shevat, also known as "New Year for the Trees," takes place on the 15th of Shevat in the Hebrew calendar (late January to early February on the Gregorian calendar; in 2015, it starts at sundown on Tuesday, Feb. 3rd and ends Tuesday February 4th). The holiday marks the beginning of spring in Israel; it is one of four annual "new years" described in the Mishnah. Tu B’Shevat is a time to celebrate the natural world. Gratitude is given for the fruits of the Earth and everything that grows.
Tu B’Shevat Customs: Traditionally, a bounty of fruits and vegetables grace the Tu B’Shevat table. In some parts of the world, Jews partake in a Tu B’Shevat seder meal complete with prayers and food blessings. Others celebrate by taking a picnic under the trees or simply making a meal featuring the fruits of the season. Jewish schools often hold outdoor parades; students wear all white and make baskets overflowing with fruit. In Israel, people are encouraged to plant trees and give back to the Earth, which is similar to our U.S. tradition of Arbor Day.
Celebrating Tu B’Shevat with a Vegetarian Meal: In my home, I celebrate Tu B’Shevat by cooking a kosher vegetarian meal to celebrate the ecological aspect of the holiday. Eating a meatless meal impacts the environment in a positive way, plus it gives me more opportunities to integrate fruits, vegetables, and grains into the menu. The weekend before Tu B’Shevat, I make a trip to the farmers market down the street and buy fresh, seasonal ingredients from our local farmers. It's a way of celebrating interconnectedness and appreciating the source of food.
What to Eat on Tu B'Shevat: Typical foods served on Tu B’Shevat include fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables. In California, the almond trees bloom at this time of year, so almond-laden foods often make an appearance on the holiday table. Those who partake in a Tu B’Shevat seder will eat at least 15 different types of fruits and vegetables. It is also customary to include the seven species mentioned in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. I like to decorate my Tu B’Shevat table with the seven species and other natural, woodsy decorations — branches, fresh flowers, delicate fruits, and bowls of nuts.
Here is a meatless Tu B’Shevat menu that you can enjoy with your family. Bear in mind that the vegetarian aspect of this menu is purely my personal preference. You could certainly serve a meat meal on the holiday, but to keep it kosher don’t mix any of the dairy dishes here with a meat entrée.