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Cooking: Love & the Fruit of the Vine
by Tina D. Wasserman

Photograph by Rose Eichenbaum

A good grape harvest in mid-summer was cause for celebration in ancient Israel, promising an abundance of fruit to make wine, raisins, and syrup for the coming year as well as vine leaves to be brined and stuffed with meat, vegetables, and rice.

Because the harvest began on the 15th of Av (the fifth month in the Jewish lunar calendar), the celebratory holiday was named Tu B’Av (Tu means 15). In time the festival also came to celebrate love and its pursuit. The Talmud describes how unmarried girls, rich and poor alike, would dress in plain white clothing and sing and dance under the full moon in the vineyards surrounding Jerusalem (Ta’anit 30b–31a). Many betrothals ensued.

Today the grape harvest is still celebrated in Israel, and many Israeli couples choose to get married on Tu B’Av for the “luck” it may bestow.

I hope you spend this Tu B’Av (Aug. 14) with someone you love and enjoy these recipes that give thanks for the fruit of the vine.


Chicken Salad Veronique with Avocados

This cold salad, featuring Israel’s summer bounty, is perfect for a hot summer’s day. French recipes titled Veronique signify the inclusion of grapes. This one is a snap if you ask the deli person to cut the meat into half-inch thick slices (number 35 on some slicers).

8 ounces cooked deli chicken or smoked turkey, slices cut 1⁄2-inch thick
11⁄2 avocados, ripe but firm
Juice of 11⁄2 limes
2 cups seedless red grapes, sliced in half
1 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons ketchup
1 good pinch of dried summer savory or thyme
1–2 Tablespoons sweet vermouth or red wine
Toasted sliced almonds, for garnish

  1. Cut the chicken into half-inch cubes and transfer to a bowl.
  2. Slice whole, peeled avocado into half-inch cubes and place in a small bowl. Add the juice of 1 lime to the cubes and toss.
  3. Mix in the halved grapes with the chicken.
  4. Combine the mayonnaise, ketchup, summer savory or thyme, and sweet vermouth in a 1-quart bowl. Mix well.
  5. Drain the lime juice from the avocado cubes. Using a rubber spatula, gently toss the avocados with the chicken and grapes. Place in a serving bowl or on a plate.
  6. Carefully fold the mayonnaise mixture into the chicken and grapes.
  7. Thinly slice the remaining avocado half and place in a small bowl. Add the remaining lime juice and gently turn the slices to coat well.
  8. Arrange the avocado slices over the top of the prepared salad and sprinkle with toasted almond slices. Serve within a half hour after garnishing. Serves 3–4 people.

Tina’s Tidbits:

• Whenever you’re mixing ingredients that include soft fruits or vegetables, use a rubber spatula; it will prevent the food from being nicked or mashed.

• To slow down the discoloration of an opened avocado, lightly coat it with an acidic food such as citrus juice or vinegar. This will keep the avocado surface green for at least an hour.


Wine Jelly & Frosted Grapes

What better way is there to relax on a hot summer’s night than with a cheese board, wine jelly (a wonderfully sweet counterfoil to strong and earthy blue-veined or chevre cheeses), and a good bottle of wine (preferably from the wine country in northern Israel)?

2 cups of red wine (preferably Shiraz or Zinfandel)
4 whole allspice berries
1 3-inch stick of cinnamon
3 cups of sugar
1 3-ounce pouch of liquid fruit pectin

  1. Combine the wine and spices in a 2-quart saucepan. Heat the wine on high for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the spiced wine to steep for 30 minutes.
  2. Add the sugar, then heat to a rolling boil. Stir constantly for about a minute, until the sugar totally dissolves.
  3. Add the pectin. As soon as the mixture returns to a rolling boil, stir for exactly 1 minute, until the mixture starts to thicken. Pour the jelly into 8-ounce jelly jars, a decorative mold, or a pie plate (if serving today).
  4. Allow the jelly to cool at room temperature for about 1–11⁄2 hours before covering with the jar lids. Refrigerate until it’s cold and very firm. (This mixture will refrigerate for weeks without spoiling; it can also be frozen. Do not store in your pantry.)
  5. Decorate the jelly with frosted grapes by tossing the grapes in slightly beaten egg whites or rinsing them under water, rolling them in a few Tablespoons of sugar, and then air drying them until
    dry and crisp.

Tina’s Tidbits:

• Frosting grapes with egg white helps the sugar adhere better and longer, but if you are uncomfortable using raw egg whites, water will work almost as well. Serves 20–30 as part of an appetizer plate.


Tina D. Wasserman, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, is the author of the URJ Press book,
Entrée to Judaism. She also teaches at her own cooking school, writes a kosher cooking newsletter on the Internet, and serves as a culinary scholar-in-residence throughout the U.S. and Europe.


To Learn More

For answers to your cooking questions, email AskTina@urj,org.



 


Union for Reform Judaism.