I have updated this recipe for 2014. I added fresh pomegranate seeds to the batter and reworked the recipe a bit to improve flavor and texture. They are super tasty!
This week Jews everywhere will celebrate Tu B’Shevat, also known as “New Year for the Trees.” This holiday takes place on the 15th of Shevat in the Hebrew calendar (late January – early February on the Gregorian calendar). Tu B’Shevat marks the beginning of spring in Israel; it is one of four annual new years described in the Mishnah. It’s a time to celebrate the natural world. Gratitude is given for the fruits of the earth and everything that grows.
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 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.
In our home, we celebrate Tu B’Shevat by cooking a 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 farmer’s market and buy fresh, seasonal ingredients from our local farmers. It is my way of celebrating our interconnectedness and appreciating the source of our food.
Typical foods served on Tu B’Shevat include fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables. 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. Chocolatey carob pods are sometimes included in the meal. It is also customary to include the Seven Species mentioned in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.
The Seven Species of the Land of Israel are listed in Deuteronomy 8:8: “a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and [date] honey.” Image source: Wikimedia Commons
A few years ago, I wondered if I could find a way to incorporate all Seven Species into one recipe. It was an interesting challenge, one that ultimately ended with a seriously delicious batch of Seven Species Muffins. Here are the ingredients I used:
Wheat = Flour
Barley = Barley flour
Grapes = Golden raisins
Figs = Dried figs
Pomegranates = Pomegranate seeds
Olives = Light olive oil
Dates = Dried dates
I also used almond milk (almonds are commonly eaten during Tu B’Shevat) and applesauce to add low calorie moisture. And I threw some walnuts in, just because they’re crunchy good.
It took me quite a few tries, but I finally was able to whip up a batch of Seven Species Muffins that my whole family loved. They make the house smell awesome while they’re baking. The barley flour gives the muffins a soft, tender crumb. I especially love the pomegranate seeds inside, which provide an unexpected burst of juicy sweetness. If you wanted to make them more dessert-like, you could also use chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds instead of the fresh ones (they have kosher certified chocolate seeds at Trader Joe’s). These muffins were made for Tu B’Shevat, but they would also be great for the Jewish holidays of Sukkot or Shavuot. Make these muffins with the kids to help them learn about the Seven Species. Or just bake up a batch for fun because they taste so, so good!
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Seven Species Muffins
- 3/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup dried figs
- 1/2 cup dates
- 1 1/4 cups unsweetened almond milk
- 1/4 cup applesauce
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 cup light olive oil
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (3/4 cup all purpose + 3/4 cup whole wheat flour will work too)
- 1/2 cup barley flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup pomegranate seeds
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- Nonstick cooking spray or paper muffin tin liners
Topping Ingredients (optional)
- 2 tbsp turbinado sugar
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- If your raisins are particularly dry, cover them with water and bring to a boil. As soon as the water boils, turn off the heat and let the raisins sit in the water to plump for 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry with a paper towel.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. If your figs have tough stems on them, remove them and discard.
- Roughly chop dates and figs. Set aside.
- Use a blender or food processor to blend together the following ingredients until very smooth: dates, figs, almond milk, applesauce, cinnamon and allspice.
- It may take a couple of minutes to blend all ingredients to a smooth consistency, depending on the power of your blender. The end result should be similar to the texture of apple butter or smooth fruit preserves. Set mixture aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, light olive oil, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, barley flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Gently mix the pomegranate seeds into the dry mixture, making sure the seeds are well coated with flour.
- Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour the fruit mixture from the blender into the well.
- Add the egg mixture to the well.
- Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until the dry ingredients are just moistened and a lumpy batter forms. Do not overmix - if you do your muffins will turn out heavy and dense.
- Fold raisins and chopped walnuts into the muffin batter with a light-handed stir.
- Prep your muffin pan by spraying a small amount of nonstick cooking spray into the bottom of each muffin tin (not the sides), or use paper muffin cup liners. Divide batter equally into muffin cups, filling each cup to the top and mounding the surface slightly. I've found that it's easiest to do this using an ice cream scoop.
- If you’d like to top the muffins, mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl using a fork. Sprinkle about a ½ tsp of cinnamon sugar mixture evenly across the surface of each muffin.
- Place muffins in the oven and immediately turn heat down to 375 degrees F. That extra heat blast at the beginning of the baking cycle will help to activate the baking powder and baking soda. Bake for 25-27 minutes until the tops of the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let muffins cool for 10 minutes before removing from the tin and cooling on a rack. Do not let the muffins cool completely in the tin, they are quite moist and may stick to the tin if you leave them there too long. Serve warm.