Please, please please, Spring.

AriCooks, cookies, Jerusalem, Tu B'Shvat

Almond trees are blooming like crazy, the Emek is green and glittering with fresh rain and red anemones, we had our second gorgeous Saturday in a row, and even though our apartment still feels like the inside of a walk-in refrigerator, I know it won’t be long before I can open some windows and trade this cold, stale air, for the new, mild air of spring. That’s the thought that keeps me going as we slog our way through the final stretch of Jerusalem winter.

This past week we celebrated Tu B’Shvat, the birthday of the trees, by eating many dried fruits, appreciating the buds and colorful flowers that dot the green spaces, and by planting a tree! Jeff and Auralee, along with a friend, visited The Valley of the Gazelles here in Jerusalem, and planted a carob tree (photos, courtesy of Caitlin Eisner Fisch).

The Valley of the Gazelles is a green space that was saved from developers by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. This area is home to a steadily (re)growing indigenous population of gazelles.

Another welcome happening this week was Sala’s (of Veggie Belly) lovely post on the food tour she did with me in early December. We wandered Machane Yehuda together, tasting as we went, and ate at the Kurdish neighborhood institution, Rachmo. We were also very lucky to be invited into Hassan’s pita and laffa bakery for a private tour, mini-baking lesson, and an informative chat on the history of his business. See her description of our day as well as some great photos here.

And a second must-read for this week is Liz’s piece for The Jew and the Carrot (the Foward’s food section). I love her description of Tel Aviv’s unique Shabbat atmosphere, a city she so clearly loves. The pancakes look wonderful too — wholesome and fluffy, just the way I like ’em.

And lastly, I strongly recommend these sweet, spiced biscotti from Fork Spoon Knife. You can click through to her recipe, or read on below to see how I adapted it slightly. Happy Dunking, and remember to breathe deep, spring is (nearly) here.

Fig, Cashew and Cardamom Biscotti, slightly adapted from Fork Spoon Knife.

So many recipes on the web and in cookbooks really catch my eye. Whether it’s a photo that entices or the use of a specific ingredient that lures me, the end results range from wonderfully satisfying to terribly disappointing. This recipe falls into the former category. Of course, I knew it would be hard to go wrong when figs and cashews are involved, but I did not know that I would also learn something new. Cardamom powder (the so-called ‘ground cardamom’) we buy in supermarkets and spice shops is a bleached, mild-tasting substitute for the pungent, tiny, dark seeds that fresh cardamom pods contain. Do not skimp on this step if possible — use fresh-from-the-pod seeds in this recipe. 

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 Tbs olive oil

1/3 cup cane sugar

1 egg

5 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground in a spice/coffee grinder

zest of 1/2 an orange

1/2 cup dried figs, chopped

1/2 cup roasted, salted cashews, chopped

Preheat oven to 325°F/165°C. In a small bowl, whisk dry ingredients together and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then beat in the egg. Mix in zest and cardamom. With a rubber spatual, fold in the dry ingredients until just blended, then fold in the cashews and figs. On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a 15 x 1.25 inch log and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until very pale golden (I rotated the pan halfway through). Remove from oven (leaving oven on) and when cool enough to handle, slice with a serrated knife into little biscotti-size cookies. Be gentle.

Place the biscotti back on the pan or directly onto the oven rack and toast on each side for about 7 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and cool.

Serve with your favorite warm beverage. I enjoyed mine dunked in black tea!

9 thoughts on “Please, please please, Spring.

  1. I am also so excited about spring! I’m hopefully going to see the Negev anemones tomorrow and I can’t wait. And I also loved Sala’s post and Liz’s article 🙂 Finally, these biscotti sound incredible! I don’t know why I never thought to grind up cardamom seeds to make cardamom powder – it seems like a no brainer! Thanks for that tip.

    1. The tricky part is that you have to shell them. The green pods contain teeny tiny black seeds. I tried grinding the whole pod just to be sure I wasn’t missing something, but no, you must get those tiny guys out and grind them up. Slow work, but for these biscotti, it was worth it!

  2. Using the cardamom seeds definitely makes a difference. I like to use them in rice puddings, cakes, etc. after having cardamom flavored sweets at Indian and Persian places. Recently I was at an Afghan bakery and the baker showed me the cardamom pods that he grinds fresh. I asked if he removes the seeds and he said no, he grinds the whole thing. The sweet breakfast bread was good anyway and seemed to have a mild herbaceous flavor but did not at all have that distinctive flavor of cardamom.

    1. Faye, I did try to grind the entire pod (in my spice grinder), but I just ended up getting a bunch of stringy fibers along with the powder from the seeds. It didn’t seem like something I would want to eat, especially when the seeds themselves produced such a pure, pungent flavor. I know it’s kind of a pain to shell the seeds, but since this recipe (and many recipes calling for cardamom) only require a very little of the spice, I think it’s worth it 🙂

  3. I agree with you 100%. I’ve never tried to grind the whole pod (so far had no reason to try) and I appreciate knowing the results when you tried to do so. I think the Afghan baker probably uses the whole thing to save money since cardamom is very expensive, and who knows, maybe for that bread people don’t want a distinctive cardamom taste.

  4. Walk in refrigerator is spot on, Israeli homes are not built for the cold. Brrrrrr! But its great the weekend was beautiful and you had a chance to see the blossoming almonds, anemones….everything is awakening. I usually store the cardamom in the pod in the freezer and crush them right before use.

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