Tu B’shvat – Israel’s tree festival, celebrated on January 20 – heralds from Mishnaic times, and started out as a holiday celebrating the spring rebirth or new year for trees, and ultimately new beginnings. In modern Israeli times, it has become a local tradition to inaugurate important buildings on Tu B’shvat; iconic buildings such as the Knesset, Israel’s seat of parliament, as well as Hebrew University and the Technion, were all initially opened on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat.
In keeping with the times, Tu B’shvat has become more of a tree-hugging, environmental, ecological, green kind of holiday in recent years. Sure, there’s still tree planting, as well as dried-fruit and carob-eating that goes on but if you want to celebrate in a nouveau, hip Israeli manner, head to the recently opened shuk hanamal, the indoor green market at Hangar 12 in the Tel Aviv port, or namal, as it’s called in Hebrew.
The newly enclosed shopping spot, a continuation of sorts of the outdoor Friday market, was begun by two youthful female foodie entrepreneurs, Shir Halpern and Michal Ansky. These two Israelis both studied food history and cooking in Israel and abroad, and had been introduced to the wonders of green markets, bastions of locally grown produce. Halpern, who had worked in France and Washington, D.C., was at the time at Al Hashulchan, the Israeli online food magazine version of Epicurious, and was frustrated by the search for the perfect berry and for better produce in general.
So she and college friend Michal, a student of the Slow Food movement, made a tour of Israel’s small, organic farms, and found a wealth of specialty produce. When they opened the initial outdoor green market, the response by locals helped revive the farming careers of some of the growers, and the idea quickly spread to the neighboring areas in the country’s center, including Ra’anana, Herzliya, Rishon Lezion and Netanya, where additional green markets were also opened.
With the newly inaugurated, natch, not on Tu B’shvat, daily green market in Tel Aviv, shoppers can now buy their fresh goods every day, from specialty yellow carrots and purple potatoes to handmade cheeses, sweet grape tomatoes and homemade pastas. You can also grab a bite to eat at the Tortuga tapas bar or find the ingredients for assembling a Tu B’shvat treat.
Here’s a recipe for walnut butter, recommended by Shir Halpern, for augmenting any Tu B’shvat celebration.
½ cup walnuts
3.5 ounces butter at room temperature
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Warm the oven to 400 degrees. Roast the walnuts on a tray covered with baking paper for 10 minutes until golden. Remove and let cool before finely chopping.
Mix the butter with the walnuts, shallots, garlic and spices. Roll the butter in the baking paper and cool in the refrigerator until ready for use.
Cut the butter into circles and serve with bread, pancakes, French toast or even pasta. The butter will keep in the fridge for one month.
Go here for more information about Shuk Hanamal.