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Chosen bites: Tu Bishvat treats

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02/06/2012

The New Year for trees is a great time of year to remind ourselves of the importance of eating locally and in season.

As we prepare to celebrate the New Year for trees, we are reminded of the relationship between humans and the land. As a chef, I understand the value of great produce and the beauty of a great bottle of olive oil and delicious wines. Tu Bishvat is a perfect time of year to remind ourselves to eat locally, in season and to celebrate responsible farming practices and the continued bounty from the earth.

Chicken with date and fig relish

For the relish

I love the harmony of sweet, sour and spice in this relish. The dates become soft and gooey and the crunch of the onions and pomegranate seeds are the perfect counter point to the quick cooking and brightly flavored chicken breasts.

1 cup red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
¼ cup honey
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 cups pitted dates
1 cup dried figs, stemmed and diced
½ cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses or syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup pomegranate seeds
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper

1. Heat the red wine vinegar, crushed red chilies and honey until the mixture comes to a simmer. Add the sliced red onion and dates and remove from the heat. Allow the onion and dates to marinate in the pickling liquid for 30 minutes.

2. Remove the onion from the pickling liquid, reserving the liquid, and coarsely chop the onion and dates.

3. Add the remaining ingredients and 2 teaspoons of the pickling liquid.

4. Salt and pepper to taste.

For the marinade

Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 glove of garlic, grated on a microplane
1 medium shallot, finely minced
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Whisk all of the ingredients for the marinade together.

For the chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to ¼ inch thickness

Place the chicken in a medium container and pour the marinade over the pounded breasts. Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours but no more than 6 hours.

1. Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade and discard the marinade.

2. Heat a large sauté pan or griddle to medium high heat. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil.

3. Place the chicken breasts in the hot pan, be sure not to over crowd the pan or the chicken will not get crispy and brown. Cook the breasts on the first side for 3-5 minutes until they are browned and slightly crispy. Turn the breasts to the other side and cook an additional 3 minutes until the breast is lightly browned and cooked through (you can test this by gently pushing on the breast and checking for firmness). If it is firm-it is done.

4. Serve the chicken breasts with the relish and barley pilaf.

Herbed Barley Pilaf

4 ounces whole wheat capellini or thin spaghetti, broken into 1-inch segments
1 ½ cups barley
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
¼ toasted pine nuts
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Suggested garnishes: pomegranate seeds, lemon slices

1. Place the pasta in a sauce pan that is lightly coated with olive oil. Toast the pasta, stirring occasionally, until it is a dark brown color, but not black.

2. Add the barley to the pasta and add 3 cups of water and cook the barley, covered, over medium heat until the barley is soft but with an al dente texture, about 30 minutes. Transfer the barley mixture to a large mixing bowl.

3. Stir the rest of the ingredients with the barley and garnish with pomegranate seeds and thinly sliced lemons.

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