It isn’t surprising that I would find another way to highlight a food that is among the “seven species of Israel,” after the lessons I learned earlier this week in an online celebration of Tu Bishvat. The history and symbolism of Jewish food fascinates me, and it’s something that isn’t prevalent across all cultures. Though I’m not Jewish, my husband is, and I’m pleased that we each appreciate traditions from the other side. In our home, we observe Passover and Rosh Hashanah, Easter and Christmas. I’ve attended temple with him, and he’s been to church with me. Over the past year, we’ve joked many times about having been “to church” online more regularly than ever before in person. It’s my not-so-secret hope that houses of worship will continue what they’ve started with online availability, even after the COVID fog lifts and the doors re-open. There’s huge potential for new outreach by these virtual means.
Until that time, I’m taking the lessons however they come, and the online “new year of the trees” celebration, honoring the many blessings of trees and nature, paid particular homage to wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olives and dates—the aforementioned “seven species.” So I’m going with it.
Several years ago, I picked up this cookbook on a bargain table at TJ Maxx, one of my favorite places to find interesting culinary treasures and gadgets. I have been enthralled with the beautiful images of foods authentic to Morocco, and I’ve noticed many crossover ingredients to the foods of Jewish culture—it makes sense, geographically. Today’s recipe comes from page 16 of that book: a grapefruit and fennel salad, described by the author as a “lovely hot weather salad,” though I’m finding it a bright and refreshing addition to the table right here in the middle of winter. I’ve modified a few things from that recipe, as I always do. I believe this is how we discover new favorites.
The salad brings plenty of color to the table, and I can taste the sunshine in the beautiful winter citrus! I’ve used ruby red grapefruit, which leans sweeter than pink or white, in combination with navel and blood oranges for additional sweetness and color variety, plus licorice-y fennel slices and castelvetrano olives. If your supermarket has a bulk olive bar, this olive variety is easy to spot because it is bright green like Kermit the Frog. The flavor is buttery and creamy, almost akin to artichoke heart, and I love the slightly briny contrast it provides against the juicy citrus and crunchy fennel.
1 ruby red grapefruit*
1 navel orange
1 blood orange
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 bulb fresh fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 or 3 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced
1 tsp. cumin, caraway or fennel seed
Small handful of castelvetrano olives,* pitted (see notes)
Ruby red grapefruit is not as tart as pink or white grapefruit. If you cannot eat grapefruit, try using an extra orange plus a Meyer lemon in its place. You would still have a variety of citrus flavors and colors.
The castelvetrano olives really do stand out, colorwise, on the olive bar. If your market does not offer these, you may also look for the variety in jars. Substitute Kalamata olives from Greece as a good alternative. I would not recommend regular pimiento-stuffed olives or canned “ripe” olives for this recipe. Purchase pitted olives if you can, or carefully cut them in half to remove the pit before adding them to the salad.
- To prepare the grapefruit, cut it in half crosswise, as you would enjoy it for breakfast. Next, use the tip of a sharp paring knife to cut the segments from the membranes. Do this for each half, then spoon them out into a bowl. Squeeze remaining grapefruit juice over a strainer into a bowl and reserve for another use.
- To prepare the oranges, cut off the tops and bottoms so the fruit is stable on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to carefully cut from top to bottom, removing the peel and bitter outer pith from the fruit. Cut the oranges in half, top to bottom, then lay them flat side-down on the cutting board. Slice the oranges into half-rounds, about 1/2” thick. Some may split, and that’s OK. Add the pieces to the grapefruit bowl, and give it a pinch or two of kosher salt.
- In a small, dry skillet, toast the cumin (or caraway or fennel) seed over medium heat, swirling the pan continuously. After about one minute, the seeds to be toasty and aromatic. Remove from heat and allow them to cool.
- Scatter the sliced fennel and olives into the citrus bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss gently to coat. Transfer to a serving bowl.
- Sprinkle the scallion slices over the salad, then sprinkle with the toasted seeds and serve immediately.