A few years ago, a friend asked me to go with her to a Tu B’av Jewish singles mixer. It was the first time I had ever heard about the “The Jewish Day of Love.” I was single at the time, and ambivalently agreed to go check it out. Like most things that are explicitly about people finding dates in an unnatural setting, it was an awkward and vaguely depressing experience. I learned little about the meaning of the holiday, she and I had multiple uncomfortable small-talk conversations, and we drank a few glasses of cheap white wine. I don’t remember there being much food at the party, and afterwards I vowed to never attend another Tu B’av event.
So what is Tu B’av? This holiday goes way back to the Second Temple period where it was considered a day of joy, and it had a secondary agenda of matchmaking unmarried women. Apparently on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Av, single women would run into the vineyards wearing white to dance and find love (exactly like Tinder, right???). For some reason the holiday got forgotten for several hundred years, but in recent decades it has been making a comeback. In Israel it’s become very popular and is celebrated like a Jewish Valentine’s Day.
I have had a change of heart about Tu B’av. I have a soft spot for any celebration connected to love. That said, I’m not into contrived acts of romance, or calling attention to unmarried folks, and I don’t think love has to be celebrated just in the context of romantic partnership. As a cook, instead of singles mixers or bouquets of flowers, my mind immediately goes to food. What could we eat to celebrate love of all kinds?
August is the perfect time of year to pair food with love. These days I’m craving food that is fresh and light, that highlights the best produce of the season, and that can be prepared and shared easily—preferably somewhere outdoors and barefoot. My menu for this year’s Tu B’av, which begins at sundown on Sunday, August 6, aims to provide all of those things, while also sparking ideas about what great love can be: sensual, satisfying, messy, and exciting.
These are recipes that aren’t recipes. I’m giving you measurements (loosely), and directions that involve little cooking. Each dish is merely a suggestion for pairing ingredients together in an easy, beautiful, and uncomplicated way… like the best kind of falling in love.
Figs = the most romantic fruit. In this recipe the figs, feta, and herbs riff off each other with their sweet, salty, earthiness. The drizzle of date syrup cuts through the edge of the feta. Ideally, you want to use figs that are super ripe, jammy, and sweet.
Figs with feta, mint, basil, and date syrup
10-12 large figs, cut in half lengthwise
Small handful of basil leaves
Small handful of mint leaves
½ cup of good quality feta, cubed or crumbled
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Date syrup* or honey, for drizzling
Pinch of salt
Lay out the fig halves on a serving platter. Top the figs with fresh herbs; you can either keep the leaves whole, or roughly chop them and sprinkle over everything. Top the figs with small pieces of feta. Drizzle everything with good olive. Drizzle with date syrup (or honey if using) – keep the drizzle light, you don’t want the figs to be overly sweet. Finish the dish with a light pinch of salt.
The figs + herbs + feta can be assembled a few hours ahead. You can drizzle them with the oil and date syrup/honey just before serving.
*Date syrup can be found at Middle Eastern or Persian markets
The best part of August is tomatoes (IMHO). Simple things are sometimes the hardest to pull off, and these tomato toasts are all about the quality of the ingredients. Pick out excellent bread, juicy flavorful tomatoes, great butter, and good quality olive oil.
Tomato Thyme Toasts
Baguette or small loaf of good crusty bread, cut into ¾” slices
2 lbs. of your favorite tomatoes
6-7 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves removed from stem
Butter (splurge on some good stuff)
Maldon salt or kosher salt, to taste
Good extra virgin olive oil, to taste
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Slice the tomatoes into rounds, just under ½” thick. Lightly salt the tomato slices. The salt will start to soften the tomatoes and season them all the way through.
Place the bread slices on a baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake the bread for 6-8 minutes, or until just toasted and beginning to brown on the edges. Once the bread is toasted, spread butter onto each piece. This dish is all about layering of fats and salt with the tomatoes.
Top the toasts with the tomato slices. Top the tomato slices with thyme leaves. Drizzle with a little more olive oil (for a little more oomph). Sprinkle Maldon salt over everything – this will add a nice salty crunch.
You can bake the toasts ahead of time and assemble them with tomatoes when you’re ready to serve, the bread doesn’t have to be hot, and the tomatoes will mellow out the bread’s crunch.
Chocolate dipped fruit is my favorite way to end any meal. In the winter I use fresh oranges. In summer there’s a wider world of good fruit. The key for any chocolate dipped fruit is to make sure whatever you are using is ripe, but still slightly firm. The fruit here gets topped with a little chili powder to add some extra flavor and unexpected heat.
Chocolate and Spice Dipped Summer Fruit
1½ lbs. ripe firm fruit (e.g. peaches, plums, and/or strawberries)
8 oz. dark chocolate (around 70% is great), chopped into chunks
2 teaspoons coconut oil
Chili powder, to taste*
Slice your fruit into ½” pieces if using peaches and plums. Strawberries can be left whole. Lay the fruit out on a clean kitchen towel or paper towels to dry them before using.
Add your chopped chocolate and coconut oil to a heatproof bowl. Either by placing your bowl over a pot of gently simmering water (make sure the bowl isn’t touching the water), or in a microwave, heat the chocolate until it is just melted. Stir periodically.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Once the chocolate is melted, dip each piece of fruit into it and then lay it flat onto the parchment paper. Sprinkle with chili powder if using. Once the baking sheet is full of fruit, immediately transfer it to the fridge to chill, for at least one hour or up to 6 hours before serving.
* It’s important to use a chili powder that is made of just chilis, avoid one with added garlic powder or other added spices