Tu BiShvat, called the "New Year of the Trees," falls at a seemingly incongruous time of year.
Tu BiShvat is a minor festival whose provenance dates only to the time of the Second Temple. However, the kabbalists who clustered around the great fifteenth-century mystic Isaac Luria of Safed placed great weight on the holiday, creating new festivities, gatherings at which hymns were sung, fruit (particularly carob) was eaten, and four cups of wine were taken (as in the Passover seder).
What better way is there to relax on a hot summer’s night than with a cheese board, wine jelly (a wonderfully sweet counterfoil to strong and earthy blue-veined or chevre cheeses), and a good bottle of wine (preferably from the wine country in northern Israel)?
This recipe was created in 2005 in celebration of the 350th anniversary of Jews in America – inspired by gardening techniques practiced in Plymouth, MA.
Almond cultivation was among the primary occupations of Mediterranean Jews, and it was the Spanish Jews who first replaced flour with ground almonds in baking their tortas.
On Tu BiSh'vat it is customary to eat foods from these seven species: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.
This recipe is more nutritious than typical risotto and has that same risotto consistency, plus the natural starch in the barley grain adds creaminess to the dish. The use of saffron mimics the classic Risotto Milanese, which some connect to the Venetian Jewish community.
It is life we want, no more and no less than that, our own life feeding on our own vital sources, in the fields and under the skies of our homeland, a life based on our own physical and mental labors; we want vital energy and spiritual richness from this living source.