Koliva (an offering of boiled wheat that is blessed liturgically in connection with the Memorial Services in Church for the benefit of one’s departed, thereby offering unto God) is the most misunderstood dessert, a sweet taboo because most of us associate it with memorials therefore with death and pain. Nevertheless koliva is one of the most delicious and healthy desserts of Greek tradition, but also the best breakfast, since it is an “energy bomb”. That’s why it is athletes’ favorite.
Koliva is part of the Orthodox Christian tradition from the earliest Christian times. However, according to historians, this custom has its starting point on ancient Greece. Koliva symbolize the resurrection of the common people at the Second Coming in the same way that the grain of wheat falls into the earth, buried, digested and rot but not worn out and then grows better and more beautiful. Koliva are made during the three Soul Saturdays including the two Saturdays prior to Great Lent, the first Saturday of Great Lent, and the Saturday before Pentecost, during which general commemorations are made for all the departed. In addition to these days, we make koliva whenever we want to commemorate our dead. The wheat preparation process is a bit time consuming, but it’s for a good cause!
I remember when I was a child, when we did not need to make Koliva I didn’t wanted to eat them at all. Still I do not know if I was influenced too by the combination koliva = sadness, or fear of food poisoning since boiled wheat tampers very easily. When later many of our own beloved ones “left”, and we started we make our own, I loved it! Certainly our own recipe is a bit unusual, I confess that I don’t like the combination of parsley or coriander (usually used) with all the other materials and I do not use them. However whenever we make Koliva, I enjoy the best breakfast for a few days!
Wheat has great nutritional value. Besides its high consistency in protein, it is rich in vitamin A (helps in protein synthesis, increases bone mass and generally keeps the body cells young and healthy), in vitamin B complex and vitamin E (protects vitamin A. and amino acids, and is an antioxidant).
Wholegrain breadcrumbs offer us carbohydrates, vitamins C and A and fiber.
The nutritional value of nuts is undisputed. Almonds are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, calcium and fibers, while walnuts contain plant sterols and antioxidants and are rich in selenium, zinc, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, vitamins E and K.
The brown raw sugar (if you use it), is rich in potassium, magnesium and sodium. This is a simple carbohydrate, but gives instant energy.
Cinnamon is a powerful antioxidant very rich in manganese, which is responsible for the formation of connective tissue and bone.
Dried apricots are one of the most nutritious dried fruit, good source of fiber, and also contain vitamin A, C and iron. Papaya, on the other hand is a good source of iron and calcium. It acts against constipation and helps in the process of digestion and assimilation of proteins, carbohydrates and fats while fighting diabetes.
Cranberries are a good source of ellagic acid, an antioxidant which has antitumor activity and prevents degradation of DNA, i.e. our genetic material, “disarms” the activity of cancer cells and prevents tumor growth. It fight cancer cells before and after the onset of the disease, and prevents metastases. Furthermore, cranberries are a rich source of flavonoids (prevent damage caused by free radicals, i.e. harmful oxygen molecules that can cause cancer, heart disease and other serious problems), vitamins C, D, potassium and iron, and are very poor in calories. Another important action is the prevention and treatment of urinary tract infections.
Coconut is an important source of antioxidants, it is high in vitamin E (strengthens the health and shine of hair and skin) and natural carotenoids and has significant anti-aging effects. It contains vitamin C and copper (retains the elasticity of the skin), phosphorus and calcium (osteoporosis), iron (reduces risk of anemia), magnesium (relaxes muscles and nerves), selenium (good antioxidant and anti-arthritic), potassium (lowers blood pressure) and manganese (maintains healthy blood sugar levels).
This recipe is for a bowl of 9 in diameter. I’m giving you the list of ingredients needed for the koliva and at the end of the list I am adding 2 tbsp. brown sugar as an option, if you want to make as a dessert or breakfast and not for a memorial. At memorial services we cover the koliva mixture with fine bread crumbs and powdered sugar, and after the Service we stir the mixture, so the extra sugar will not be needed. For toast and powdered sugar I’m not giving you exact quantities for fine breadcrumbs and powdered sugar because it depends on the utensil you will be using. Keep in mind that you should completely cover the koliva mixture with breadcrumbs and then with the icing sugar. For the decoration you can use nuts, candies (like us) etc. Also it is very important to store the koliva in the refrigerator because wheat tampers easily. The nutritional information at the end of the post is related to koliva as a dessert and does not include breadcrumbs and sugar. Let’s see the recipe:
Preparation time: 20 minutes (wheat needs 2 days)
Servings: 16 (for a memorial service it yields approx. 30 servings)
- 9 oz wheat grains
- 1 cup (2.5 oz) slivered almonds
- ¾ cup (4.2 oz) walnuts, chopped
- ¼ cup (2.8 oz) dried apricots, chopped
- ¼ cup (2.1 oz) dried papaya, chopped
- ½ cup (2.5 oz) dried cranberries
- ½ cup (1.8 oz) grated coconut
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1-2 tablespoons brown raw sugar or coconut sugar (optional)
for a memorial service:
- 2 tablespoons fine whole meal breadcrumbs in the mixture and additional as much as to cover the surface of the mixture
- sifted icing sugar as much as to cover the surface of the mixture
- Wheat Preparation: Wash the wheat grains and soak them in water overnight. In the morning drain, rinse and boil for about 1 hour on medium heat, until it softens. Strain, put them on a clean cloth towel, spreading them evenly to dry completely. After a few hours change the towel so the wheat dry faster. The grain must be dried thoroughly if you prepare Kollyva for a memorial service, otherwise they will moisten the mixture.
- Preheat oven to 300o Put the almonds in a baking pan and bake for 7 minutes. Allow to cool and prepare the remaining ingredients.
- Mix well all the ingredients in a bowl and serve.
for a memorial service:
- Add to the mix 2 tablespoons fine whole wheat breadcrumbs and mix well.
- Transfer the mixture into the container that you will use and cover the entire surface with fine breadcrumbs.
- Finally, cover the entire surface with icing sugar and decorate.