This post has been a long time in the making, not least because I can safely say that I can count on the fingers of one hand, the number of times that I’ve made koliva.
This may be a blessing in disguise, because once you know what koliva are, you will see that that statement means that I’ve had no immediate family that need me to make it for them.
Koliva are traditional Orthodox offerings which are made on certain dates after the passing of a loved one ( 3, 9, 22 and 40 days after the death, then again at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and a year, yearly after this) They are taken to church and blessed before being offered out to the congregation.
No, don’t switch off, stay with me, because you’ll see that they are also tasty and made with almost all ‘superfoods’. A real powerhouse of ingredients! Makes me think that this is no co-incidence that these ingredients are used at a time when the family of the deceased will need easy sustenance and nourishment.
Wheat also has biblical references and is connected to resurrection.
To make a huge amount of koliva, suitable for huge Greek families and communities ha ha, use the following amounts. Of course you could halve or even quarter these ingredients.
On the day before you need the koliva:
Wash 1kg of wheat berries a few times in cold water and then place to soak overnight covered in more cold water.
Boil about 250g white sesame seeds for a few minutes so that they swell slightly and whiten, place on a tea-towel to drain and cool.
Boil about 250g almonds for about 5-10 minutes, so that the skins are easy to remove, once they are peeled, pop them into a bowl of cold water to which you have added a little lemon juice, this keeps them nice and white.
On the day the koliva is needed (it is not made to far in advance as, if it’s not kept refrigerated the wheat can start fermenting) Boil the wheat for about 25-45 minutes, it could need longer than this but you can tell it’s ready because some of the grains will start opening and the actual grain if you taste it will be tender.
Drain the wheat well, place it on a tea-towel to make sure that it really dries out.
Now it’s time to start assembling the koliva.
Mix the wheat with a small handful of aniseeds, about 300g Flame raisins (Which my Mum says are the best!) the seeds from 2 big and juicy fresh pomegranates, the sesame seeds and half of the almonds.
If you love the taste of aniseed and want a more pronounced aniseed flavour, you could boil the aniseeds along with the wheat berries for the last 10-15 minutes of the cooking time.
Place this lovely mixture in a large serving platter then cover in a layer of ground, roasted chickpeas (This step is completely optional, but it is used to soak up any excess moisture)
Some people use dried breadcrumbs, or crushed up cookies, do as you choose.
Push down with some silver foil, so that the koliva are even, then cover with a layer of icing sugar, again pushing down with some foil so that it’s nice and even.
Decorate with the remaining almonds, the seeds from another pomegranate, raisins and silver dragees, try and make it look as pretty as you can, some people use the sign of the cross, or the deceased’s initials or both.
Thanks to my Mum for helping me with this post!