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koliva.


Cooking and baking are not just tasks one has to do or frivolous pursuits. When it becomes a lifestyle, cooking becomes part of an experience. 

Koliva is an experience in the Orthodox tradition. 

This sugary concoction of boiled wheat, toasted nuts, raisins and Jordan almonds is made up by families of the departed at memorial liturgies and for liturgies to be blessed by the priest on the morning of Soul Saturday during Great Lent in the Orthodox faith. After the service, it is mixed up and shared by the congregation. Usually, I mix it myself up a bit and serve it in paper cupcake tins with disposeable or recyclable spoons which is just enough for everyone that’s there including Father. 

Koliva preparation is passed down through generations of a family. The recipe is usyslly overnight or two days (did unpeeled wheat berries) in advance. The ambiance is quiet and peaceful as possible. Televisions and radios are turned off and computers are put away. I realize this can be hard to do especially if not all members of the household are Orthodox but you want to keep the ambiance as peaceful as possible. If you are sensitive to silence, you can try putting on Ancient Faith Radio or listening to hymns in the background.  You use a prayerful mindset because the koliva is prepared in loving memory of the departed. 

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy upon your servant (Name)”

Before the family begins making it, the family starts off in prayer with the Trisagan Prayers and the Nicene Creed.  We also pray “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy upon your servant” during the preparation. Koliva is boiled wheat and there’s many variations depending on culture and family recipes and you will have to double or triple this recipe for larger memorial services. At it’s basic, koliva boiled wheat sweetened with nuts, raisins, honey and powdered sugar. Jordan almonds are used too for a little decoration but can be hard to find. 

Start by boiling the 2 cups of whole wheat. Traditional koliva uses wheat berries. If you use peeled wheat berries, it will take you thirty minutes vs the overnight soaking and 2-4 hours that unpeeled wheat berries will need to cook. Another grain that I like using in place is quinoa. Cooking quinoa is similar to preparing couscous.  Simply boil the grain until the water boils down until all that’s left is this a fluffy texture. 

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy upon your servant”

 Here comes the nuts and bolts of the recipe. Toast the nuts if using – slivered almonds, walnuts and cashews all work rather well here. Rinse and pat dry the raisins and mix them into a large bowl with the boiled wheat to incorporate the nuts and raisins with the wheat or sometimes I layer the nuts and raisins into the pretty dish I am using before adding wheat then layering more nuts and raisins and so on until I fill the dish! 

You’ll want to grind up 1/4 to 1/2 cup of graham crackers to a fine powder and then layer it on top of your wheat. This layer is important as protecting your powdered sugar which will be layered over the graham crackers from melting or clumping into the koliva. Instead of graham crackers, you can try using ground sesame seeds as well. 

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy upon your servant.”

Here’s the decorative part where you can involve your children. You can either do it tonight or wake up early enough and do it the morning of liturgy. Sift over enough powdered sugar that covers the graham cracker layer. Now using the Jordan almonds as well as extra raisins or almonds if you like, decorate the koliva. Traditionally, families will spell their loved one’s initials using the Jordan almonds, raisins or nuts. Some will decorate a cross on top. Some will let their children be the artists. Keep in mind not to pay too much attention or worry about perfectionism as a beeswax candle is inserted inside the dish and remains throughout for the blessing of the service. 

“Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy upon your servant.”

There is no absolutely right way to do it as you don’t even need always need Jordan almonds or nuts. Don’t stress about perfection – just be grateful for what you have. Koliva is a sweet ode to a solemn tradition. It is not just a Greek dish. It is not just a Russian dish. It is an Orthodox dish shared for centuries only because generations of families have done so but it something that has become less frequently seen. And when we no longer allow ourselves the opportunity to participate in our customs, it is like we are erasing a part of history. Will you keep up the tradition or bring the tradition home again? 

Koliva 

2 cups whole wheat

1/2 cup mix slivered almonds and cashews 

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup of ground graham crackers or sesame seeds 

powdered sugar, sifted 

Jordan almonds 

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