A couple of weekends ago, my family observed my mother’s 40 Memorial after her passing. For her funeral, I was told that I simply had to make/bring boiled “sitari” aka wheat berries for the funeral service,
For the 40 day memorial, Saturday of the Souls and future memorials, a more involved and ornate Koliva is made and despite having tasted many kolivas my mother brought back from church.
Others who made koliva would hand out their rendition of it to parishioners. My mom would bring me zip-lock bags full of these tasty treats to snack on.
With my mother’s death, I now had become one of these folks who would have to make Koliva. There are plenty of online resources from bloggers, Greek-Orthodox Church web portals and then there is the wisdom of aunts, friends who lost loved ones with their take on Koliva.
My goal was to make a Koliva that I enjoy eating and to make it visually appealing. I think I achieved both. Preparation of the koliva is easy, tossing the ingredients – easy. The decoration is the hardest part but with some patience, it will get done.
The main ingredient used to make Koliva are wheat berries: they are a whole grain. There are Spring and Winter wheat berries (referring to the season they are grown in).
They must be soaked and boiled and that’s the important part here – buy quality wheat berries that won’t take you forever to boil until tender. Wheat berries are also used in healthy salads or ground to make a healthy flour (for possible future blog posts).
Koliva (Sitari) – Greek Memorial Wheatberries
2 1/2 cups wheat berries ( I like Bob’s Red Mill brand)
1 1/2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup pomegranate seeds
2 cups fine ground bread crumbs (unsalted)
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
2 cups icing sugar
- Place the wheat berries in a medium pot and fill with tap water. Allow the wheat berries to soak overnight.
- Drain wheat berries, place them back in the pot and cover with water. Turn the heat to medium and once aboil, simmer for approx. an hour until tender (taste one).
- Transfer to a strainer and then spread out on a tablecloth covered countertop. Allow about 12 hours to dry.
- Place the wheatberries in a large bowl and add the walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds, raisins, pomegranate and 1/4 of the bread crumbs and cinnamon, stir to combine.
- Transfer to a bowl or a tray of your choice for presentation. Cut off a sheet of parchment or wax paper and place on top to press down and compact the mixture. Form a mound or flat surface, according to your tastes.
- Top the surface with remaining breadcrumbs and once again place parchment paper on top and press down to smooth out.
- Now top with icing sugar layer, place parchment on and press down to smooth out.
- Decorate with dried fruit, nuts or silver candies (sold at Greek bakeries). A cross should be included in your design. This step can be done the night before the memorial or the morning of. Do not cover or place in a fridge.
- To serve at church, purchase small cups, paper bags or zip lock bags along with plastic spoons to give out in memory of your departed loved one.
© 2021, Peter Minaki. All rights reserved.
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