How To Make Koliva

Photo: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times

In the Eastern Orthodox faith and some Eastern Catholic churches, it is customary to make koliva after the death of a loved one. My grandmother just passed away yesterday, so my other grandmother will be hard at work all weekend to make koliva in her honor. Koliva is really just boiled wheat mixed with a variety of other ingredients. It’s really tasty, and it takes hours to prepare. Read more after the jump.

Since koliva is made in many countries, the recipe varies by region, but there are always wheat kernels at the base. Usually the kernels are boiled until soft, and then sweetened with honey, sugar and fruit.

Other ingredients that can be used include sesame seeds, almonds, ground walnuts, cinnamon, sugar, pomegranate seeds, raisins, anise and parsley.

Koliva is made in Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova, Russia and other Balkan countries.

The koliva is supposed to resemble the earth before it is then shaped into a cake to resemble a grave. Then the cake is covered with powdered sugar. On the top, the initials of the deceased are outlined. Usually, a candle is placed in the middle of the koliva. It is lit at the beginning of the memorial service and blown out at the end.

In Russia, the memorial dish is known as Kutia, and it is more of a sweet grain pudding.

I’ve decided to post my koliva recipe on Recipe4Living here.


* 3 lbs. whole wheat
* 1 lb. chopped walnuts
* 2 C. bread crumbs
* 1 lb. dark raisins
* 1 tsp. cinnamon
* 1 C. sugar
* 1/2 C. finely chopped parsley
* 1 C. sesame seeds
* 1 C. sliced almonds
* 1/2 C. pomegranate seeds
* 2 lbs. powdered sugar
* Silver coated candies


Put the wheat in a large kettle and wash. Rinse 2-3 times. After cleaning, cover wheat with clean water and boil steadily for 2 1/2 – 3 hours, or until wheat is tender. Add water if necessary to keep wheat covered while boiling. Drain wheat and rinse with cool water. Place boiled wheat on a large, clean towel and remove as much moisture as possible by folding the towel over the wheat and applying pressure. Place wheat wrapped in towel into a large bowl and leave overnight at room temperature.

A day later, combine the remainder of the ingredients except the sesame seeds, powdered sugar and candies. Mix well. Line a 15-inch tray with paper doilies extending past the rim of the tray. Place a piece of waxed paper on top of the doilies. Place koliva mix onto tray creating a mound. Compress well with the palm of your hand.

Sprinkle sesame seeds over the top and press into mixture. Sift some of the powdered sugar over the mound. Cover with plastic wrap and evenly press down again. Evenly sift remaining powdered sugar over the mound to make a soft snowy appearance. Decorate with silver candies by making a cross in the center and the initials of the deceased underneath.

Note: Do not put powdered sugar on koliva more that three hours ahead of the service. If silver candies are not available, decorate with raisins.

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