Recipe: Kollyva (Sweet Wheat Berry and Nut Pilaf)

Up until recently, this wonderful sweet was strictly prepared at solemn memorial occasions. Fortunately Alatsi, a successful and creative Cretan restaurant in Athens, included kollyva in its menu last year, and others followed.

Makes about 20 servings

• 2 ½ cups wheat berries
    • 1 teaspoon sea salt
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 2 pieces cinnamon sticks, each about 2 inches long
    • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
    • 34 to 1 cup ground roasted chickpeas, or flour (optional)
    • 1 ½ cups blanched and coarsely chopped almonds
    • 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped walnuts
    • 34 cup sesame seeds, toasted and lightly pounded in a mortar
    • 1 cup golden raisins
    • 1 cup dried currants
    • 1 cup pomegranate seeds
    • ½ cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (optional)
    • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1 ½ cups confectioners' sugar or more, to taste
    • whole blanched almonds and pomegranate seeds, for garnish (optional)

Rinse the wheat berries in a colander and place in a large pot. Cover with water and add the salt and bay leaves. Tie the cinnamon sticks and cloves in a piece of cheesecloth and place in the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 40 minutes to one hour, or until cooked but still chewy. Don't overcook! During cooking, stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, and add more water if necessary.

Drain the cooked wheat berries, reserving the liquid. Discard the bay leaves and spices and drain. Spread on thick linen or cotton towels and leave to dry for 3 hours or overnight. The boiled grains can be kept in a zip log bag up to 3 days in the refrigerator, or frozen. Bring to room temperature before finishing the sweet.

In a skillet over low heat, lightly brown the ground chickpeas or flour, if using.

In a large bowl, mix the cooked wheat with the almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, golden raisins, currants, pomegranate seeds, parsley, and cinnamon, using your hands.

Just before serving, add the confectioners' sugar and toasted chickpea or toasted flour to the wheat mixture, mix well with your hands, and arrange on a large plate or tray, lined with a doily, if you like.

Press the sweet wheat pilaf with your hands to form a smooth mound. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar, and decorate with the whole almonds and pomegranate seeds.

Serve spoonfuls on individual bowls or, as it is the custom in Greece, in small paper bags or in paper cups.

To read Aglaia's story about the history and traditions surrounding this sweet Greek pilaf, click here.