That Which is Bread

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? – Isaiah

Category: Festal


The Lenten season includes several “Soul Saturdays,” marked by special services for the departed. It’s customary to bring a platter of Kolyva, made from boiled whole wheat kernels, which the priest blesses and which is then shared out among those present. The grains of wheat bring to mind Christ’s words “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” [Jn 12:24, ESV].

This year I decided to try my hand at Kolyva, and it came out pretty well, so I share the recipe here. There’s a wide range of national and family variants of the basic concept, ranging from stark piles of boiled wheat to elaborate cake-like confections. I hope this is a middle-of-the-road version.

Whole wheat kernels aren’t usually sold in grocery stores. I ordered a five-pound bag of Palouse Brand wheat through Amazon, and was happy with it.

This is smaller than many recipes: it nicely filled a 1 1/2 – quart oval casserole.

Boiling the wheat is the only cooking in the recipe; the rest is just assembly.

Put 2 cups whole wheat kernels in a saucepan with 4–6 cups of water and about 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until some of the kernels begin to split open; then simmer a while longer, until the kernels are soft, not chewy. This will probably take more than an hour. I’m told you can speed up the process by soaking the wheat overnight before cooking it.

Drain the wheat. Put it in a large mixing bowl and stir in:

  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 6 oz. finely-chopped nuts (I used cashews & pecans)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup honey

In other recipes, I’ve seen cocoa powder, star anise, etc. listed as ingredients; suit yourself.

Arrange the mixture in a casserole or cake pan, or mound it neatly on a platter.

Sprinkle the kolyva with enough powdered sugar that it looks white. Decorate with raisins and nuts. It’s customary to include a Cross design in the decoration. Though I’ve seen things like chocolate chips (dairy-free?) and Jordan almonds on Kolyva, I had hoped to avoid using any candy. In one photo of a large, beautiful Greek kolyva I saw a red cross made out of some small red fruit, maybe red currants. I was determined to have a red cross too, but couldn’t find any small red fruits that would work, so I ended up using the bright red cinnamon candies often sold as “Red Hots.” The result looked very nice, but my plan to avoid candy was defeated. Maybe you can do better.

In our church, a lit candle is put in the center of the Kolyva during the memorial service, so you may want to leave a space for a candle in your design.

Serving: Kolyva doesn’t hold together well; it’s usually spooned out into small dishes or cups and eaten with a spoon.

Jiffy Fish

Today, Lazarus Saturday, was the first “fish day” this Lent, and there was no way we were going to miss out on some fish. But it was also a busy day, with services all morning, Vespers in the evening, and various preparations for Palm Sunday in between.

So we ended up eating this very easy but very tasty pasta-and-tuna dish. You can easily put the whole thing together in the time it takes to cook the pasta.

Quick and Simple Pasta and Tuna.

Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. When it’s ready, cook 1/2 pound of your favorite pasta. We used penne, but macaroni or any other favorite shape will do.

Meanwhile, in a nonstick skillet, heat:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Several cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp (or more) red pepper flakes

Once the garlic starts to simmer, turn the heat down to low, and keep an eye on it: burnt garlic does not taste good. The garlic should end up just lightly browned.

Thaw about 1 cup frozen peas in the microwave.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it. In a serving bowl, toss it with the olive oil mixture.
Add the frozen peas and 1 1o-oz. can of chunk light tuna, drained. Mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

It’s good hot, and if you have leftovers they make a good salad right out of the fridge.

Simple as this is, it’s actually a complication of an Arthur Schwartz recipe. He just tosses together the cooked pasta, the tuna, the olive oil, the pepper flakes and some salt and pepper. The only cooking required is the for the pasta.

Eggs: a look ahead

Around this time, our thoughts are turning irresistibly to Pascha, and some of those thoughts are practical ones.  Many of us make a lot of hard-cooked eggs for dyeing, for Pascha dinner, and so on. Our parish priest and his wife make and hand out red-dyed eggs for the entire parish — there must be at least 100 eggs.

So I was happy to find this surprising post, which reveals that you can hard-cook eggs in the oven, allowing you to cook many more eggs at a time, with less mess, than if you boil them.

  • Preheat the oven to 325°.
  • Lay your eggs on the oven rack, parallel to the bars of the rack, as many as will fit without touching. Tongs are a good way to put the eggs in and take them out.
  • bake for 30 minutes.
  • Take them out and put them in cold water. There will be brown spots on the shells where they touched the rack, but they will come off in the cold water bath.

That’s it. The article says that there will be small brown spots on the egg whites too, but that they don’t affect the flavor.