Kolyva on a table in a Studio
Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post
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Kolyva (or koliva) is a traditional dish made of wheat berries that is shared as part of memorial services in the Greek Orthodox church. It symbolizes everlasting life and is based on a Bible verse, John 12:24, which reads: “…unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit."

You'll notice that the number of servings is high. That's because the dish is typically eaten in small portions. It is presented on a large platter and decorated with the symbol of the cross; parishioners place a spoonful in a small paper bag to have after the service to honor the memory of parishioners who have died.

This dish takes 2 days to prepare to soak, cook and then drain and dry the wheat berries. They can then be refrigerated for up to 2 days before combining with the other ingredients.

Adapted from recipes courtesy of Victoria Lord and TheGreekVegan.com.


measuring cup
Servings: 38 (makes 9 1/2 cups)

For the kolyva

  • 1 pound (2 cups) dried wheat berries
  • 1 3-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (see NOTE)
  • 1 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (arils; from 1 fresh pomegranate)
  • 1/2 cup roasted sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup shelled unsalted pistachios (may substitute pine nuts or slivered almonds)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For assembly

  • 2/3 cup finely crushed graham crackers or paximadia (Greek biscotti; may substitute lightly toasted almond flour or chickpea flour)
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • Whole blanched almonds, Marcona almonds, Jordan almonds or yogurt-covered almonds
  • A few small sprigs curly parsley, stems trimmed (optional)


  1. Step 1

    For the kolyva: Soak the wheat berries for 8 hours or overnight in a large pot filled with water; rinse in a colander and drain well.

  2. Step 2

    Place the drained berries back in the pot, cover with cold water, add the cinnamon stick and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low; cook for 1 hour, until the wheat berries are tender yet still slightly chewy. Drain in a fine-mesh strainer; discard the cinnamon stick.

  3. Step 3

    Rinse with cold water, then line a rimmed baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel and spread the drained wheat berries evenly on top of the pan. Place another clean dish towel over the wheat berries, pressing down lightly to help blot any remaining moisture. Let dry for 8 hours.

  4. Step 4

    Transfer the cooked/dry wheat berries to a mixing bowl, along with the toasted walnuts, pomegranate and sesame seeds, raisins, nuts, parsley, orange zest and salt, tossing gently to incorporate. This is best done no more than a few hours before serving.

  5. Step 5

    To serve, mound the kolyva on a large platter, then sift the crushed graham crackers over the mound; this barrier layer will help keep the confectioners’ sugar from melting into the kolyva). Sift a thick coating of the sugar over the top.

  6. Step 6

    Use the whole almonds to form a cross over the top of the mound, then arrange the parsley sprigs at the bottom of the cross, if desired.

  7. Step 7

    NOTE: Toast the walnuts in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat for several minutes until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking the pan to avoid scorching. Cool completely before using.

Nutritional Facts

Per serving

  • Calories


  • Carbohydrates

    21 g

  • Fat

    5 g

  • Fiber

    3 g

  • Protein

    3 g

  • Sodium

    45 mg

  • Sugar

    9 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Adapted from recipes courtesy of Victoria Lord and TheGreekVegan.com.

Tested by Kristen Hartke