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Koljivo or Žito January 31, 2010

Posted by Paula Erbay in Desserts, Other.

Koljivo or Žito is a sweetened whole wheat dish that is served after Parastos, a Serbian Orthodox Church service held 40 days, and again at 1 year, after someone’s passing. More information can be found at Serbian Unity Congress website.

See my website Table Talk for the article about Bora Gajicki that accompanies this recipe.

Marge Gajicki gave me her recipe for Koljivo, which she translated from Cyrillic – she really has come a long way from Mrs. Mikulicich’s class.  However, the recipe that follows is one that I’ve created based on my memories of my grandmothers’.  To me it is the taste of old Saint Sava Church in Los Angeles.

1 pound whole wheat
1 pound powdered sugar
1 pound walnuts, shelled
1 vanilla bean
3 tablespoons golden raisins (or more to taste)
3 tablespoons golden rum (or more to cover the raisins)

Jordan almonds, blanched almonds, or additional raisins for decoration

This is not a complicated recipe, but it does take time, so start the day before (especially if you are making it for a church service).

Place whole wheat in a large pot with 6 cups of cold water over high heat.  The wheat will become about three times its size when fully cooked, so be sure to use a pot that accommodates that volume.  When it comes to a boil, reduce heat to keep it at a soft boil or simmer.  Check often to ensure that it is always covered with water.  Add additional water as needed one cup at a time (9 to 10 cups of water in total).  Allow the wheat to simmer until it is tender and “pops”, approximately 2 hours.

Draining cooked wheat

When the wheat is cooked rinse it several times in cold water and strain in a fine mesh colander.  You can leave the wheat in the colander to drain overnight (cover with a kitchen towel).  Or, spread it on a clean dry kitchen towel for at least 2 hours.

While the wheat is boiling:

Scraping the vanilla bean

Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the back of a paring knife.  Mix the vanilla seeds into the powdered sugar and set aside.   Soak the raisins in the rum, set aside.

Ground walnuts

Grind the walnuts finely.  Note:  Most of the old recipes specify that the walnuts should be ground with a meat grinder.  While I have my grandmother’s old meat grinder, and fond memories of her using it, I prefer my food processor.  Place walnuts in the food processor in batches (2 or 3 batches for 1 pound of nuts).  Pulse until the nuts are finely ground, but not a paste.

Mixing it all together

Place the wheat in a large mixing bowl, mix in the vanilla powdered sugar and ground walnuts with a wooden spoon or strong spatula.  Drain the raisins and add them to the Koljivo.

Transfer the Koljivo to “your best cut-glass bowl” I can hear my grandmothers’ voices say.  Decorate with blanched almonds in the shape of a cross (optional).  Raisins or candied almonds can also be used for decoration.

Ready for a taste



1. Melange - January 3, 2012

very helpful, thank you! 🙂

2. RMK - February 5, 2012

This filled in some blanks in a hand written recipe that my mother used for the funeral of her father in 1973. I have the family cut glass bowl. It’s a beautiful light blue with a scalloped ribbon around the edge. I’ve only seen this once, but clearly remember it. Thank you!

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