My Nona used to make me a sweet whole wheat dish that she called Colva when I lost my baby teeth. Do you have a recipe for this? I think it’s cooked wheat seed and honey?            Alyse Elias Matsil

Kolva and assoureh are two kinds of  wheat puddings eaten in Greece, Turkey, Armenia and Syria.  To my knowledge, neither is specifically Sephardic.  They are delicious, made with different combinations of dried fruits, nuts and honey –  a far, far cry from that box of Wheatena.   The following recipe for kolva comes from a 1922 comparative study of nutrition among world populations, Foods of the Foreign-Born In Relation To Health by Bertha M. Wood.  No short-cuts here – it calls for soaking & boiling whole wheat for 12 hours – and it’s about as basic as it gets.  Which may be just right.  I haven’t made kolva and I’ve got questions of my own, but I offer it for you to try or to compare to your own recipe for kolva, if you’ve got one.

This kind of recipe can easily be halved.

  • 1 pound wheat
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup seedless raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup mixed fancy candy (Note: I’m not sure what was meant by “fancy candy” in 1922.  I suspect it may refer to glazed fruit – candied citron, etc. – if someone else knows better, let us know!)

Soak the wheat in water for ten or twelve hours.  Rinse well, and boil it in fresh water.  Remove the wheat from the fire before it cracks.  Strain, and then spread it overnight on white muslin.  Roast the flour in a pan by itself until light brown.  Allow to cool.  Add the sugar, almonds and walnuts.  Add this mixture to the boiled wheat, and mix in also the spiced fancy candy.  Serve cold.

I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s familiar with kolva.



Filed under Recipes, Your Questions Answered

8 responses to “Kolva

  1. greek girl from queens

    Oh…my…stars! This is it! This is what I’ve been trying to remember all these years, and have only recently been probably driving Linda at the Boreka Diary a bit crazy in helping me remember the name of this stuff my nunna used to make tons of for my beloved uncle Murray to take home with him in great big glass jars (he was addicted to the stuff), and I’m pretty much 100 percent sure that this is what she made him, and this is what it was called – KOLVA!

    The only thing that has me a bit confused is where the flour comes in. I don’t remember anything remotely ‘pastry’ about this dessert. Then again, I only ever tasted it once, as a young girl, and didn’t really fancy it much, as it was way too sweet (which is weird for a kid to NOT like super-sweet and super-gooey stuff, I know, but there you go).

    My nunna made this with honey, sugar, tons of nuts (walnuts and pistachios, if memory serves), figs or raisins or other dried fruits, chopped up, cloves, and wheat that was soaked overnight and puffed up huge.

    But for the life of me, I cannot remember my uncle taking home with him anything more than huge glass jars of it (along with bags of borekyas and biscocchios – which my nunna also had another name for – something that sounded like coo-cool-eos, maybe? I’ll have to think about that one for a bit longer, but the recipe is the same as the one you’ve described and also on Linda’s Boreka Diary as biscoccios de hueva).

    Thanks again Janet, for this brilliant blog. Between this one and Linda’s, I’m well set. Now onto making all this amazing food that I remember with such love from my childhood. Unfortunately, I no longer have any family connections that I can go to for guidance or to help me remember any clearer than what I’ve described here and at Linda’s blog, but both blogs have helped me so much, and have made me smile so many times over this past week.

    • Janet Amateau

      Greek Girl – You are right. Kolva is a porridge, not a pastry. The flour in this instance would serve as a thickener (not that porridges need anything extra to thicken them!). Thanks so much for your kind words. I am delighted you’ve found my blog, and Linda’s, and I have no doubt that she will be as happy as I am to be able to jog your memory and provide guidance.

    • Janet Amateau

      I’m desperately trying, without much success, to find the time to write a post about biscochos. I could write a dozen; biscochos have a far-reaching and fascinating history. In the meantime, take a look through the blog comments about biscochos. The word your grandmother used was probably one of these: taralikos, taraliyos, tadaliyos, etc. These are all variants of the same word, which stems from the Italian ‘tarallo/taralli’ (singular and plural, respectively) and which is, in form and to a degree in essence, a biscocho.

    • greekgirl from queens

      Hi Janet – Thanks so much for your replies, especially the kolva one and how the flour comes into it as an ingredient. I also forgot to mention that my nunna added an abundance of spices in her recipe – mostly cinnamon, if memory serves, but nutmeg and allspice and cloves, I’d wager she also included in abundance. I can still actually see the stuff in the glass jars, in my mind’s eye. Our memories – especially our childhood memories – are so strong when it comes to food, and our emotional reactions/responses and our immediate environment all having to do with those foods, those tastes, those aromas.

      Thank you, also, for all your continued help and detective work. Thanks also to Linda (who said she was going to ask her mother this past weekend about the mystery dessert that we now know is kolva – I’m curious and intrigued about whether her mum remembered this dessert, and what she called it). Am I right in also discovering that these types of sweets are commonly referred to as ‘spoon sweets’?

    • Janet Amateau

      No, kolva isn’t really a spoon sweet. Spoon sweets – dulses – are fruit preserves or purees, things we think of more as something you spread on toast or a muffin. But our grandmothers (in my case my great-grandmother) attached an entire ritual to the serving of spoon sweets, when people came to call for a social visit, involving special trays, spoons and dipping/glasses. Some classic dulses: quince, figs, rose petals, calavasa (European pumpkin), tangerine marmalade. The fruits may be preserved whole in syrup or mashed into a puree. My great-grandmother from Rhodes made jam from red rose petals; my grandmother and mother were big on tangerine marmalade and my grandfather, who was from southern Turkey, was mad about quince. So am I.

    • greekgirl from queens

      Hi again – Although I think I’ve stumbled onto a photo of these gorgeous biscuits /biscochos, and the ingredients are pretty much exactly the way my nunna made them (without the brandy, according to one recipe I found), the shape isn’t quite as I remember them.

      The ones I remember as a girl were more like the photos in Linda’s blog of the biscocchios de huevo…my nunna made the actual cookie thinner, thus making the hole in the middle larger than Linda’s photos show, but, even down to the design of them (the way the edges were usually diagonally sliced – although sometimes she made them just smooth, with no slicing on the edges).

      As for the name of it, my brain keeps saying something with a hard c or a k sound. Not too far removed from the actual word ‘cookie,’ something keeps telling me. Something like ‘koo-koor-yas’ or ‘koo-kool-klurias. Something in my mind keeps telling me I’m very close…almost there…nearly spot on, but that I’m missing some syllable somewhere along the line.

      Oh, if only I had family that I could just go to and ask about all these wonderful memories. I can actually see, smell and taste all these wonderful things as if they were just placed in front of me…that’s how vivid and strong the memories are. And how I wish that I had carried on the family tradition and watched carefully what my beloved nunna was teaching me all those years ago.

    • Janet Amateau

      I’m certain the name you’re trying to remember is kourabieh (singular) or kourabiedes (plural), prounounced ‘koo-rah-bee-YEH’ or ‘koo-rah-bee-YEH-dthes’ respectively, also sometimes spelled with a silent ‘m’ (kourambiedes). These are shortbread cookies, made with brandy (or, Sephardic style, with orange juice) and perhaps pulverized almonds. As a true shortbread they are much more crumbly than biscochos, and yes, with a different shape altogether – no hole. Kourabieh is a Greek cookie, not specifically a Sephardic one, although it’s certainly known and loved among Jews from Greece. Among Greek Christians they’re big at Christmastime. If this is what your nunna was making, once again she was riffing on an established tradtion. I’ve got a recipe in my files (from either a relative or a friend of the family from Rhodes) that calls for shaping the kourabieh into long fingers, but in Greek recipes (and bakeries) I’ve only seen these as circular, perhaps dome-shaped. There’s an excellent recipe for kourabieh at, of all places, Perfume Shrine.

    • Janet Amateau

      As an aside, there are many recipes that aren’t specifically Sephardic but which are nonetheless part of the Ottoman-Sephardic culinary tradition. If something’s delicious and it falls within the rules of kashrut, why not? A few examples: baklava, kadaif, halva and… kourabieh.

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