Kutia is a sweet dish of boiled wheat berries, poppy seeds, honey, dried fruit and nuts that is typical in Belarus, Ukraine, Poland and Russia. It is usually a holiday dish served on Christmas Eve, and is one of the twelve dishes that make up the Orthodox Christmas meal.
Kutia is eaten both before and after dinner to symbolize a good harvest and fair weather in the coming year. Kutia is also a dish served at memorial services and is eaten for remembrance and celebration of life after death.
What is the origin of kutia?
While historical records show kutia has been eaten as far back as 1000 A.D., many believe a form of kutia has been made in the Belarus region going back over 5000 years.
Traditional Belarus kutia is made by boiling wheat berries and mixing with boiled poppy seeds and softened raisin. In some cultures dairy is omitted, but traditional Belarus kutia uses boiled milk to thicken the porridge. Kutia is sweetened with honey and topped with chopped nuts like walnuts and hazelnuts, also called filberts, and dried fruit like candied orange peel.
What is the symbolism of kutia?
Kutia is a cultural dish that symbolizes prosperity and good fortune in the coming year and each of its ingredients has special meaning.
Wheat berries, or wheat kernels, are small grains that contain the three components of wheat: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. In Kutia wheat berries symbolize the eternity and cycle of life, as wheat is a staple crop in the countries serving kutia. Wheat berries are seen as a symbol of abundance and life.
Honey is used to sweeten kutia and symbolizes heaven, good health and prosperity. Honey is traditionally sourced in local areas of Belarus, Poland and Ukraine and was valued for its sweetness when sugar was not a common ingredient in the area. The use of honey to sweeten kutia made it a special treat on holidays and memorials.
Poppy seeds and nuts in kutia bring good wishes for fertility for both land and for families. Traditionally a larger family meant more hands to help on farmland and the nuts and poppy seeds were used in kutia to bring good fortune in the year to come.
Traditions around kutia
A traditional Christmas Eve dinner begins with kutia and there are many rituals around its consumption. Some believe a rich and thick kutia will bring a better year ahead and a small amount of kutia is thrown on the ceiling to test its thickness. If it sticks, the year will be plentiful; if it falls, the year may include hardships.
Another common kutia tradition is for the head of household to take the first bite and pass the kutia around to all family members. A small amount of the porridge is left on the table throughout the night in honor of family members who have passed. In some areas where kutia and its variations are eaten, a small bowl is made and placed on a memorial table for deceased loved ones. Kutia is also eaten at the end of the strict fasting of Lent as a symbol of rebirth.
What are the variations of kutia?
There are many dishes that are similar to kutia eaten in the countries around Belarus, particularly in Poland, Ukraine and Russia. Many include variations in ingredients but all can be traced back to traditional sweetened grain and nut dishes throughout history.
Kolivo (also known as kollyva and coliva) is a traditional dish eaten in Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania and Greece made from boiled wheat and raisins. Some variations include sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts, cinnamon, sugar, pomegranate, anise and even savory items like parsley. It is traditionally served very thick and a candle is placed inside to commemorate the occasion.
Cuccia is a traditional dish from Sicily in Southern Italy containing wheat berries, sugar, butter and sometimes chocolate and milk. Cuccia can be served as a thick pudding or even as a thin soup, depending on family traditions. Due to Sicily’s Byzantine history, the dish was likely brought by Eastern settlers and adapted throughout time, though it is still traditionally eaten at Christmas time.
Variations of kutia also include sliha or burbara in Syria, ameh masslouk or snuniye in Lebanon and Jordan, and a take on wheat berries porridge called frumenty in Western Europe that dates from the Middle Ages.
As one can see, kutia is a very versatile dish that is enjoyed by many cultures in Europe and the Middle East. It is a dish with simple, yet delicious, ingredients and is sure to be a hit at your holiday dinner!
- 10 oz wheat berries
- 3 oz. poppy seeds
- 3 oz. raisins
- 3 oz. hazelnuts , roasted
- 3 oz. candied orange peel (or other candied fruit)
- 3 oz. walnuts
- 5 oz. honey
- 4 cups milk
- ½ cup creme fraiche
- Rinse the wheat berries thoroughly and boil for 1 hour. When done, drain, rinse, and set aside.
- Bring the milk to a boil and add wheat berries. Cook over low heat for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, rehydrate the raisins by immersing them in a large bowl of boiling water for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Boil the poppy seeds over high heat for 3 minutes, using a sieve to drain. Set aside.
- Let all ingredients drain and dry for at least 15 minutes, then mix together wheat berries and poppy seeds.
- In a separate non-stick saucepan, heat honey with 3 tablespoons boiling water. Add rehydrated and drained raisins and simmer on very low heat for 5 minutes.
- Add the wheat berry and poppy seed mixture to the honey saucepan and mix well. Wait for the mixture to cool and then mix in creme fraiche and let sit until thick.
- Serve kutia with a sprinkle of crushed walnuts, hazelnuts and candied orange peels.