Polish kutia wigilijna or Christmas cooked wheat pudding, consisting of whole or cracked wheat or barley (rice for the aristocracy!), poppy seeds, honey, and sweetmeats (łakocie) like figs, raisins, and nuts, and sometimes cream, is typically the first course served at the Christmas Eve dinner known as wigilia.
Originally, kutia was eaten only in eastern Poland where it borders with Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania, but today it is becoming more popular throughout the entire country. The ingredients are variable depending on taste, availability of ingredients, and budget.
There are hundreds of variations for kutia, and it exists in other cultures including Russia and Ukraine where it is known as kutya or sochivo, Lithuania, and Slovakia. (Serbia—koljivo, Romania—coliva, Bulgaria—kolivo, Greece—kollyva, Middle East—kahmieh, Armenia—anoushabour.)
Wheat berries are available at health food stores and online, but kamut berries, whole-grain barley or rice can be substituted with good effect (cooking time must be adjusted).
- 1 cup wheat berries or kamut berries, rinsed
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup poppy seeds
- 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
- 4 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2/3 cup plumped raisins
- 1/2 cup ground walnuts (optional)
- 1/2 cup coarsely ground blanched almonds (optional)
- 5 plumped figs, chopped (optional)
- 5 plumped dates, chopped (optional)
- 1/2 cup half-and-half
Place rinsed wheat berries in a large pot or Dutch oven and cover with water by about 5 inches. Stir, cover and let stand overnight.
When ready to cook, drain the wheat berries, rinse, drain again and place back in the pot. Add 6 cups cold water and salt, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until tender (anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours). Drain and set aside to cool.
Prepare poppy seeds by placing them in a saucepan with water to cover by several inches. Stir and let stand 20 minutes. Pour off any impurities that rise to the surface, then drain through a sieve, rinse under cold water and drain again. Return poppy seeds to the saucepan and scald with boiling water to cover by an inch. Cover and let stand 15 minutes.
Place saucepan on the burner, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Poppy seeds are ready when they can be pulverized between the fingers. Drain and grind once in a poppy seed grinder or 3 times in a regular grinder.
In a large bowl, combine cooled, cooked wheat, ground poppy seeds, confectioners' sugar, honey, vanilla, zest, raisins and some or all of the following, if using -- walnuts, almonds, figs, and dates. Mix well and add half-and-half, incorporating thoroughly. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Note: This recipe is an amalgamation of several from Robert and Maria Strybel's "Polish Heritage Cookery" (Hippocrene Books Inc., 1999).