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Burburrah, The 2000 Year Old Wheat Berry Porridge 

posted on: Dec 11, 2019

Every December 4th, for the past 2000 years, Arab Catholic and Orthodox Christians have celebrated the Feast of Santa Barbara with this very special porridge, full of toppings like pomegranate seeds, coconut, dried fruit, and nuts. Cookbook author Blanche and her mother Vera share this ancient recipe, Burburrah! 

By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer

Every December 4th, for the past 2000 years, Arab and Orthodox Christians celebrate the Feast of Santa Barbara with this very special porridge, called Burbarrah, the Arabic name for Barbara. Greek Orthodox Christians celebrate this day on December 16th. This dish is also known as Sliha to the Syrians and Kolyva to the Greeks. Arab Christians from Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria mark this occasion with this porridge made from shelled wheat berries. People also make this porridge in Malta, Cyrpus, and other European countries with orthodox Christian populations. 

What was so special about Saint Barbara that her feast would transcend so many countries? Barbara’s story, originating in Baalbek Lebanon, was that she was persecuted in the 3rd century because she believed in Jesus. The general belief among Middle Eastern Christians was that Saint Barbara had a cruel pagan father who wanted to kill her for believing in Jesus. He had her tortured in a prison, and Jesus would heal her wounds overnight, which further infuriated her father. 

While fleeing from her father, Barbara ran through a freshly planted wheat field, which grew instantly behind her to cover her path. This miracle is recreated symbolically today by planting wheat seeds (or chickpeas, barley grains, beans, or lentils). The seeds germinate and grow quickly to around 6 inches in time for Christmas. Then the shoots are used to decorate the nativity scene usually placed below the Christmas tree. Alternatively many also believe Barbara was locked up in a storage room and only had wheatberries to eat. Regardless of which version Christians believe, wheatberries were an integral symbol of Barbara’s life, hence the reason this grain is revived every year in a feast with her name. 

This is an aromatic and filling dish for winter, versatile as a high fiber breakfast as a replacement for oatmeal, or even dessert. Families gather for a large burbarrah feast, with a large pot of cinnamon and anise-scented porridge as the centerpiece surrounded by colorful toppings. Even children eagerly line up for this wheatberry treat, as they enjoy customizing their own bowls with sweet toppings of choice.

The bowls look like a festive winter scene, with coconut “snow” and glistening pomegranate seeds that look like holly berries. Other toppings include sultana raisins, dried cranberries, crushed walnuts, slivered almonds, ground roasted chickpeas, chocolate chips, and candied fennel. 

Watch this video to see how easy it is to create this symbolic and historical dish:

Recipe for Burburrah Wheat-Berry Porridge

You want a soupy, porridge-like consistency, so make sure you watch the Burbarrah and add water as needed to ensure that it doesn’t dry out.

Ingredients (about 20 servings)

  • 2 cups of wheat berries
  • 4 cups of water (add more as needed)
  • 1- 2  sticks of cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp of ground anise seeds
  • ¼ – ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • ¼- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup of coconut sugar or brown sugar (adjust to your taste)


  • Slivered almonds
  • Ground roasted chickpeas
  • chopped Almonds
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Coconut 
  • Sultanas (golden raisins) 
  • Chopped walnuts
  • Chocolate chips

Place wheat berries and cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, cardamom, and anise in a large pot. Add the water. Set over high heat to boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer until the water starts to evaporate. About 40  minutes into simmering time, add the sugar and raisins. Continue simmering for another 20 minutes or so depending on how soupy or dry you like it. Traditionally, the consistency should resemble that of hot porridge.  Serve hot with almonds, walnuts, coconut, pomegranate seeds and any other topping you wish.



Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, host of the YouTube cooking show called Feast in the Middle East and a cookbook author. You can now purchase her brand new cookbook: “Feast in the Middle East, A Personal  Journey of Family and Cuisine” by clicking HERE: 

Blanche specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond.  You can also check out her cooking video tutorials and other recipes at or her blog at



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