Palikaria, or polysporia, or fotopapouda or fotokolyva is a Cretan salad (and sometimes a soup) that contains a variety of different legumes, wheat berries, fresh herbs and a simple vinaigrette made with olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon, mustard and oregano. This is a recipe that has its roots in antiquity and is traditionally made for the Epiphany.
On the eve of Epiphany, which is a strict fasting day for those who follow the Orthodox calendar, in many villages of Crete it is customary to make this recipe. Palikaria is the perfect meal for fasting days because it contains no meat, fish, dairy or eggs and is therefore lenten, or nistisimo.
Why this recipe works
Many of us are lucky enough to have celebrated plentifully during the Christmas and New Year`s season. After a period of fasting during the Nativity Fast, the days between December 25th and January 4th are often an exercise in indulgence! The strict fast day of January 5th, on the eve of the Epiphany (or Theophani) is a bit of a reset; a recipe like palikaria is just what we need! With its hearty and healthy ingredients, this delicious salad is enjoyed by everyone.
Even if you are not fasting, you can surely benefit from a plant-based meal that is full of nutrients, that is really easy to make, and that is economical. I love to make a batch of palikaria to have on hand for lunches during the week. Although this is a meal traditionally made on the island of Crete for the eve of the Epiphany, it is perfect everywhere, any time of the year.
Mixed beans and/or pulses – Technically, beans are pulses, but pulses also include things like peas and lentils. Basically, all beans are pulses, but not all pulses are beans. To make palikaria you want a variety of at least 3 or 4 different pulses.
Wheat kernels or wheat berries – Traditional in this dish is the inclusion of wheat kernels or wheat berries (they are the same thing). Wheat kernels are the seeds from which the wheat plant grows. Each wheat kernel includes the germ, the bran, and the endosperm. Because no part of the wheat kernel is stripped away (as happens during milling and processing), this is a very nutritious ingredient.
Red onion – I like to use red onion in this recipe because it is served raw. When uncooked, red onion has a milder flavour than yellow onion does, making it more pleasant in its uncooked form. The deep red colour also makes it more attractive in dishes like palikaria or polysporia.
Dill – Fresh dill is an herb with a slight licorice flavour. When it is used fresh as it is here, the leaves are removed from the stem and finely chopped.
Parsley – I use flat-leaf parsley or Italian parsley instead of curly parsley because it has a more pronounced flavour. Parsley is native to Greece, amongst other countries, which is why it is such a common ingredient in Greek cooking.
For the dressing
Olive oil – I always use Greek olive oil for its balanced but distinctive flavour.
Red wine vinegar – This vinegar is made by fermenting red wine and then straining it to remove any impurities. It is often aged before being sold so that the flavours are muted a little bit. It offers a lovely acidity to vinaigrettes and dressings.
Lemon juice – When possible I always use freshly squeezed lemon juice in cooking and baking.
Lemon zest – When grating lemon zest, wash your lemon well and be sure to avoid the white layer of the peel which can be bitter.
Oregano – I use dry Greek oregano which is fragrant and delicious.
Mustard – Adding mustard, either plain yellow mustard or Dijon, to dressing helps to emulsify all of the ingredients together and helps maintain that emulsification. It also adds flavour of course.
How to make it
Although making Palikaria can take about one hour (the time it takes for the wheat berries to cook), most of this time is quite passive. It really is an easy recipe to make.
Rinse your wheat berries. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and then add the wheat berries. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the wheat berries are tender and chewy. You may also note that they crack open. This will usually take between 30 – 60 minutes, depending on the variety of wheat berry you use.
While your wheat berries are cooking, prepare the rest of your ingredients. Rinse your canned beans very well and transfer to a large bowl. Add the onion and fresh herbs.
Once the wheat berries are cooked, drain and then add them to the bowl with your beans and onions. Prepare the dressing by combining all of the dressing ingredients in a jar and close with a lid. Shake until all the ingredients are well combined. Alternatively, place all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until combined well. Add as much of the dressing to your salad as you like and toss well to combine.
Use a different grain if you can’t find wheat berries (kernels)
If you can’t find wheat berries, or prefer not to use them, you can make this recipe with another whole grain such as farro, freekeh, millet or quinoa. You can also use brown rice.
Switch up your beans
You can use any beans you like for this recipe; you can also use dried peas or lentils. Although I use canned beans for their convenience, you can certainly use dry beans. If you do, simply plan ahead as most dry beans need to be soaked overnight.
Change your herbs
I use fresh parsley and dill in my recipe, but you can also use fresh mint, basil or even fresh chives.
About this recipe
Palikaria (or polysporia) is a food that has been around since ancient times. During its rich history it has been attributed as an offering to the gods Apollo and Hermes, and to the deceased. Particularly popular in Crete, palikaria dates from the Minoan period, when it was offered to the deities.
In the eastern regions of Crete this food most commonly goes by the name palikaria, which is likely an evolution (or devolution, depending on how you see things) of the word polysporia, which means many seeds. It is traditionally cooked on the eve of the Epiphany, a strict fasting day which occurs on January 5th. The Epiphany, called Theophania, on January 6th is the day which marks the baptism of Jesus Christ and the apparition of the Holy Trinity. It is also the day that the Christmas season officially comes to an end with the festival of light (‘ton photon’ in Greek).
Traditionally, when palikaria was made, not only the family, but the family animals would eat it as well. Every living creature in the house, people and animals, and especially those linked to agricultural work, would enjoy palikaria. According to ancient lore, on the eve of the Epiphany the heavens are open and the animals have human qualities. People were concerned about their animals possibly complaining to God that they were being mistreated. To remind their animals and livestock that there were indeed loved and cared for, they would be offered the same meal as the humans. In fact, housewives would even scatter palikaria on the roof of their house and in the fields so that the wild birds could also feed on it. This helped avoid having hungry birds eating seeds they had sown which had not yet sprouted. In doing so they would recite:
Φάτε πουλιά χορτάσετε
Και το Θεό δοξάσετε
“Eat birds and be satisfied.
And praise God”
(it rhymes nicely in Greek)
Cooking tips and helpful hints
How to cook wheat berries or kernels
You will use a ratio of 1 part wheat berries to 3 parts water (so, for every cup of wheat berries you will need at least 3 cups of water). Add the water to a large pot and salt it (or not). Bring to a boil, add the berries and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until tender. The amount of time it takes for the wheat berries to cook will depend on the type of wheat berry used; there are several varieties.
During the cooking I periodically check the wheat berries for doneness. I start checking after 25 minutes and keep checking every 15-20 minutes. Soft wheat berries can cook in as little as 30 minutes, whereas hard ones sometimes need as much as 90. Have patience, and keep simmering until the grains are tender.
You may need to add more water if you see that your pot is drying out. Drain and enjoy.
How to cook dry beans and pulses
If you opt to use dry beans and pulses then you will likely need to soak them overnight before boiling them. Most beans need to be soaked; pulses like lentils and peas do not.
When soaking your beans be sure to cover them with at least 2 or 3 inches of water. Do not add salt or anything else to the water. When you are ready to boil your beans drain them, rinse them, and then place them in a pot and cover with water (at least 2 – 3 inches). Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium and cook until your beans are soft and easy to bite through.
The amount of time it takes your beans to cook will depend on the bean itself (ex. red kidney beans take longer to cook than smaller white navy beans) and how old they are. The older the bean, the longer it will take for them to cook.
Plan ahead to make parikalia easily
If your wheat berries are cooked, and you either use canned beans or have dry bean already cooked, putting this salad together is really easy. Keeping these ingredients handy and ready to be used is really helpful!
Corn niblets are sometimes added to this recipe. They add a hint of sweetness and colour to the palikaria. If you would like to add corn, 1/3 of a cup of cooked corn niblets should work well.
Turn this recipe into a soup
You can add about 4 cups of vegetable broth to a pot and bring to a boil. Add the cooked or canned beans, he cooked wheat berries, the red onion and the fresh herbs and heat through. Serve this warm soup with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with some bread and enjoy a truly comforting meal.
Frequently asked questions
What is another name for parikalia?
This recipe is commonly referred to as parikalia, however it often also goes by the following names: psarokoliva or fotopapouda or mageria.
What are wheat berries?
Wheat berries or wheat kernels are made up of 3 parts: the bran (the fiber part), the germ (the fatty part) and the endosperm (the starchy part). When they are cooked they have a nutty flavour and a chewy texture. They are unprocessed and therefore full of nutrients.
Should you soak wheat berries before cooking them?
Despite what you may have heard, wheat berries do not need to be soaked overnight (or at all) before cooking them.
Can I cook wheat berries in advance?
For sure, and this is a good idea! Cooked wheat berries will keep in a covered container, in the refrigerator, for up to one week.
What can I do with cooked wheat berries?
You can obviously make this delicious Cretan recipe for palikaria, but you can also add your cooked wheat berries to any other salad, to soups, and even to chiles. They offer a heartiness that can’t be beat, as well as some added nutrition and flavour.
If you love this recipe and would like more ideas that feature beans, you will probably appreciate these:
How to store
You can keep palikaria in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Cooked wheat berries, on their own, should be fine in the refrigerator for up to a week.
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Cretan palikaria or psarokoliva
- 1 large pot
- 1 Jar with lid or medium bowl and whisk
- 3 cups mixed beans Chickpeas, navy beans, black beans, black-eyed peas were used here
- ¼ cup wheat berries
- ⅓ cup red onion chopped
- 1/4 cup dill chopped
- 1/4 cup parsley chopped
For the dressing
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 50 ml red wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon grated rind of lemon
- 1 teaspoon dry oregano
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- salt & pepper to taste
- Rinse your wheat berries. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and then add the wheat berries. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the wheat berries are tender and chewy. You may also note that they crack open. This will usually take between 30 - 60 minutes, depending on the variety of wheat berry you use. See Recipe Note.¼ cup wheat berries
- While your wheat berries are cooking, prepare the rest of your ingredients. Rinse your canned beans very well and transfer to a large bowl. Add the onion and fresh herbs.3 cups mixed beans, ⅓ cup red onion, 1/4 cup dill, 1/4 cup parsley
- Once the wheat berries are cooked, drain and then add them to the bowl with your beans and onions. Prepare the dressing by combining all of the dressing ingredients in a jar and close with a lid. Shake until all the ingredients are well combined. Alternatively, place all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until combined well. Add as much dressing as you like to your salad and toss well to combine.1/2 cup olive oil, 50 ml red wine vinegar, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1 teaspoon grated rind of lemon, 1 teaspoon dry oregano, 1 teaspoon mustard, salt & pepper to taste