St Barbara’s day is celebrated by Christians in the Levant countries of Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, on the eve of the 3rd and on the 4th of December in honour of St Barbara, one of Christianity’s first martyr saints.
St Barbara’s legend, which is commonly believed to have originated in Baalbek – Lebanon, tells the story of a 3rd-century daughter of a rich pagan who against her father’s will converted to Christianity. Defying her father brought suffering and pain upon her. And in her attempt to hide from her father, Barbara had to disguise wearing different masks. The legend tells of wheat growing around her to help her hide from her father who eventually was the one to behead her.
To commemorate St Barbara’s legend, people put on masks and grow wheat seeds on this special day. They also prepare a beautiful wheat pudding for the occasion called Burbara.
Burbara recipes might differ from one region to another but it is basically cooked wheat that has aniseeds, cinnamon, and sugar added to it. Its topping can vary but usually consists of almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pomegranate and dried fruits such as apricots and raisins. This heart warming dessert is a beautiful celebration of history, values and tradition.
300 g wheat
1 1/2 tsp aniseeds, grounded
1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, grounded
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup caster sugar
9 dried apricots, quartered
1/4 cup blanched almonds
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 tbsp chopped pistachios
Start by cooking the wheat, which takes a while: you would need to start by putting the wheat in a large pan and cover it with about 3.5 – 4 litre water. Cook, covered, over medium heat for about one and a half hours, or till the wheat has become soft. You might need to add more water as the wheat cooks.
When the wheat has almost cooked, add the ground aniseeds, fennel seeds, and cinnamon. Then add sugar and stir from time to time till wheat has cooked thoroughly. At this point the cooking water has thickened and the wheat has become sticky.
Divide the cooked wheat among the serving bowls and top with dried fruits and nuts. Serve Burbara warm and enjoy a simple yet beautiful taste of the Levant…