Burbara is a Middle Eastern creamy wheat berry pudding (or porridge), laced with warm spices, anise and fennel seeds, and topped with heaps of nuts and dried fruit. It is great served warm or cold! In the Levant, this dish is traditionally served on December 4th to kick off the Christmas season.
Big thanks to my friends Mai of Almond and Fig and Hisham Assaad, author of Bayrut: The Cookbook, for the inspiration and for sharing their sweet tradition with me.
What is burbara and where does it come from?
Burbara is a vegan Middle Eastern wheat berry pudding—or porridge, rather—made from wheat berries that are cooked to creamy perfection, laced with cinnamon and anise seeds, and topped with heaps of nuts, dried fruit, and pomegranate seeds.
To kick off the Christmas season, Christians of the Levant and other parts of the Middle East make and eat burbara on December 4th to celebrate Saint Barbara’s Day (Eid il-Burbara). Saint Barbara has quite an interesting tale. It is said that while fleeing to avoid persecution, she ran through a wheat field, which grew behind her instantly and covered her tracks. To recreate this, those celebrating St. Barbara’s Day plant the seeds of wheat, lentils, barley, and more, the shoots of which are often used to decorate Christmas nativity scenes.
This burbara recipe is inspired by two of my good friends: Mai, a Jerusalem native and writer of the wonderful site Almond and Fig; and Hisham Assaad, author of the cookbook Bayrut: Recipes from the Heart of a Lebanese City Kitchen. In conversations with both, I learned that their families make large amounts of burbara to share with neighbors and friends. What a sweet tradition shared among generous people.
Both of them use the traditional wheat berries in their recipes, but I use pearled barley as wheat berries are not as readily available here. Pearl barley has a similar slightly nutty flavor and chewy texture once cooked, and is available at most grocery stores. It is also quicker to prepare than wheat berries, which must be soaked overnight and cooked for quite a while on the stovetop.
Burbara wheat berry pudding can be dressed up many different ways. Toppings for burbara vary from family recipe to another, but some popular choices include nuts like almonds and pistachios, bits of dried fruit including raisins or chopped apricots, shredded coconut, and pomegranate seeds. I love the addition of the tangy-sweet pomegranate seeds here for a pop of color!
Ingredients: What you need to make burbara
This one-pot burbara recipe comes together with just a few simple ingredients. This is what you’ll need to make it:
- Wheat berry or pearled barley – Wheat berries aren’t readily available in the US, and they take quite a while to prepare. I opted for pearled barley as a shortcut, and it worked really well!
- Brown sugar or honey-for subtle sweetness
- Spices and seasoning- Anise seeds, fennel seeds, and cinnamon. Licorice-like anise and fennel pair beautifully with warm ground cinnamon
- Nuts- almonds, walnuts, and pistachios or other nuts of your choice are added as a topping for crunch and flavor.
- Dried Fruit - Raisins and dried apricots for even more sweetness, and pomegranate seeds for a subtle tang and pop of color.
- Pomegranate seeds- these are a must for me for a pop of color.
How to make burbara:
I love how simple and festive this sweet treat is to make! Here is how to make burbara with pearled barley for a shortcut:
- Cook the pearl barley. Bring 1 cup of pearled barley and 4 cups of water to a boil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Once boiling, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes. You don’t need to watch this too closely, but do stir occasionally.
- Add dried fruit and spices. Uncover and stir in 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 4 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon anise seeds, and ½ teaspoon fennel seeds. Stir in the dried fruit and cook for another 20 minutes or until the barley is fully cooked and tender. Stir a few times while it cooks. After 20 minutes, the dried fruit will have rehydrated and will be nice and plump, nestled in a creamy barley porridge.
- Garnish and serve. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and nuts of your choice. Burbara can be served warm or cold. Garnish each serving individually, instead of topping the entire saucepan of burbara.
Leftovers and storage
Burbara tastes really good even when served cold! Leftovers will keep for 3 to 4 days.
Pop your leftover burbara in an airtight container in the fridge, and simply spoon some into a bowl when you’re craving it (heck, I've had it as cereal for several days). If you prefer it warmed up, add a small amount of water to your serving of burbara (to keep it from drying out) and warm it over medium heat, stirring regularly. Add your topping after the burbara has been reheated.
Other dessert recipes to try:
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Burbara (Wheat Berry Pudding)
- 1 cup pearled barley
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon anise seeds
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
- ½ cup chopped dried apricots
- ½ cup raisins or dried cherries
- pomegranate seeds for garnish
- nuts of choice for garnish, I used sliced almonds, walnuts, and pistachios
- In a medium saucepan, combine the barley with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat and cover to simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Uncover and stir in the cinnamon, sugar, anise seeds, and fennel seeds. Stir in the dried fruit. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes or until the barley is fully cooked and tender, stirring occasionally. The dried fruit will rehydrate and plump up and the barley mixture will be creamy.
- Transfer the burbara to serving bowls and top with nuts, more dried fruit, and pomegranate seeds for garnish. (You can also refrigerate for later)
- Pearl barley is a shortcut substitute for the wheat berry that is typically used. If you do use wheat berries, make sure to soak them overnight first before cooking.
- Garnish each serving individually, instead of topping the entire saucepan with your chosen garnish.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. Burbara will keep for 3 to 4 days.Eat leftovers warm or cold! To reheat, add a small amount of water to your serving of burbara (to keep it from drying out) and warm it over medium-heat, stirring regularly. Add your topping after the burbara has been reheated.
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This is so wonderful and warming. I used pot barley and only had cinnamon and fennel for spices. I topped it with chopped almonds and clementines. Mine did not turn out creamy but was delightful just the same. Thanks very much for posting this recipe!
Thanks for sharing your variation, Suzie!
I used wheat berries i had in the house and soaked them. It came out great! I was looking for a way to celebrate St. Barbara's day. Having some Middle Eastern and Egyptian heritage, please share more recipes that are traditional for Christians in that region of the Mediterranean. Thanks for sharing the recipe!
Will do, Keith! Thanks for giving this recipe a go!
I made this today used my instant pot its delicious
SO GOOD! I am going to have this for breakfast this week - I love that you can eat it warm or cold! Makes it a great meal to take with you out the door and it’s delicious!
Has anyone tried making this in a slow cooker?
Just wondering if there is another grain that would work for this other than brown rice. Oatmeal maybe? Buckwheat? I have celiac so anything wheat is out! But this looks fantastic, so I want to try it!
A new use for my barley! Yay! I had this warm as a nice evening treat. YUMMY!
So delicious! I am gluten-free, so I substituted the pearl barley for brown rice, and even though I'm sure the texture and taste are different from the original recipe, I really enjoyed it! I ate some for breakfast and lunch the next day.
Awesome! Thanks for sharing, Ania!