Rizogalo (Ρυζόγαλο) – Greek Rice Pudding


Rizogalo… my Greek rice pudding recipe in all its glory

Rice has been known and consumed in Greece since ancient times. The first mention I could find in the historiography is a reference to one of Sophocles’ lost (to us) plays. The Poet is quoted as mentioning a type of bread made with rice called «ορύνδου» (O-REEND-thoo). The noun «ορύζης» (O-REE-zis) in ancient Greek is the root of our modern English word “rice” (Oryza sativa… not to be confused with other types of sativa… ;-).

Then, as now, rice was mostly imported to Greece from climes that were better suited to the intensive wet-paddy agricultural environment required for its cultivation. For the ancients, rice was considered a rare luxury and it fetched a handsome price in the markets when it was available. It was not until Alexander the Great’s conquest of the East that rice became a relatively more common element in Greek gastronomy. Thus, although both the ancient Greeks and later the Romans were familiar with rice neither nation actively cultivated the marsh grass with the starchy grain seed. It was the Arabs who came into contact with the Byzantine Empire in the 7th Century A.D., who made a steady supply of rice available to Europe through Anatolia in the Eastern Mediterranean, and Southern Spain in the Western end of the “Middle Earth Sea”.
Although an effort has been made in recent years to flood certain parts of the delta plain along the river Axios near Thessaloniki for rice cultivation, the overall domestic Greek rice yield is around 200,000 tonnes per annum. Yet, Modern Greek cuisine is full of tasty and easy to prepare traditional rice dishes that will leave your lips smacking for more! I have already shared my Domatorizo and Gemista: Stuffed Peppers and Zucchini recipes, and now I thought I might introduce you to my favourite scrumptious rice dessert recipe: Rizogalo (Ree-ZO-galo) which literally translates as “Rice Milk” but is actually a pudding… Greek rice pudding.

Recipe:

8 cups (2 L.) of milk
1 cup (250 ml.) of Arborio rice
1 tablespoon (15 ml.) of finely shredded citrus zest (you can use orange, lemon, or lime rind)
1 ½ – 2 cups (up to 500ml.) of sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
1 teaspoon (5 ml.) real vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon (15 ml.) corn flour* (optional)
1 teaspoon (5 ml.) cinnamon
  1. In a pot over a moderately high heat, bring milk to a slight boil.
  2. Add the rice to the milk and stir well until the boil returns, then reduce the heat to medium-low and gently simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Make sure to stir the mixture regularly so the milk does not congeal or stick to the sides and/or bottom of the pot.
  3. Add the sugar, vanilla extract and citrus rind and continue to simmer and occasionally stir the rice and milk mixture for another 10 minutes.
  4. Beat the egg yolks with a quarter cup (60 ml.) of cold milk and whisk in the corn flour* (optional) and mix well.
  5. After the ten minutes in Step 3, pour the egg yolk mixture into the pot and whisk well to incorporate, and then simmer for another 5-10 minutes until thick.
  6. Remove from heat and using a ladle, spoon out the mixture into bowls and let stand for one hour to cool. Sprinkle with cinnamon and garnish with a curl of shaved citrus rind.
This rice pudding is particularly good when refrigerated for a couple hours and served on sunny, warm days. The citrus rind adds a whole new dimension of flavour to the dish and leaves a wonderful lingering hint of lemon, orange or lime on the tongue, depending on your preference.

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