Posted: March 3, 2014 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: Food Court

 Rice pudding of the gods

Greeks have a long tradition of cooking with grains, both sweet and savory. In ancient Greece, according to Susanna Hoffmans The Olive and the Caper, no dish was eaten more often than barley. It even took on mystical properties, being offered in autumnal rites to the goddess Demeter, thanking her for life-giving grain. 

In those days, Greeks flavored their barley puddings with honey, mint and grape must. That evolved in the Byzantine era to raisins and carob seeds, and barley gave way to rice. 

Perhaps if youve visited a modern day Coney Island, youve sampled the chilled rice puddings doused with plenty of cinnamon. The base is relatively simple rice, milk, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Dismiss this dish as trivial at your peril. Made with short grain Arborio rice (the paella grain), and garnished with a bit of elegance, this can be a fitting cap to any feast. 

I recently catered a six-course Greek dinner and served a version of this, garnished not with cinnamon, but finely diced dried apricots, a thin slice of fig-almond cake, and surrounded by fresh blackberries. Served with Mavrodaphne, the traditional sweet red dessert wine of Greece, every bowl was scraped clean.

The best part is how easy this is to make. Greeks dont often serve elaborate desserts. Baklava and other pastries are for celebrations, and most meals end with fruit. This recipe marries the concepts perfectly.


Rizogalo (literally rice-milk) 

from Olive and the Caper (variation)



3/4 cup Arborio rice

6 cups whole milk (I used 4 whole and 

    2 skim)

3/4 cup sugar

1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg, preferably 

    fresh grated

1/8 tsp. salt

3 egg yolks

1 1/2 tsps. vanilla extract

12 finely diced apricots (optional: 

    sprinkled with a TBS of Retsina wine)

fresh blackberries

fig-almond cake, sliced into wedges*

* A note on the fig almond cake: Spanish in origin, its simply made with dried figs and almonds, chopped and pressed together into a loaf, which can be thinly sliced and eaten alone or with lovely sheeps milk cheeses like Manchego or Kasseri. Or, of course, this rice pudding. You can find a recipe online, or buy it at Produce Station or Morgan & York in Ann Arbor.



1. Combine the rice, milk, sugar, nutmeg, and salt in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until rice is tender, 25 minutes.

2. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks with a whisk until frothy. Slowly whisk in several spoonfuls of the rice mixture until the yolks are thin and smooth. Pour the yolk mixture back into the saucepan. Continue cooking over low heat until the pudding turns creamy and is thick enough to coat with a spoon, about 2 minutes.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the pudding into individual bowls, and cool to room temperature, or refrigerate and serve cold. Top each with the diced apricots, garnish with a wedge of fig-almond cake, and surround with fresh blackberries. Or top with a pinch of cinnamon (recommended after having a Coney dog).

You can also cook the apricots with the rice in step 1, or substitute other dried fruit such as raisins, golden raisins, or chopped dates. You can also top with chopped pistachios, almonds, or hazelnuts. 

Or go crazy with your own variation. Im sure Demeter, or whichever gods or mortals you are offering this to, will be pleased.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for Current magazine in Ann Arbor. He has a blog at which badly needs updating!

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