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Monday, April 7, 2008

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.


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.
Kali Orexi!
Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.


Peter M said...

Sam, it's a Greek classic, presented here elegantly and fitting on the family's table or at the Grand Bretangne!

Laurie Constantino said...

Oh, do I love rizogalo. When made correctly it is one of the world's perfect foods. Especially when, as you say, the day is hot and the rizogalo cold. Interesting history of rice in Greece.

MrOrph said...

Ambrosia Sam!

Oh the memories of this.

Thanks for another great recipe.

Ivy said...

One of my favourite desserts and thanks for all the interesting information given. Rice pudding is the only dessert which is made all over the world.

Ivy said...

Hi Sam, can you pls contact me at
Thanks, Ivy

Mariana Kavroulaki said...

Hi Ssm,
I just want to point out few things in your interesting article.
The orindes artos mentioned by Sopfocles (Triptolemus, fr.609) was conjectured by Athenaeus to mean either rice or sawa millet bread. The first conjecture has been widely accepted, but both are historically unlikely. Polydefkis (2nd cent. AD) does not affirm that this bread was made of rice, however lexicographer Hesychius (5th cent.) says the opposite.
The rice, a staple originated in India and spread west through Persia, was known to soldiers of Alexander the Great, although never made much impact to Greek cuisine until the fall of Byzantium. It was appreciated mainly for medical reasons, to settle upset stomachs. Anthimus, a Greek doctor of 6th century, gives in his medical and culinary treatise On observations of Foods the recipe of a rice pudding under the name «Oriza». According to the recipe rice is boiled for sometime in fresh water, and then it is cooked slowly in goat’s milk, until becomes a mass. It is eaten hot, without salt or oil. On 18th century rice became a mainstream, probably under the impact of Ottoman cuisine and its low price.

Sam Sotiropoulos said...

Mariana - Thanks for the great supplementary information! As for Athenaeus conjecturing about rice or millet, well that may be a stretch because the text is clear, he does not state that it is his opinion about what Sophocles *meant* to say... The issue of hermeneutics which you raise is not borne out by the text and may actually be your own conjecture that there was a conjecture. :-) After all, the Greek text states: "Ορινδου δ'αρτου μεμνηται Σοφοκλης εν Τριπτολεμω ητοι του εξ ορυζης γινομενου..." Athenaeus is making a clear identification of ορυζης (rice) and the bread in question, there is no mention of millet in the original Greek, so I'm not quite sure where you came up with that. As for the rest, we are pretty much in step so thanks again for your great comment!

Mariana Kavroulaki said...

The English translation of Greek text is: ‘Sophocles makes mention of orindes bread, in Triptolemus, which is the one made of rice or from a grain raised in Ethiopia, which resembles sesame.’ (vol. 1, 110f) Well, I beleive that Athenaeus’ conjecture is clear enough…

I don’t think that the small Ethiopian seeds are of sawa millet.
A variety of millet was been cultivated by the ancient habitants of Macedonia (middle of 2nd millenium b.C.) In Thessaly, millet has been cultivated much earlier. Few seeds of elymos and melyni (sweeter varieties of millet) have been found at Kastanas. However millet never became popular in ancient Greece. I tend to suppose that Athenaeus’ Ethiopian grain is the teff (Eragrostis tef), native and (until recently) only grown in Ethiopia. It is the most important and most ancient cereal of this country. But the question is: if Athenaeus knew the teff, might Sophocles be familiar with it?

Sam Sotiropoulos said...


Here's what the LCL (Loeb Classical Library) English translation states:

"Sophocles in Triptolemus mentions orindes bread, i.e. the bread which is made with rice, a seed which grows in Aethiopia and resembles sesame."

So, your English version differs from the LCL translation... Which is why I prefer going to the original Greek text, in which it states plainly:

"Ορινδου δ'αρτου μεμνηται Σοφοκλης εν Τριπτολεμω ητοι του εξ ορυζης γινομενου η απο του εν Αιθιοπια γιγνομενου σπερματος, ο εστιν ομοιον συσαμω."

So, as you can see in the Greek there is no mention of millet of any kind, although the text can be understood as an "either, or" statement relating to either rice or some other small grain that resembled sesame, however the word "ορυζης" and "ορινδου" are clearly statements about rice. Athenaeus is stating that Sophocles, in the Triptolemus, made reference to a type of bread which is made from rice OR can be made from a seed that is cultivated in Ethiopia and resembles sesame. So, my understanding, to make it clear is that there are likely two ways to make the 'orindes' bread (which is what Sophocles was saying), either with rice flour or the other unnamed grain which Athenaeus is not familiar with -or at least does not mention the name. So, I am still not sure where you are getting the millet from, as it's not in the original Greek text. That said, we are dealing with a quote of a quote, so without the original Sophoclean text of the Triptolemus we are both left with our own conjectures... But, as you are likely aware, the ancient Greek word for 'millet' is "κεγχρος" which is not to be found in the Greek text mentioned above, though I am certain Athenaeus was familiar with the term, and probably Sophocles was too, as millet was (as you say) already a familiar though not popular grain for the Greeks of Classical Athens and the later Hellenistic period.

Mariana Kavroulaki said...

Some scholars accept that Athenaeus’ "or from a grain raised in Ethiopia, which resembles sesamum" refers to sawa millet. Personally, as I have already said in my previous comment, I think that sawa millet is historically unlikely, but Ahenaeus might refers to Ethiopian teff. Teff’s seeds have very small size “which resemble sesamum” and Ethiopia is considered the site of its origin. If Athenaeus meant millet, for what reason did not mention the Greek term (kenchros or melini or elymos).
And you're right, we are dealing with a quote of a quote since not have the original Triptolemus text.

Elsee said...

Sam, such a beautiful dessert in its simplicity. Your blog evokes fond memories of my Yiayia making this for us.

Arthur K said...

Trying your recipe out now. Will let you know of the outcome. Similar to mums but without the egg yolks.

Vigó said...

hola from Argentina. My father used to make the creamiest, most delicious Rizogalo. He was born in Constantinople in 1911... a true gourmet.
Today I follow your recipe in an attempt to re-live my best childhood memories.