Dad’s Rizogalo (Rice Pudding)

I grew up having not one great cook in the household but two! My dad emigrated to Canada in the 1950’s, on the encouragement of his older brother and uncle, Pantelis ( the fellow I was named after). Like many other immigrant stories, families left their homelands en-masse to greener pastures and in the case of the Greeks, many sought a better life in western Europe, Australian, the US and Canada. Greece’s economic situation was exacerbated by a Civil War that ensued World World II and in the case of my dad’s family, his father died in a carriage accident when the children were young, leaving a young mother with 5 kids and little means of supporting a family.

My dad’s uncle, a man we all called Papou (grandfather) Panteli took the place as the father figure for his deceased brother’s family and I was given his name in his honour. Papou Panteli first tried his fortunes in Atlantic City, New Jersey then he moved up to Canada and began a new life in a small city called St. Catherines (near Niagara Falls and about 70 minutes drive south from Toronto). Money was good working in restaurants and soon letters were sent back to my dad and family urging them to come here (Canada) for a better life, security and work.

My dad came to Canada by ship and his entry to Canada was at the Port of Halifax, Nova Scotia – Canada’s own Ellis Island. From Halifax he took a train to St. Catherines, Ontario and eventually the Minakis family moved to Toronto (where we’ve lived ever since). My dad began life as a dishwasher, saved money, opened a grocery store and through the rest of his working life, worked in restaurants that mostly served American/Canadian fare. He spent most of his working life prepping, cooking or serving food and although some of his methods were laden with “restaurant techniques” that don’t always jibe with home cooking, his cooking wisdom is solid and he could talk (and does) for hours about the restaurant business.

I am thankful that my parents also introduced and cooked dishes that went beyond Greek cuisine and I also thank Greek restauranteurs throughout the Diaspora who mixed some Greek dishes into their mainstream restaurant menus. Seeing a Greek salad, a souvlaki or an omelet with Feta hints to me that the owners of the restaurant may be Greek. Another diner standard that I believe Greeks brought to diner menus was the rice pudding or as us Greeks call it, “rizogalo” (literally translated as rice-milk). Anytime rice pudding was made in our household, my mom deferred to my dad. – he always made it and after noticing  him on a rice pudding kick of late – I finally asked him if we could make the recipe together and ultimately share it here on this blog.

The recipe is extremely easy: milk, rice, sugar and flavourings are all that are required by way of ingredients but the most important ingredient has to be the TLC (tender loving care) one has for this dessert. Patience is required as some stirring is involved so that your rice doesn’t either clump-up or stick to the bottom of your pot and burn. Stand by your rice pudding and you’ll be rewarded with a creamy, aromatic rice pudding that will remind you of the one you used to have in the family diners of yore or perhaps a rice pudding you once had in Greece!

My only other advice is to use a heavy-bottomed pot that holds heat well but one that also won’t easily burn whatever you’re cooking. This recipe is the “mother recipe” for rice pudding and one could apply their own preferences for flavouring: omit raisins if you don’t like them (like my brother), flavour with cardamom pods or mastiha gum resin from the island of Chios. Krokos Kozanis (Greek saffron) will give your rice pudding a warm yellow hue and wonderful aroma or even step beyond the usual Greek flavourings and try tonka beans!

Dad’s Rice Pudding (Ρυζόγαλο)

(serves 12)

2 1/2 cups of long-grain rice, rinsed

8 cups of whole (homogenized) milk

1 large cinnamon stick, broken in two

3/4 tsp. of salt

1 Tbsp. of vanilla extract

3 strips of lemon peel

3 strips of orange peel

1 cup of sugar

2 egg yolks + 1 cup scalded milk

1/2 cup raisins soaked in Metaxa brandy

ground cinnamon for finishing

    1. Rinse your rice under cold water and place in a pot along with the milk, cinnamon, salt,  vanilla, lemon & orange peels and sugar and turn your heat on to medium and stir with a whisk so that your rice doesn’t clump (or break-up some clumps). Keep on stirring until  your milk comes to a boil then reduce to medium low.
    2. Simmer your rice pudding for 65-90 minutes, occasionally stirring to ensure the rice doesn’t clump or stick to the bottom of your pot. In the meantime, pour your raisins into a cup and pour in a good shot of Metaxa brandy and stir to mix. Allow the raisins to steep in the brandy until the rice pudding has cooked to a thick, creamy consistency.
    3. When the rice pudding has reached your desired consistency (I like it thick and creamy), remove from the heat and carefully remove the cinnamon sticks, citrus peels and reserve. Place a cup of milk in the microwave or heat on your stove-top to just scalding, Crack two eggs and separate the whites from the yolks – placing the yolks in a bowl. Whisk the yolks until creamy and when your milk is just scalding, very slowly pour the milk into the bowl with the eggs while while whisking the yolks (very important to slowly add the milk to the yolks so you don’t end-up with scrambled eggs – this is called tempering).
    4. Now pour your tempered egg and milk mixture into your rice pudding along with the now-plump raisins and stir in to incorporate. Pour into a large casserole serving dish or individual-portioned bowls and allow to cool.  Sprinkle ground cinnamon on the surface, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight. Serve cool or at room temperature. Rice pudding will keep for up to one week.

If you are not reading this post in a feed reader or at  http://kalofagas.ca then the site you are reading is illegally publishing copyrighted material. Contact me at truenorth67 AT gmail DOT COM. All recipes, text and photographs in this post are the original creations & property of the author.

© 2007-2011 Peter Minakis

© 2011 – 2016,
Peter Minakis

. All rights reserved.

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23 Comments for “Dad’s Rizogalo (Rice Pudding)”

says:

Love the story about your family. It’s always great to have a sense of our beginnings so to speak, and I’m not surprised there’s a restaurant in yours! Lovely, comfort food here, Peter. I was raised on rice milk as you call it — more hot rice with all the milk, sugar, spices instead of actual pudding. Would love to try this version with the saffron included.

bellini

says:

Rice pudding is my dads favourite dessert since I really enjoys those desserts that are not so sweet. He adds raisins to his. Mom and dad flew into Gander airport in Newfoundland from England in the late ’50’s at the end of March without winter clothes or boots. Their first stop was Hamilton.

says:

So lovely to red about your parents journey to Canada…I can relate to a lot of what you have to say. Now, regarding the rizogalo-this is one of my all time favourite Greek desserts! I’m quite heavy handed on the cinnamon but I have to say, those Metaxa soaked raisins sound incredible. Thank you for sharing Peter!

says:

Excellent slide show, but better life story. My dad was first generation Irish. However, his dad farmed and the family ended up in Saskatchewan in 1928. Dad was born in 1929. You know what followed. It was a terribly bleak beginning to what they thought was the promised land. From one famine to the next, almost. And my husband is from the former Yugoslavia, as you know. Both of his parents had their parents killed or die when they were very young as well. What stories they have to tell. Each family also had 5 children, like your father’s. It must have been the magic number those days. in both cases, with both parents gone, the oldest brother took care of the families. His dad was the one on that side, and his mother was the baby on the other. Both “older brothers” were 13 and 11 respectively. The trips back there, the stories, and the stories through the food are heart wrenching. That’s why it is so important to carry on these traditional foods from the hands of our fathers and preserve their stories through the family. There’s not so much to say when you open a can and pour it into a bowl. It just is not the same. And on that note, I got some tonka beans when I was in Paris and this will give me a great way to try them in their purest form… grated in and on top of the rice pudding. This was an Alberta prairie farm food, too. A specialty, really – as it was bread pudding that was the basic poor man’s dessert, and if you were lucky, it was rice pudding. But, there was a lot of rice in the prairies due to the railroad and the Chinese immigrants that brought it with them. I don’t know that we had many Greeks here. Somehow I think most wouldn’t want to be so far from the sea. But, we had rice pudding all the same. And there are lots of Greeks here, now!
:)
Valerie

says:

A powerful and touching post; recipes always come to life when accompanied by a personal story such as here. Enjoyed reading about your courageous and hardworking family, so true of many early immigrants into the new world; how neat that you and your dad share some common interests. Unique and special recipe, with your family’s emblem.

says:

Πολύ ιδιαίτερη συνταγή αφού κρύβει μέσα της αναμνήσεις!
Αγαπημένο επιδόρπιο το ρυζόγαλο, και την άλλη βδομάδα που είναι η Τυρινή, θα έχει την τιμητική του στην Ελλάδα!

says:

O that looks so good Peter! Almost as good as my arroz con leche.. :) lol… It’s funny how certain dishes are made throughout the world always in a slightly different way… Yours looks gorgeous!

says:

Wonderful information about your dad and family, Peter. Fabulous recipe for rice pudding. Stunning photos. You’ve done it all! My mother used to make us kids rice pudding when we were sick. It’s always been comfort food for me. think I might make some soon to chase these winter blues away. :)

Jon

says:

I think the slide show explanation is a great addition to the site. Thanks for continuing to make a good thing better.

says:

That is the first time I’ve seen rice pudding look like the way I make it…except the recipe is even BETTER! Love the brandy soaked raisins! My Mom used to make big pots of this for our family of 9 when I was a kid. Helped stretch the budget. But we bought so much milk at the grocery store someone once asked me if it wouldn’t be cheaper to just buy a whole cow. :)

says:

knowing first-hand that emigrating anywhere is pretty tough, let alone when there’s a significant language barrier, I really enjoyed the synopsis of your dad’s story. made slightly differently, rice pudding is a major dessert in the English canon too, but, my dad is completely unable to cook anything, except complex chemical compounds resulting in fluoride crystals, i.e. nothing remotely edible. glad to be back here visiting and see that you’re still going strong. hope all’s well with you.

Marika

says:

Thank you for the recipe! My Yaya passed away without leaving the recipe she had inherited from her Yaya in Greece. My dad has spent his whole life trying to figure it out. Hopefully it’s the saffron. Thanks.

Christina B

says:

just made it and it is delish!!!i did not add the raisins, and it took less time on the stove then the recipe says, but it was pretty easy to make…. Thank you for the recipe!!!!