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)
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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© 2007-2011 Peter Minakis
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