A month-and-a-half ago, in a parking lot behind the Kea Island municipal building, I tried homemade rizogalo, Greek rice pudding. Because of my pregnancy diet, the rizogalo was one of the only foods I could try at the dairy-based food event Spyros, his family, and I had attended that evening. I didn’t mind; thick milk pooled around the rice grains and made for a drippy, vanilla and cinnamon-flavored snack that soothed and filled my stomach.
With each spoonful of rizogalo I thought of my mother’s homemade hot chocolate, also a vanilla and cinnamon flavored treat. I remembered watching her stir a mug filled with cocoa powder, sugar, a drop of vanilla and milk, then microwaving it for two minutes. Like the rizogalo, it was a simple recipe with few ingredients yet to me it was magic. The cup warmed my perpetually cold hands, and the chocolate energized me after a long day at school. With these thoughts I wondered if I could recreate the rizogalo at home and, like my mother, have a warm drink/snack in my cooking repertoire to serve my kids in the winter in Athens.
Back at home, I tried a recipe for classic rizogalo but it didn’t turn out quite right. The rice didn’t absorb the milk as I had hoped (probably due to too timid boiling on my part) and I stirred it for a good 45 minutes before it was ready…not a quick recipe by any means. Spyros and I ate the rizogalo for breakfast for the next four days and, by the end, I was ready to give up the project until next fall.
But about a week later I found myself with a large batch of leftover brown rice and a carton of whole milk. They needed to be used soon or were doomed to spoil. From the rizogalo recipes I had read, I realized that the dessert was nothing more than cooked rice, boiled again in milk and flavored to taste. In this case, I could use my already cooked rice as the base for a darn-good-for-you rizogalo. A leftover brown rice rizogalo seemed more my style anyway. I like finding ways to repurpose leftovers, to extend their use to more than just one dish. Perhaps this would be the rizogalo for me.
The brown rice reheated nicely in the milk and thickened as it cooked. I stirred in a couple tablespoons of maple sugar, grated lemon zest, cinnamon, and a nice dose of vanilla. It wasn’t a recipe so much as a method, as you’ll see below, and was ready in about 20 minutes. I dipped a spoon in the saucepan for a taste test. It was different from the rizogalo I had tasted in Kea. The lemon zest and maple had made it fresher, more aromatic. It was also different from my mom’s hot chocolate. Not sweet and rich but complex and nutty. Like the other two, though, it was soothing and warm; a snack that could dissolve a chill.
Rizogalo is a classic Greek dessert that be served warm, before it sets, or chilled in the refrigerator until you need it. You can reheat it in the microwave, stirred with a tablespoon of milk. The consistency will depend on your taste; cook it longer for a more risotto-like pudding or less for a soupier one.
Leftover Brown Rice Rizogalo
Place any amount of leftover, cooked brown rice (I had about 2 3/4 cups) in a saucepan and cover with whole milk or any milk you like (I used about equal parts milk to rice). Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in a big pinch of salt, maple sugar, or any other sweetener, to taste (I like my rizogalo just barely sweet, so I used about 2 tablespoons of maple sugar, but you do you). When the sweetness is to your liking, add in the zest of 1 grated lemon, ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon of vanilla. Continue cooking and stirring until the rizogalo reaches your desired consistency. Divide into small glass dishes and serve warm or chilled and topped, if desired, with slivered almonds and/or a light dusting of cinnamon.