My mother’s closest friend was Toni, a meticulous, dedicated cook, who introduced our family to what was then on the east coast of America, almost unknown outside its own community, the everyday food of Greece.
It was a revelation – crisp, delicate baklava, the layers of phyllo pastry melting in the mouth (without the sticky sweetness so often found in bakeries now); crisp green salads with tomato and feta cheese (teaching us to keep the feta in a bowl in the fridge covered with milk); taramasilata made at home with cod’s roe and bread (in the days before there were pots of pink glunk in every deli and supermarket); It was at Toni’s that I first tasted orzo, the tiny rice shaped pasta served, buttered, as you might serve rice.
And her Greek rice pudding – rice pudding as I had never tasted it. Toni’s was luscious and custardy, often filled with raisins and dusted with cinnamon, it was served in pretty stemmed glass bowls – even to a small child as I was then. Her granddaughter told me recently that Toni's rice puddling is famous throughout the family as the best of all.
From the Greek cookbooks given to me by Toni:
1/3 cup rice
pinch of salt
1 quart milk
4 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
grated rind of 1 orange or 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Parboil rice in ½ cup water with a pinch if salt. For 5 minutes. Drain. Scald the milk, add drained rice and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for 45 minutes. Beat egg yolks with the sugar. Remove the rice mixture from the fire and slowly stir in the egg yolks, mixing well; add orange or lemon rind (or a combination of both); return to low fire and stir constantly until creamy and thick. Add vanilla, mix well, and pour into sherbert glasses or desert bowls. Sprinkle with cinnamon and cool. This may be served with thick cream
From Greek Cooking for the Gods by Eva Zane, published by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
A SIMPLER VERSION
1 quart milk
½ quart water
½ cup rice
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
Cook rice with milk and water until thick and rice is soft. Beat egg yolks and sugar until lemon colour and thick. Carefully add rice pudding to beaten yolks, mix well, and pour back into saucepan. Cook over low flame for about 1 minute, stirring constantly to prevent setting. Pour into pudding dishes and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Variation: ½ cup raisins or grated lemon rind may be added.
From The Grecian Gourmet By the Women of St. Paul's Greek Orthodox Church Hempstead, Long Island, New York