The presence of rice in human alimentation has been tracked down to ancient China, where it was considered a gift from the gods.
It is believed that the grain made its entrance to Europe through Greece with the returning soldiers of Alexander the Great after their expedition in Asia.
You have probably heard all this before, but here’s an aspect you might have missed: Rice was also used for medicinal purposes. The fact that doctors Dioskourides and Galinos mentioned rice as a natural way to cure stomach ache could explain why even today rice soups are considered a remedy for an upset stomach.
Looking back to Greece during the years that followed WWII, rice was scarce and seen as a luxury product, so it was common to substitute it with groats or other wheat grains that were cheaper.
After the 1950s, however, cultivation of rice saw a booming growth.
In 1949, as part of the Marshall plan, American agricultural economist Walter Packard began planting rice seed along the Spercheios river in central Greece.
The project proved successful, stimulating a 1200 per cent increase in the nation’s production and rice soon became an export crop.
Today, its use is widespread in everyday cuisine, while it is also found in festive dishes like the ‘γαμοπίλαφο’, a rice dish traditionally served at Cretan weddings.
Its nutritional value can vary according to the type of rice. Brown and wild rice contain the whole grain, which means that they carry a lower glycemic load, making them more suitable for diabetics.
White rice contains four times less fibre than its brown counterpart, but still remains a good source of valuable vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium, iron, thiamine and niacin. Its fat content primarily consists of omega-6 fatty acids, which are considered pro-inflammatory.
Meanwhile, wild rice is technically considered a grass and is classified among superfoods thanks to its high levels of protein, vitamin A and folic acid. The only downside is that it comes with fewer minerals than brown rice.
All types of rice come in short-or long-grain varieties.
Short grain is starchier. When cooked, it becomes tender and sticky, making it ideal for risottos or paellas, compared to drier long grain varieties like jasmine and basmati.
The equivalent to the Italian risotto is known in our culinary tradition by the name pilafi, a rice dish cooked in broth, often mixed with vegetables, meat or fish.
The term is borrowed from the Turkish word pilav, proving once more the cultural ties that bind us with our neighbours.
The main difference between them is that in pilafi dishes the cooked grains remain separate in contrast to the method used to make risotto.
We have rounded up a handful of the most typical rice dishes in Greece, with the finishing recipe being a sweet temptation.
Let’s start with some spanakorizo (spinach risotto), which is often combined with a poached or fried egg to provide a protein source.
750g spinach, cleaned, stemmed, torn cut into smaller pieces and thoroughly rinsed
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped spring onion (white and green)
1 small onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped (optional)
1 1/4 cups rice, short-grain recommended
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
3 cups water
fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
1. In a deep pan heat oil and gently fry onion and leek (if used) until soft.
2. Wash (or soak if necessary depending on what kind of rice you use) rice, drain and add to onion.
3. Cook for five minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Add remaining ingredients, except spinach, and bring to the boil. Cook for 10 more minutes.
5. Add the spinach, stir well and cover. Reduce heat and simmer on low heat for 5-6 minutes.
6. Remove from heat.
7. Leave tightly covered and allow to stand at least half an hour before serving.
* Sources: food.com, dianekochilas.com, recipe4living.com, healthyeatingsfgate.com, sbs.com.au, greek.food.com,