Greek Pilafs—Satisfying One-Pot Meals

January 26, 2011
By Holly Jennings


Georgia Cone—a Greek-American, born Georgia Sardonis—is a member of Dowdy Corners Cookbook Club, and a fabulous cook.  I spent the morning with her a few weeks ago cooking rice pilafs and learning a bit about Greek cooking and her family history.

Between 1912 and 1914, both sets of her grandparents moved to New England from Greece. She grew up in Nashua, New Hampshire, where there is a large Greek community. Her gift in the kitchen goes back a couple of generations. Her paternal grandfather was a baker; he had a neighborhood bakery in Portland, Maine, where there was and is a thriving Greek community.

Her father opened a diner in Nashua called “Sardy’s.” It wasn’t a Greek diner, but two Greek standards were on the menu without fail: shish kebabs with rice pilaf and rice pudding. And there were Greek touches: the chicken soup always had lemon in it, and hamburgers were sprinkled with oregano before hitting the griddle.

Georgia has been to Greece several times to track down still-living relatives, the birth place of deceased grandparents and great-grandparents, and to explore and enjoy regional Greek cuisine. What Georgia loves best about Greek cooking is its reliance on fresh, seasonal ingredients—many of which have been used since ancient times—to create foods that are not only some of the healthiest in the world, but also very delicious. Because Greek cooking isn’t difficult or laborious, it is, she feels, a joy to make—and to share with others.

She is co-writing a food-centric account of her travels in Greece with her sister, and co-traveler. Their book, tentatively titled “A Greek Feast of Joy,” will include more than 100 recipes, some of which she and her sister learned during their travels in Greece and some of which, like the three pilafs she shared with me—Spinach and Rice Pilaf (below), Spinach and Rice Pilaf with Shrimp and Feta, and Spinach and Rice Pilaf with Chicken—were prepared by her mother and other relatives living in America.


Spinach and Rice Pilaf


This is Georgia’s family recipe for Spanakorizo, a simple but flavorful one-pot rice pilaf. There are several distinct differences between her family’s version and the one featured in Diane Kochilas’s cookbook The Food and Wine of Greece, the current DCCC pick—Georgia’s version uses parsley, but not cumin; and wine, but not vinegar, and so on. Both sets of Georgia’s grandparents—Sardonis on one side, and Comas on the other—came from the Peloponnese. The tendency for there to be regional differences in even the most common Greek dishes, such as this pilaf, and the exigencies of cooking Greek food in New England—probably account for the variances.

Growing up, this pilaf, and two nonvegetarian variations—one with shrimp and feta cheese and the other with chicken—was a dinner staple in Georgia’s family home. She shared all three versions with me, and all are equally delicious, especially with a dollop of plain yogurt.

Georgia’s family recipe uses converted rice; she says that it holds up better after longer cooking times. For many years I’d thought converted rice was some sort of instant rice. Far from it. Converted rice has been parboiled and then toasted, which, despite it being partially precooked, makes it very hard—making it take longer to cook than regular rice, and hold its shape.

The ideal consistency of this pilaf is not dry but moist. If not all of the broth has been absorbed when the rice is done, use a slotted spoon to serve the pilaf. On the other hand, says Georgia, if there is a little bit of the flavorful liquid on each person’s plate, it’s a treat to sop it up with crusty bread. When she has a small amount of pilaf leftover, Georgia likes to add it to broth to make an instant, nourishing soup.

Serves 4 to 6

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

3 cloves garlic, chopped

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1 cup chopped fresh parsley

½ cup chopped fresh dill (see note)

1 (14.5-oz) can crushed or diced tomatoes (with liquid)

½ cup dry white wine

2¾ cups water or homemade vegetable broth or 1½ (14.5-oz) cans vegetable broth, divided

1 cup Uncle Ben’s converted long-grain rice or regular long-grain rice

1 pound fresh spinach, rinsed, stemmed, and chopped, or 1½ (10-oz) packages frozen chopped or leaf spinach, thawed and drained

Juice of ½ lemon

Lemon slices, for serving

Plain yogurt, for serving

Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)

1. In a Dutch oven or deep-sided skillet, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil and butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (I recommend starting with a heaping ¼ teaspoon of salt, and adding more before serving, if needed.)

2. Add the parsley, dill, tomatoes, and wine. Stir to combine and let simmer for 8 to 10 minutes over medium heat to let the flavors meld and the wine reduce.

3. Add 1¾ cups of the water or broth or 1 can of broth and the rice and increase the heat to high. When bubbling, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes over low heat. Check the rice for doneness, and, if not tender, cook, covered, for another 5 minutes. If all of the liquid has been absorbed, add a little water or broth.

4. When the rice is tender, add the spinach and the remaining 1 cup of water or broth or ½ can of broth. Steam, covered, until the spinach is cooked but still bright green, about 8 minutes.

5. When the spinach is cooked, remove from the heat. Add the lemon juice and gently turn the steamed spinach into the pilaf. Let rest, covered, for 10 minutes before serving. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

6. Serve hot or room temperature with lemon slices and yogurt and garnish with fresh chopped parsley, if using.

Note: If fresh dill is out of season, the best alternative is a packaged chopped dill blend available in tubes and sold in the produce section of grocery stores. Once opened, it should be refrigerated. Use 2 tablespoons of the dill blend for this recipe.

TIP: Georgia shared an amazing tip with me during our pilaf cooking morning: Lemons can be frozen whole! I’d never heard of this before. Lemon are used abundantly in Greek cooking, so when she sees a good deal on lemons she buys lots of them, and rather than worry about using them all up before they go bad, she places them in the freezer—not bagged, where ever they fit it. She showed me one of her previously frozen lemons and it looked just like a fresh one.

0 Comments to “Greek Pilafs—Satisfying One-Pot Meals”

  1. Love this interview! Georgia is great and so articulate!! I loved seeing the recipe and the whole thing on as well as here. Good work, Holly and Georgia.
    Yia sou!!!

  2. This was a great interview. Good camera work while doing the interview! What kind of video cam did you use?
    I only saw the first part where is the 2nd part when she is cooking?

  3. Thanks for your encouragement. I was very lucky to have such an articulate interviewee for my first video attempt.

  4. I am glad you enjoyed it! I used the video feature included in my new Panasonic Lumix. Well, I decided not to show the cooking part. Chickened out. I thought it dragged on. I will conquer the kitchen video. I will.


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