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Nicki's Greek Spinach Rice with Lemon

My friend Nicki is a total foody like me. In fact, she's taught me so much about honouring the traditions of the past and the importance of food for maintaining culture and connection to country. The Greeks know this intrinsically. Their history of war, invasion, dislocation from land, including forced marches of whole villages and families during the partition gives an increased importance to the the connection between food, land, defiance and pride in culture and language.

Greek migration to Australia has blessed us with the ability to share in the survival of these traditions. One of my warmest memories of my friendship with Nicki was after the birth of my daughter she arrived with an enormous bowl of freshly made Loukoumades (honey puffs) cooked with yeast, which she told me were good to build my energy after giving birth and would help to bring in the milk. Of course, I took her advice and devoured the lot.

We have so many warm memories of feasts in the garden with olives, dolmades, barbecued meat, all washed down with good wine and delicious spirits like Raki and Mastica!

No one is better at catching squid and crabs. I never attempt to cook squid or order it in a restaurant because Nicki's is the very best.

The Greek way of cooking is similar but also quite different from that of the Italians. One of the main differences is the use lemon. Lemon is common only in a couple of Italian regions (mainly those settled by the ancient Greeks!) but elsewhere lemon is mostly used to flavour deserts, whereas the Greeks seem to squeeze it on everything!! When travelling through Italy with our Greek friends, "it could do with a bit of lemon" became a standing joke, much to the irritation of the Italian waiters.

One dish I adore is Greek spinach with rice because of the lemon and I would only ever go to Nicki for the recipe. So, here it is.

Nicki's Recipe for Spanakarizo

1 chopped onion, spring onion or leek - whatever you have on hand but including some leek is the best and adds some sweetness.

1 cup arborio rice

2 cups of hot water

Olive oil (about 1/4 cup )

1 bunch of spinach, leaves only, washed and coursely chopped

1 chilli ( optional) chopped

salt and pepper

Parsley and dill, about 1/2 cup chopped

Gently fry the onion/leek ( and chilli) in plenty of oil, with the lid on and do not let it brown. This can take 15-20 minutes.

Take the lid off and bring to a high heat, add rice, fry for a few minutes till most of the rice changes from milky in colour to solid white. Add about 1 teaspoon of salt and some pepper

Add the spinach and hot water and stir in the parsley and dill.

Cover with tight lid and simmer for 15 minutes.

Serve with lemon wedges so everyone can squeeze their own.

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