Monday 8 June 2015

Spiced Cauliflower "Rice" Pilaf with Vegetables, Almonds and Dried Currants

I had so much cauliflower left over from my last recipe post that I took it as a sign to make something I've been meaning to try my hand at for ages. Cauliflower is a firm and filling vegetable which makes it particularly good for substituting starches. I have eaten cauliflower as a substitute for rice before, but never tried making it. Luckily it is very easy so it was not only a cinch for me, but I'm sure it will be for you too. If you're watching your carbohydrate intake or your weight but find yourself struggling with starchy cravings then this could be really beneficial to you. You don't need to be dieting; this is great for anybody just looking for something new to try. It's tasty, different and has potential to be your new favourite side dish.

In this post I'll show you how to make basic, raw cauliflower rice with a food processor. From there you can either steam or stir fry it. This recipe is a stir fry variety. You can use this idea as a base for your very own ideas. Steamed cauliflower rice is great for just about anything you would use short grained steamed rice for, even sushi! Stir fried cauliflower rice is best for fried rice, pulao and couscous substitutions. It's great because when cooked cauliflower takes on an al dente texture and is quite filling; just like rice. The only thing it doesn't do as well as the real thing is that it doesn't quite have the same absorbency that rice has. So it isn't as good at sopping up sauces like curries, tagines or stews. 

If you don't have a food processor, a cheese grater will create a usable product. I used two heads of cauliflowers, minus the four steaks I had cut from them. I was left with approximately 1.5 cauliflower heads. I used this batch as part of my meal prep for the week so this recipe yields about 7 or 8 servings. Feel free to adjust the amounts to your liking. 


1.5 (or so) heads cauliflower, core and leaves removed
1 small yellow onion, diced
1/2 red, yellow and green bell pepper, diced
2 jalapeños, seeded and finely diced (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 dup dried currants
2 tbsp oil for frying
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped

Let's take a look at how to turn the cauliflower into rice first. Discard the fibrous core and leaves then chop into even sized pieces. 

Add the chopped cauliflower to a food processor with a large blade. With this much cauliflower I had to do two batches. 

Pulse in a few short bursts with the lid of the food processor secured. Within seconds you'll have cauliflower rice. Stop when the pieces are about the size of short grain rice or couscous. Avoid going any further than that or you'll enter mushy/purée territory and it won't work for this recipe. 

There you have raw cauliflower rice. Easy, right? There are a lot of different ways you can prepare this. It takes about 5 minutes to steam or sautée. You can certainly eat it plain, but keep in mind that it's kind of a bland vegetable and requires a generous seasoning of salt. You can always do this part ahead of time and reserve it for up to a week in the fridge or a few months in the freezer.

On with the rest of the pilaf...
In a heavy pan over medium heat, add the oil and let it get hot. Add 1 tsp of cumin seeds and fry for about a minute, stirring constantly. They should sizzle as soon as they hit the oil.  

Add the diced onion and bell peppers along with a little salt and pepper. Sautée together for 4-5 minutes. 

Add the sliced almonds and sautée for an additional 2 minutes. 

Add the garlic and jalapeño and continue to sautée for 2-3 minutes.

Add 1/2 tsp of ground turmeric and 1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon. Stir the spices into the mixture for about a minute. 

Dump in the cauliflower rice along with a generous pinch of salt and some pepper. Stir often for the next 5 minutes. During this time the cauliflower will soften and take on the flavours of the other veggies and the spices. 

Add the frozen peas and dried currants and stir for about a minute while the peas thaw. 

Remove from heat and stir in the fresh parsley and mint. For maximum flavour, do not chop the herbs until the very last minute when you're about to add them. Taste for seasoning and adjust. This side dish is almost completely vegetables so I recommend a generous amount of salt. The aim is not to make it salty, but to really bring out the flavours that are already there. 

Serve immediately. This recipe has a bit of a Moroccan couscous feel. You can use what ever spices and aromatics you wish to make it your own. Cumin goes so beautifully with cauliflower and by frying the whole seeds at the beginning the flavour permeates the oil and gives the whole dish a smoky, savoury aroma. It's fantastic!

I pan fried some filleted turbot and served it with some of my cauliflower pilaf. I had a bad day and my turbot completely fell apart. So the plating is a little whomp, whomp but it was very tasty. 

Some purists might argue that this can't truly be considered a pilaf because it wasn't cooked with any broth; so a little imagination is required. It is, after all, cauliflower imposing as rice or couscous. It's really quite interesting while also remaining quite nutritious without packing the carbohydrates, starch or excess calories. It's as loaded with vitamins and minerals as it is flavour. It's a fun and easy recipe to try that your body will thank you for. It's one of those dishes you never have to make the same way twice. 

I hope you give this a try. Be sure to check back soon or more recipes and techniques you can use at home. Also, I'm heading to Chicago for the first time in less than 2 weeks and I'll have plenty of stories and photos to share of my culinary experiences there. 

Until next time,

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