Cauliflower rice is everywhere, but do you know how to make it? Below are some of the easiest and most delicious versions possible.
Certain dishes just demand a side of white rice: Sesame chicken, Indian tikka masala, any curry. Instead of rice, many cooks are turning to Pinterest to create popular cauliflower rice, a low-carb side you can find everywhere from health-food cafes to Trader Joe’s. It’s simple to make: with a grater, cauliflower florets can be cut down into couscous-like granules, creating an excellent low-calorie, gluten-free rice substitute that also happens to be a good source of protein, fiber, and vitamins C, K, and B6.
Here are sever ways to cut up a few heads of cauliflower. You can grate them, and get down to making-rice business. (The grater blade of a food processor is easiest here, but a hand grater also works.) Since some methods (i.e. roasting and frying) required a little olive oil, for consistency’s sake, add an equal amount of oil to each batch.
COOKING METHOD: NONE
Before I even started cooking, I tried tasting the grated cauliflower in its natural state, as it is sometimes added to couscous-like salads raw and simply tossed with a rich, acidic dressing that helps break down some of its tough structure. But although the raw form is the easiest—no cooking required—it had a crunch that was too vegetable-like to approximate rice.
Epinion: Raw cauliflower rice is crunchy, and works to add texture to a salad, but it doesn’t mimic cooked rice.
COOKING METHOD: STEAMED IN CHEESECLOTH
Next I tried steaming the grated cauliflower, the most minimal cooking process. But since the cauliflower granules are so small, I had to use several layers of cheesecloth to hold the cauliflower in the steamer basket. The texture here was great, and the flavor was clean and fresh, very similar to the blank canvas of white rice. But removing the tiny cauliflower pieces from the cheesecloth was a pain, and some cauliflower rice was lost in the process.
Epinion: This process yields great results, but it’s too fussy.
COOKING METHOD: STEAMED IN WATER, THEN GRATED
I then tried steaming the whole cauliflower florets first, using a traditional steamer basket set into a medium-sized pot. Once cooled, I grated the cooked cauliflower. Although this greatly simplified the process, the cauliflower rice tasted waterlogged and was mushy.
Epinion: Steaming whole cauliflower florets doesn’t work.
COOKING METHOD: COOKED IN WATER
After steaming, I tried cooking the cauliflower rice the way rice is cooked: I added the grated cauliflower to a small amount of simmering water, covered the pan, and let the cauliflower cook until the water evaporated. Again, this yielded watery mush.
Epinion: Cauliflower rice shouldn’t be cooked the same way as rice.
COOKING METHOD: BOILED
Not wanting to give up on the ease of water-cooking, I gave some of the grated cauliflower a quick dunk in a pot of boiling water and then in ice water to try out quick-blanching. But yet again, the cauliflower rice was wet and squishy.
Epinion: Water + tiny granules of cauliflower rice = soggy cauliflower.
COOKING METHOD: MICROWAVED
Epi just spent a week proclaiming its love for the microwave, so I had to see if the convenience appliance could make cauliflower-rice magic. I placed the grated cauliflower into a microwave-safe bowl, stirred in the tablespoon of oil, covered the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and cooked for about 3 minutes. And viola! Super easy, delicious texture with distinct rice kernels, and clean flavor, very similar to the steamed version, minus the mess of the cheesecloth.
Epinion: For the easiest and cleanest white-rice—esque cauliflower, use the microwave.
COOKING METHOD: SAUTÉED
Finally, I turned to high-heat methods of cooking the cauliflower, heating up the olive oil in a pan and sautéing the grated cauliflower until lightly cooked. The taste was much richer than the microwaved cauliflower (or any of the boiled/steamed versions), but the cruciferous flavor was much stronger.
Epinion: For a sweeter, more cauliflower-forward rice, sautéing is a great option.
COOKING METHOD: ROASTED
For the final test, I tossed the grated cauliflower with the oil, then roasted it on a baking sheet at 400°F for about 12 minutes. This version had the sweetest flavor, thanks to the caramelization of the cauliflower. But again, that earthy, cauliflower funk was much more apparent than in other cooking methods. Cauliflower rice made this way makes a great side dish on its own, seasoned simply with butter, salt, pepper, and perhaps some cheese, but for a white rice alternative, the microwaved rice was the clear winner.
Epinion: For a quick-cooking, caramelized cauliflower side dish, roasting is the way to go.
Once I figured out the best way to cook it, I was ready to turn it into something delicious. The microwave-steamed rice has a nice, neutral flavor, making it a great base for a salad, or to serve with curry, or hearty dishes like chili or beef stroganoff. But for a dish in which the cauliflower rice stars, I went with the bright, bold flavors of tabbouleh, adding in lots of herbs, lemon juice, crunchy cucumber, and juicy cherry tomatoes. The best part: It’s so delicious and flavor-packed, you hardly notice the “real” grains are missing.
If you know someone who might like this, please click “Share!”