Some dishes just demand a side of white rice: Sesame chicken, Indian tikka masala, any and every curry. But plenty of people want to skip it—white rice has little nutritional value, and, without a rich creamy sauce on top of it, often simply tastes bland.
Instead, many rice-avoiders are turning to the popular cauliflower rice, a low-carb side that is simple to make. The Cauliflower Rice is 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.
For best results...
Blitz: A food processer will give the best results. Remove the outer leaves from the cauliflower, cut it into quarters and remove most of the thick core, then cut each quarter into two or three chunks. You don’t want to overload the blender, or it will struggle to blitz the cauliflower, instead work with about half the cauliflower at a time. Blend for 30 seconds or so, until the cauliflower resembles fine rice, or couscous.
Grate: If you don’t own a food processer, you can grate the raw cauliflower on the coarse side of the grater. You may find you are left with a few bigger pieces, which will give the ‘rice’ a chunkier texture.
Before you even started cooking, taste 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 will have a crunch that is too vegetable-like to approximate rice. Raw cauliflower rice is crunchy, and works to add texture to a salad, but it doesn't mimic cooked rice.
Here are many ways the internet instructs you to cook it, and there are a whole slew of recipes out there, but not all of them work. Here are the results of some of the tried methods.
Steamed in cheesecloth: Steaming the grated cauliflower in cheesecloth is the most minimal cooking process. But since the cauliflower granules are so small, you have to use several layers of cheesecloth to hold the cauliflower in the steamer basket. The texture here is great, and gives you a clean and fresh flavor, very similar to the blank canvas of white rice. But removing the tiny cauliflower pieces from the cheesecloth can be troublesome, and some cauliflower rice is lost in the process. This process yields great results, and it is suitable if you want a method for cauliflower rice that is not too fussy.
Steamed in water, then grated: For this method, steam the whole cauliflower florets first, using a traditional steamer basket set into a medium-sized pot. Once cooled, grate the cooked cauliflower. Although this greatly simplified the process, the cauliflower rice ends up tasting waterlogged and is mushy. This method is not good, steaming whole cauliflower florets doesn't work.
Cooked in water: After steaming, cook the cauliflower rice the way rice is cooked: add the grated cauliflower to a small amount of simmering water, cover the pan, and let the cauliflower cook until the water evaporated. Again, this yields watery mush so be warned, cauliflower rice shouldn't be cooked the same way as rice.
Boiled: You probably don’t want to give up on the ease of water-cooking, and another method suggested is to give 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 ends up being wet and squishy. Don’t do it, water plus tiny granules of cauliflower rice equals soggy cauliflower.
Microwave: If you are wondering if this convenient appliance can make cauliflower-rice magic, yes, it can. Simply, place the grated cauliflower into a microwave-safe bowl, stir in a tablespoon of oil, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and cook for about 3 minutes. And voila! Super easy, delicious texture with distinct rice kernels, and clean flavor, very similar to the steamed version, minus the mess of the cheesecloth.
Sautéed: You may be desperate enough to turn to high-heat methods of cooking the cauliflower after many failures, this is easy, simply heat up the olive oil in a pan and sauté the grated cauliflower until lightly cooked. The taste will be much richer than the microwaved cauliflower or any of the boiled/steamed versions, but the cruciferous flavor will be much stronger. For a sweeter, more cauliflower-forward rice, sautéing is a great option.
Roasted: For the final test, toss the grated cauliflower with oil, then roast it on a baking sheet at 400°F for about 12 minutes. This version has 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.
Once you figure out the best way to cook it, you can 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. But for a dish, in which the cauliflower rice stars, go for the bright, bold flavors of tabbouleh, and you can add in lots of flavors such as herbs, lemon juice, crunchy cucumber, and juicy cherry tomatoes.