Despite my very best intentions, I’ve always found cauliflower rice to be a bit of a disappointment. There’s nothing exciting about eating a bowl of mush, especially when there is actual rice to be had. I’ll admit to a few flirtations with Trader Joe’s frozen cauliflower rice several years ago, but that relationship ended when I realized I’d rather be eating my cauliflower pretty much any other way—especially roasted in a blazing hot oven until each floret is caramelized and crunchy. Then Lauren Schaefer developed a cauliflower rice pilaf that showed me the light.
Schaefer’s weeknight-friendly recipe taps a few key ingredients—sliced almonds, golden raisins, scallions, ground cinnamon—to give riced cauliflower that much-needed makeover. “It’s the same principal with salads: You want something crunchy, something salty, and something fresh,” she says. “I see cauliflower rice in everyone’s carts at the grocery store, but I feel like it’s something you eat alone—but I think anything you eat by yourself, you should feel proud to eat with other people.” You can turn a plain old head of cauliflower into “rice” by pulsing pieces in a food processor, but I live in a New York City apartment with minimal counter space (read: limited appliances), so I just bought it pre-made at Trader Joe’s. It was time to give those frozen bags another chance.
The makeover began by toasting sliced almonds in a pool of ghee. The rich, buttery smell gave me hope. These nuts should be golden brown, not burnt brown, so I took them off the heat as soon as they started to look golden and let them finish cooking as they cooled. Then I added cinnamon and red pepper flakes and poured the whole delicious-smelling mixture into a big bowl. Next I heated a bit more ghee in that same pan, sautéed some sliced scallions and golden raisins, and added the cauliflower. A little steam released, no biggie, but soon the aromatics and cauliflower became one harmonious mixture. I poured the whole thing into the big bowl and tossed until the cauliflower rice was completely coated in spiced ghee. Then I topped the pilaf with sliced scallion greens and took a bite. Just like that, I was a cauli-rice convert.
The buttery blend of warming spices coated each cauliflower crumb, which were studded with toasty shards of almonds and sweet pops of chopped raisins. It was a supremely comforting bite. I decided to serve the pilaf with homemade yogurt flatbread (I’m clearly not trying to give up carbs) and quick-pickled cucumbers, but I’m already planning to serve it with a roast chicken for an easy dinner party. It’s a vegetable dish and a starchy side all in one—plus I’m itching to share this cauliflower rice treatment with my friends. It’ll make them believers too.
Give cauliflower rice a chance: