Until pretty recently, there was nothing sexy about cauliflower. Boiled or steamed, it’s bland at best. And if you overcook it, you’d better duck or suffer the smell of dirty diapers. But roasting or sautéing cauliflower is a different story. The veggie’s natural sugars caramelize and its tasty inner cauliflower suddenly blossoms. Think popcorn with an attitude.
Cauliflower is surprisingly versatile, too. Pulsed in a food processor, it ends up looking and feeling like white rice. Indeed, given that it’s high in fiber and an assortment of vitamins and minerals, cauliflower is a healthy alternative to white rice.
In the interest of coaxing out cauliflower’s best flavor, I have cooked this recipe’s allotment as if it were fried rice, sautéing it until golden. The “rice” is then infused with the usual Asian suspects – scallions, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil – and bulked up with mushrooms, bacon and peas. (Vegetarians are welcome to swap in some tofu for the Canadian bacon.)
Wonderful as it is the first time around, this dish also is the perfect foil for leftovers. Steak, chicken, shrimp, other cooked vegetables? Whatever’s sitting in the refrigerator and awaiting its second chance, toss it in. And if you need an excuse to go Asian, consider the Lunar New Year, which begins Feb. 16. Otherwise, feel free to enjoy this recipe year-round.
Fried Cauliflower “Rice” With Shiitakes, Canadian Bacon and Peas
Start to finish: 1 hour (40 active)
1 small cauliflower (about 1¾ pounds)
1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
2 large eggs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces Canadian bacon, cut into medium dice
2 ounces sliced shiitake mushrooms
1½ bunches scallions, sliced thin (white and green parts kept separate – you will need about 1/2 cup of the whites and 1/3 cup of the greens)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 cup blanched fresh or thawed frozen peas
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
Remove the core and chop the cauliflower roughly into 1 to 1½-inch pieces. In a food processor, pulse the cauliflower in 2-cup amounts until chopped into rice-size pieces (you should have about 4 cups)
In a large nonstick or stick-resistant skillet over medium-high heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil.
In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a tablespoon of water, a pinch of salt and some pepper and add the eggs to the pan. Tilt the pan to spread the eggs all around to make a flat pancake. Cook until almost set, 30 to 45 seconds. Turn over the egg (you can cut it in a few pieces to make it easier, using the side of a nonstick pan-safe spatula) and cook for another 10 seconds. Transfer the cooked eggs to a cutting board.
Add 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil, the Canadian bacon and the shiitakes to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is browned at the edges, about 6 minutes. Transfer the bacon mushroom mixture to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add 1/2 tablespoon of the remaining oil and the white part of the scallion to the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to the bowl with the bacon mixture and return the skillet to the heat.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil to the skillet, then add the cauliflower and a hefty pinch of salt, pressing it flat with the back of the spatula. Cook until the “rice” is golden brown in spots, turning it over with the spatula, about 10 to 12 minutes.
While the “rice” is cooking, slice the egg into strips and add it along with the peas to the bowl with the bacon.
When the “rice” is nicely crisped, add the contents of the bacon bowl, the peas, soy sauce and sesame oil to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the mixture is heated through. Transfer the fried cauliflower “rice” to four bowls and top each portion with some of the sliced scallion greens and the pine nuts.
• Nutrition information per serving: 483 calories; 350 calories from fat; 39 g fat (4 g saturated; 1 g trans fats); 121 mg cholesterol; 665 mg sodium; 20 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 15 g protein
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sara Moulton is host of public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals.” She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows, including “Cooking Live.” Her latest cookbook is “Home Cooking 101.”