If anyone had told me two weeks ago that cauliflower can be a convincing substitute for rice, I would have laughed in his face.
Seriously. Rice is my go-to comfort food and I used to think there was no substituting that except maybe with pasta or noodles.
And yet, here I am with a new obsession – cauliflower fried rice.
I cotton on to it because two friends who do not know each other mention it in conversation. They follow a low-carbohydrate diet so rice is definitely out.
Enter the cream-coloured brassica.
I am in no danger of going low carb. Life without bread is hard to contemplate.
However, cauliflower fried rice is a great way of achieving one of my ongoing goals: It helps me eat more vegetables in a painless way.
The idea is to grate or pulse the cauliflower in a food processor until it gets shaved down to little bits and then to cook it like fried rice.
I have to say that the end result is delicious and the dish does not put me into the usual post-meal carbo-coma. Yet it is filling, which is a win however you look at it.
Anything can go into the dish. Have some leftover chicken in the fridge? Shred the meat and add it to the stirfry with crunchy sugar snap peas.
Want to make a kedgeree of sorts? Flake some poached salmon and fry the cauliflower with curry powder.
Firm tofu or tofu puffs can also be added to what is essentially a huge vegetable stirfry.
You can even do an Indian version of it, with mustard seeds, curry leaves, cashews and turmeric, with your protein of choice.
For this week’s recipe, I have gone with a pretty classic version of fried rice, using lap cheong or preserved Chinese sausages, prawns, scallions, carrot and corn.
Don’t want to use lap cheong? Substitute with char siew or bacon. Use peas in place of corn, but I really do like the carrot, so try and keep that in.
If you want, make an omelette and slice it thin, then toss into the dish right at the end.
Many recipes on the Internet ask cooks to grate the raw cauliflower using a box grater or to pulse it in a food processor.
The problem with using raw cauliflower is that it gives out an awful lot of water when it cooks, making for a soggy dish.
Fried rice, real or faux, is no good when soggy.
So I take my friend’s advice and roast the florets for about 20 minutes in the oven. This dries them out a little and concentrates the flavours. The sweet taste of a roasted cauliflower floret is just beautiful.
After the cauliflower cools down, simply pulse the pieces in a food processor until they look nubbly and rice-like.
Do not be tempted to discard the central stem of the cauliflower. Trim it and chop into chunks to roast. Get every bit of the head of cauliflower into the wok.
The seasonings do not have to be fancy. I use just soya sauce and sesame oil. White pepper is a good addition.
I am so excited about the dish that I am trying to think up other permutations. The light, fluffy texture of the finished dish makes it a joy to eat.
Best of all, I like the idea of looking at a familiar vegetable in a new way and getting more of it in me.