When I was a kid, noodles meant spaghetti, lasagna, macaroni or occasionally ziti, and rice meant plain old white (sometimes the minute variety). These days, a plethora of vegetables like sweet potatoes, zucchini, broccoli and cauliflower pull double duty as noodles and rice. What gives?
Spiralized or riced vegetables offer low-carb appeal and provide an excellent way to incorporate more veggies into our diets. The taste and texture are not exact replicas of their starchier counterparts, but these alternatives can be pretty darn tasty when prepared with the right technique.
When I shared my recipe for Zucchini Noodles in Rustic Tomato Sauce last summer, I was slightly hesitant because the recipe works best with a spiralizer, a kitchen gadget I knew many people would not have. But I received lots of positive feedback, and many readers have since asked for more delicious recipes featuring vegetables.
As an added convenience, in the last year or so grocery store produce sections have begun offering all sorts of ready-to-go noodle and rice stand-ins. Though zucchini noodles and cauliflower rice have been the most popular and versatile to date, I recently spied butternut squash, carrot, and red beet noodles. Any firm produce that can be grated or spiralized seems to be fair game!
Of course, the convenience adds a few dollars to the price, but the prepared veggies offer a way to taste test and experiment. If you’d like to save money over time, a spiralizer can be purchased. (A recent retail price for a basic Paderno spiralizer, a brand I like, was $22.95.)
Though crumbly cauliflower florets don’t translate so well as noodles, they have proven to be extremely versatile when grated into rice-like pieces. For those who prefer to save a few dollars, this can be done quite quickly with a food processor (or less quickly and slightly more messily with a hand grater).
Cauliflower recipes for pizza crusts and breadsticks have become mainstream, and I’ve seen variations on tortillas, tabouleh, tater tots — even sushi rolls. Perhaps the easiest way to incorporate it into the weekly meal rotation, however, is as a simple side dish. And just like ordinary white or brown rice, a few well-chosen ingredients can add great flavor.
- 5 cups of raw cauliflower “rice” (about 20 ounces of rice from 1 medium head of cauliflower)
- 1 tablespoon each olive oil and butter
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper
- Optional garnishes: fresh minced parsley or chives; a sprinkle of paprika
If not using pre-riced cauliflower, chop the cauliflower into large florets and then put through the feed tube of a food processor fitted with the grating attachment. Alternatively, the cauliflower can be grated with a box grater. Measure 5 cups; save the rest for another use. (If you end up with a mere cup or so leftover, it will fit in the pan size mentioned below. Just add an extra teaspoon or two of oil. You may increase the garlic by 1 clove, if desired, and very slightly round the 1/2 cup of Parmesan.)
Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet (12-inch diameter works well) over medium heat. Add the garlic, and sauté just until aromatic, about 30-60 seconds. You don’t want it to burn. Immediately add the cauliflower, stir to coat with the oil mixture, and increase the heat to medium-high. Season the cauliflower lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté until tender, about 6-8 minutes. (Tip: I like the cauliflower to be browned in spots, so I press it into an even layer, let it sear for a minute or two or until golden brown in spots, and then stir and repeat until tender but not mushy.)
Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the Parmesan cheese. Taste and add another pinch of salt and pepper if needed. Garnish with fresh parsley, chives, or paprika, if desired. Leftovers can be gently reheated in the microwave or oven.