I came late to the cauliflower rice party, but I’ve been enjoying it since I arrived.

Adherents of the Paleo Diet attempt to limit themselves to foods presumed eaten in pre-historic times and don’t include grains in their meals. They discovered that a simple preparation of cauliflower is a surprisingly effective alternative to rice. I was initially skeptical but soon learned that when grated and sautéed, the vegetable really does have the mouth-feel of rice and makes a good substitute in a variety of dishes.

Even if you aren’t on a special diet, the benefits of cauliflower is impressive. It’s low in fat and carbohydrates and a very good source of vitamin C, dietary fiber and folic acid. And the phytonutrients in cauliflower, which boost its anti-oxidant benefits, can be reduced by boiling but are preserved when the vegetable is prepared as a mock rice.

You can make cauliflower rice with a food processor, but it’s also easy to make with a box grater. For either preparation, cut the head into quarters and remove the outer leaves. Using your hands, break the cauliflower into large florets.

If you’re using a food processor, fill three quarters full and pulse in one-second bursts until the florets are broken down into small grains. Similarly, grate the florets will the box grater. Once you’ve finished, remove any larger pieces that weren’t sufficiently broken up, and repeat the process.

There’s your raw “rice,” which you can actually use in a salad or tabouleh. For me, though, cooking the cauliflower rice in a frying pan with a little butter or olive oil for 5-8 minutes is the real treat, leaving you with a dish that feels like rice but with a subtle and delicious difference in flavor. (You can also roast the rice, spreading a single layer on a baking sheet and cooking for 15 minutes in a 450 degree oven, flipping the grains halfway through, but I find the simpler stove-top preparation just as good.)

The rice is wonderful with most dishes that pair with regular rice. (Just beware of using it in a preparation where uncooked rice is added to soak up liquids; cauliflower rice does not have that effect.) I find it works very well with spicier recipes; I have particularly enjoyed it with curry. Last week I sautéed carrots and onions in butter, added a little honey and a little cider vinegar, dropped in some raisins and served that over cauliflower rice. Can’t beat it!

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