Whoever produces the Trader Joe’s catalog is a kind of genius. The writing and design are magic. I find myself longing for things I never knew existed. Cold Brew Coffee Chocolate Bar? Don’t mind if I do! Pain Au Lait from France? Well, if you insist! Valentine’s Day Roses for $12.99? Must alert husband!
Riced Cauliflower Stir Fry? I was skeptical, but continued reading. “It starts with a base of blanched, toothsome cauliflower crumbles (i.e., “rice”), seasoned with savory tamari sauce and nutty sesame oil. Green peas, red bell peppers, grilled corn, and spring onions are added for fresh flavor and vibrant color. This is a veritable veggie-party-in-a-bag…” Quite the wordsmith. I was almost ready to buy, but then I remembered: Cauliflower. Riced. Frozen.
Cauliflower is my second least favorite vegetable. Technically, it is an herb in the mustard family, according to my dictionary, a fact I am including because it makes me sound smart, until you stop to think about why I was consulting the dictionary–but let’s be honest, whether vegetable or herb, it smells like farts when you cook it. I prefer it only to lima beans, which I wish Whole Foods would keep out of the mixed vegetable bag. Then again, I disliked brussels sprouts until I realized how good they are roasted, and now I can’t get enough. Didn’t love zucchini either, until I learned from Mark Bittman what a little butter, honey and fresh mint would do for it. So maybe it is all the cooking technique.
Feeling ambivalent, I posted on Facebook. “I don’t know if I can get on board with riced cauliflower, no matter how persuasive the Trader Joe’s catalog writer is.”
The peer pressure was instantaneous. “Add parmesan cheese and taste the magic,” said yoga teacher and writer Suzan Colon.
“It is so yummy!” said my neighbor Michelle. “Gave it to my 10-year-old and he didn’t know it was cauliflower.” That almost swayed me, as my 17-year-old son eats exactly two vegetables and two fruits. But when I asked if it would be possible for me to get it past him, my friend Meg, who also has teenagers, was, like, no. I could almost hear her laughing in my face.
Many shared their tricks to make the riced cauliflower taste supes delish. “It is much MUCH improved by mixing it with an egg and grated cheese and baking it as little squares or tater tots,” said editor Mary Clarke. “You could add chopped up arugula as well. Also, the frozen version is milder tasting than the fresh.” She later emailed me a recipe for some kind of cauliflower bread. I deleted it.
“Roast it with some oil, garlic powder, cumin and salt and pepper,” said writer Janan Siegal Banin. “It’s officially good.” I mean, I trust Jana, but…
“I add pineapple, almonds, peas and eggs and sauté with sesame oil and voila! Pineapple fried cauliflower rice,” said editor Debbie McHugh. My friend Stephanie prepares it like the Chipotle’s Cilantro Lime Rice. But Steph is an amazing cook! Another friend, Kathy, makes mashed cauliflower, like mashed potatoes, which sounded good until I remembered I could just use potatoes. Grok Nation managing editor Dalene Rovenstine makes scallion pancakes with riced cauliflower and then dips it in sriracha mayo. “I’m in a FB group where pretty much everyone talked about riced cauliflower,” wrote Grok Nation’s own Esther Kustanowitz. “What it was, how awesome it was, what you could do with it, how you should store it, etc ad nauseam— for a solid month. I made rice pudding with it, which tasted good and smelled like cabbage. These are confusing times.”
The riced cauliflower devotion is striking. People love it, once they add all the things that make anything taste good, like garlic, butter, or onions. I felt so alone, until I heard from hilarious writer Stephen Treffinger: “We can be an army of two on this,” he wrote. “I love cauliflower, but the riced version is an aberration. It’s a gateway drug that leads to a spiralizer lifestyle.” To which my friend Michael Krumper, a music industry exec and a CrossFit devotee, replied: “I like zoodles and I’m not afraid to say it.”
My friend Jane Weaver, an editor, was also on my side: “I like my vegetables to look like vegetables.”
How did we get here? Was this some brainchild of a publicist for the cauliflower industry? My research led me to a Q&A with the chef Benjamin Ford, the son of Harrison Ford, who invented something called cauliflower couscous in 1998. So Han Solo’s son is behind this thing? Maybe not. When asked if it was the same thing as cauliflower rice, he said he had never heard of cauliflower rice.
The rice industry is none too pleased about this. I read that they have lobbyists in Washington trying to get people to stop calling cauliflower rice. Because it’s not rice, dammit!
“Riced cauliflower is prescribed to you by a doctor when they see your blood test,” said my Facebook friend Don Smith. “I think it’s perfectly fine, but if you don’t need to eliminate rice thanks to all the sugar, I don’t see a reason to eliminate rice (or switch to brown rice).”
That is really the heart of the matter. “I eat cauliflower rice because it’s healthy, but I don’t really enjoy it,” admitted Dalene. To which I replied: “I just don’t know why it’s more healthy than regular cauliflower and regular rice.” Dalene said: “Rice is pretty carby.’
But the body wants the carbs that it wants, and you separate me from carbs at your peril.
Who knew riced cauliflower would be such a polarizing issue?
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Main photo by Petra Kobayashi