Charred Cauliflower Rice


I have admitted this before, but I’m not usually a fan of foods posing as other foods. Before my diagnosis, with an air of indignance that could only come from someone truly naïve, I would scoff at the popularity of a product like cauliflower rice. And now, only a few years later, our family eats a 3-pound Costco bag of it per week.

At least this confirms that I am neither old nor a dog and can certainly learn new tricks.

Where I used to see desperate culinary approximation in something like cauliflower rice or carob, I now see creativity and comfort. Comparison is the downfall of positivity: if you can consider and work with something on its own without judgment, appreciation blooms. What I mean to say, in the case here of cauliflower rice, it’s just fine if you don’t think of it as rice. If you think of it as a way to get a balanced meal in a bowlful of food, often usually pure carbs or pure protein, then it is revolutionary, a cheat for a busy mom. My kids gobble it up and I have one less dish in the sink.

My cancer experience has benefitted from a similar reframing, one only possible if I don’t compare myself to others, including the former version of myself. It sounds like it would be hard to do, to not look backward and lament what could have been had I never been diagnosed. I feel lucky that I immediately – almost instantly— instinctually understood that this sort of thinking would impede any possible joy in whatever days I had left. My cancer happened to me, I didn’t choose it so having feelings about it being different or other than what it is seems irrelevant. Accepting it was the first step to seeing its beauty, a place I’ve lived since a few long, dark days after my diagnosis. It has allowed me to make deep connections with people easily, tethering the most vulnerable part of myself to the most vulnerable part of someone else, not unlike the power of love. It has given me a reliable barometer of character, fortifying the one that already lived inside my body, to see who wants to talk to me and who can’t get out of the way of their own fears to talk to someone who was told they would die soon. The telltale sign between them is not who professes sadness or sympathy most convincingly, but joy. The person who can smile with me here, now, today, is the person I most want to talk to. My cancer gave me that, a kind of superpower for someone like me who loves deep conversation.

I like to find beauty in unusual places, I’m beginning to understand it comes from the artist in me. Some may see that kind of optimism as a form of pretending and might scoff as I once would have in the grocery aisle, but that’s on them. Unbelievable things can be true: cauliflower rice is tasty. I am alive and happy. All it took was letting go of an ideal.

Charred Cauliflower Rice
Serves 4 as a side

This is the only way we eat cauliflower rice in our house, really. Just like this, each week. (This plus one Cauliflower Pizza Crust per week causes us to mow through that jumbo Costco bag, making it a weekly purchase.) The trick is to resist adding fat to the pan as would be automatic for a cook: the cauliflower is added to a dry, screaming hot cast-iron skillet. It is meant to char, not caramelize. The result is a nutty, roasted cauliflower flavor that is finished with the earthiness and silkiness of olive oil. It’s pictured above served with a plate of Cigrons amb espiacs (or Catalan Chickpeas and Spinach, my family’s favorite recipe in my cookbook, “Catalan Food.”), almost indecipherable from brown rice.

1 pound frozen cauliflower rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Himalayan pink salt, to taste

Heat a large (12-inch) cast iron skillet over high heat until smoking. Add cauliflower rice, still frozen, to the hot pan. Cook without stirring until the small grains of cauliflower at the edge of the pile take on a hint of dark golden brown color, about 3 minutes. (The pile will steam wildly and you’ll know you’re getting close when the outer edge starts to subtly darken in color, like wet sand does at the shoreline.) Fold the cauliflower around on itself to exchange frozen for charred cauliflower on the base of the skillet. Continue the process of cooking, waiting and stirring until it is as charred as you prefer. Remove pan from heat; season cauliflower with oil and salt.

This post was originally published in March 2019, right here on this blog. It’s a favorite, so I thought I would post it again! Thank you for being here and continuing to read while I work on new projects. To hear about them, sign up for my monthly newsletter here. I’ll be honored to keep you posted!

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