Thursday, November 24, 2016

A New Thanksgiving Tradition: Riced Cauliflower With Mushrooms

I first heard of riced cauliflower from my brother. He avoids carbs, shunning even bagels from Ess-a-Bagel, whose re-opening is one of the high points of 2016. He described riced cauliflower as a strange but wonderful product, made entirely of ground cauliflower but used as a rice substitute.

Whn I paid his family a visit, he presented me with riced cauliflower sauteed with a mix of onions and peppers. The dish was tasty enough for me to want to play with this new ingredient myself.

Like most people who have enjoyed riced cauliflower, my brother bought his from Trader Joe's, which offers packages of riced cauliflower in both refrigerated and frozen versions. I asked one worker which she one she recommended, and she said she preferred the refrigerated for its "fresher taste"; a co-worker overheard our conversation and said he liked the convenience of the frozen. In practice, both products are frequently out of stock, so I buy whatever is available.

You could also rice your own cauliflower, but this taste test gave higher marks to the Trader Joe's riced cauliflower than homemade - true for both the hand grated and grated by food processor. If you do go the homemade route, testing by Epicurious suggests that both hand grating and food processing work, with machine grating winning the battle of convenience. 

I tried both kinds of Trader Joe's riced cauliflower on their own the first couple of times - when I get my hands on a nice head of cauliflower I'm more likely to think roasting than pulverizing - before my mind wander to my favorite seasoning ingredient, soy sauce. If riced cauliflower was good, riced cauliflower with soy sauce was better. And if riced cauliflower with soy sauce was better, the addition of garlic or onion, the category I call "some kind of allium" (with members such as chives and garlic scapes alongside the heads-of-clan) would be better still. The additions were as tasty as I thought they'd be.

And then my gaze fell upon a package of mushrooms.

These were regular supermarket button mushrooms, full of both umami and water, not porcini dust. I loved the idea of infusing the bland rice with the flavor of mushrooms, but getting the proportions would be important.

I could have diced the mushrooms and sauteed them with the allium, then added the rice. I opted for another route: shredding.

My food processor made very quick work of the mushrooms. In the photo above, the mushrooms are nicely quartered, but I discovered I could skip this nicety and rip the head from the stem and shove the mushroom down the feeder tube. I could pile them into a four-'shoom collision and push them along to the blade. The process was oddly amusing and over quickly. 

I also shredded the allium - whatever I had around. Garlic, onion, sometimes a combo. The recipe made good use of whatever was lying around.

I think of button mushrooms as largely white, but when shredded, the dark brown gills are revealed to be a distinctive color as well.

I dumped the mushroom-allium mixture into a large skillet and added the rice and about 2 Tablespoons soy sauce and some water  - perhaps 3 Tablespoons. 

You could work more carefully - finely diced onion first, then the mushrooms, then the rice, then the soy sauce and water - but the dish cooks very quickly so the sequence is not very important. I recommend cooking the mushroom rice over medium heat and stirring it frequently. The mushrooms and the rice will extrude water, but depending on the cooking temperature, you might have to add a little water to prevent scorching. I tend to use the threat of scorching to add another swig of soy sauce. Your mushroom rice should be ready in 5-10 minutes.

What can you do with the finished product? Serve it in a bowl, or for fancy people, in individual ramekins. If you're feeling playful, make your guests guess what the hell they're eating. I predict very few people will know.

Cauliflower rice plays nicely with real rice, too. I was content to let the brown bastmati from Kalustyan's mingle on the fork, but there's no reason (other than taste, dietary restrictions, not having both on hand, etc.) not to mix the two into a super-casserole.

Mushroom riced cauliflower also lends itself to serving as stuffing. I happened to have collard greens as a side, so Stuffed Collard Greens were born. If I had planned ahead, I could have used some of those toothpicks with colorful frills to show I meant business. Keep all of these options in mind for your fancy Thanksgiving dinner.

So this Thanksgiving, when vegetarian or no-carb camps aren't the only factions, and anecdote and media report families refusing to eat together because of political divisions, it's nice to have an unexpected base of agreement that can please all sides. And for that, we could all be thankful.

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