Food & dining

The confident cook

Recipe: Pureed cauliflower becomes ‘rice’ in a colorful biryani

Cauliflower-rice and lentil biryani
Sally Pasley Vargas for The Boston Globe
Cauliflower-rice and lentil biryani

Cauliflower “rice” — finely chopped so the white vegetable resembles the grains — has become so popular that you can now find it in the freezer section of many markets. In fact, last summer the demand for the chopped vegetable swelled to such a fever pitch that Trader Joe’s began rationing its product in a couple locations (two per customer!). As convenient as the frozen rice may be, in an entirely subjective taste test conducted by this cook, the fresh cauliflower you chop yourself came out the winner. For anyone who is averse to starchy carbohydrates, this vegetable is a boon. The riced version is good enough to eat by itself or with lamb chops or chicken.

Using a food processor, you are only a few minutes away from transforming the cauliflower into tiny pieces that stand in for rice. Line a baking sheet with a large enough piece of parchment to hang over the ends of the pan; you’ll use these later as handles. Cooking the rice in the oven is easier — and way less messy — than in a skillet on a burner. Here, we’ve adapted the popular Indian rice dish biryani by using cauliflower and adding turmeric, cumin, and coriander to infuse it with flavor. Lentils, cranberries, pistachios, and fresh herbs complete the dish. Master this simple technique and you won’t have to worry about locating riced cauliflower at the market. SALLY PASLEY VARGAS

Cauliflower-rice and lentil biryani

Serves 6

½cup small French green lentils, such as Le Puy
cups water
Salt, to taste
1head cauliflower, quartered, cored, and sliced
2tablespoons olive oil
2teaspoons ground turmeric
1teaspoon coriander seed, crushed in a mortar or in a cloth with a hammer
½teaspoon ground cumin
3tablespoons lemon juice
½cup unsalted shelled pistachios
½cup dried cranberries
1carrot, grated
2tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2tablespoons chopped fresh mint


1. Set the oven at 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang at both ends of the pan.

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2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the lentils, water, and a pinch of salt to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 18 to 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain in a colander.

3. In a food processor, pulse half the cauliflower until finely chopped. Transfer to the baking sheet and pulse the remaining cauliflower. Mound it in the center of the baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil. Sprinkle generously salt, the turmeric, coriander, and cumin. Toss with your hands to mix together evenly. Spread in one layer. Bake for 7 minutes. Turn the cauliflower and continue baking for 7 minutes more, or until it is tender. Total baking time is 14 minutes.

4. Use the edges of the parchment to tip the cauliflower into a large bowl. Stir in the lentils, lemon juice, pistachios, cranberries, carrot, parsley, and mint. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and lemon juice, if you like. Sally Pasley Vargas

Sally Pasley Vargas can be reached at