Cauliflower “rice” isn’t perfect. It’s doesn’t have the same texture as white rice, and it doesn’t taste like it. (It’s a little farty if you eat it on its own, but such is the nature of cruciferous vegetables.) It’s easy to hate on, but there’s a solid upside to this vegetable sub. It pairs well with other foods, is readily available in the frozen aisle, can boost your veggie intake, and sometimes really can serve as an impressive low-carb replacement for rice in certain dishes. Take this cauliflower arancini recipe, for example. A popular white rice-based Italian classic made in an unconventional way, without a grain of rice in sight.
Traditional arancini, often simply called “rice balls,” are an Italian fried snack food made by mixing arborio rice with cheese, egg, maybe some crispy pancetta and peas, and a few seasonings. The mixture is rolled into balls, breaded and quickly fried. They’re craggy and crispy on the outside, and crack open to reveal a tender, cheesy, creamy centre. I’ve seen them at Italian restaurants and delis ranging dramatically in size, anywhere from golf ball to softball-sized.
Making this cauliflower version is much more straightforward than the classic version, because you don’t have to make a whole pot of risotto with the arborio rice first. Plus, it has all the great qualities, textures, and flavours of the traditional recipe. Just heat up the riced cauliflower until it’s cooked, or defrosted, and most of the water has evaporated. I used a bag of prepared, frozen riced cauliflower and heated it up in a medium skillet. After about 10 minutes, the veggie pieces were warm and and the excess water was gone. You can use freshly riced cauliflower, if you like. After heating it to cook, let it cool for about 10 minutes so it’s still warm but not scorching.
Shallow-fry with ease:
A heavy-bottomed skillet: Lodge Cast-Iron Deep Skillet
Prevent accidental burns: Lodge Splatter Screen
Lift and place hot food: Stainless Steel Spider
For the person who’d rather deep-fry: Cuisinart Deep Fryer
Add the riced cauliflower to a bowl. Mix in shredded parmesan, shredded mozzarella, and an egg. I also added some salt, pepper, dry basil, and garlic powder. The residual heat from the cauliflower should melt some of the cheese, but not cook the egg. Put this mixture in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to firm it up.
Pour the bread crumbs into a small bowl. I rolled the chilled cauliflower mixture into balls a bit bigger than a golf ball, but you can make them smaller (or bigger) if you like. I did find that the mixture relaxed in the hot oil, so some of the balls became flatter than others. While arborio rice is high in starch, which helps hold the ball shape, cauliflower isn’t. If you decide to roll a bigger size, you might risk a flatter shape later on.
Once all of the balls are shaped, roll them in the bread crumb mixture to coat and line them up on a plate or tray. Fry them in a skillet with about half an inch of neutral frying oil. Fry the first side for one or two minutes, or until nicely browned, then flip to fry the other side. Blot the cauliflower arancini dry on a paper towel and cool on a wire rack.
This recipe made nine cauliflower balls. You can eat these straight off the cooling rack (do let them cool for a few minutes first), but the best move is to serve them alongside a bowl of marinara sauce.
- 1 bag frozen riced cauliflower (340.19 g bag)
- ¼ cup shredded parmesan
- ½ cup shredded mozzarella
- 1 egg
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- Heavy pinch black pepper
- Heavy pinch of dry basil
- ¼ cup peas (optional)
- 2 tablespoons finely crushed panko
- ¼ cup plain bread crumbs
- Neutral oil for frying (Canola, corn, or vegetable oil)
Heat cauliflower in a frying pan to defrost and cook off excess water. Let cool slightly. Add the cheeses and egg while still warm. Add the salt, garlic powder, pepper, dry basil, and peas (if using). Mix until well combined. Cool in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Heat half and inch of frying oil to 350°F-360°F in a frying pan. Mix the bread crumbs and panko in a small bowl. While the oil is heating, roll the cauliflower mixture into 8-10 balls. Roll the balls in the breadcrumbs to coat.
Fry two or three arancini at a time for 1-2 minutes on both sides, or until well-browned. Blot on a paper towel and cool on a wire rack. Serve hot.