The Dishes To Avoid When Substituting Cauliflower Rice

While riced cauliflower certainly isn't fooling anyone, it is a great low-carb alternative to white rice that adds some extra veggies to your plate. It's not a universal sub-in for white rice, however. While cauliflower rice will shine in dishes like tabbouleh, fried rice, and even gnocchi or "tater" tots, there are some culinary applications it just won't work well with.

There is one word to remember when it comes to subbing cauliflower rice for its original grain counterpart — moisture. Unlike rice that sops up liquid in a dish, cauliflower rice is going to release water when heated. Any dish where the rice functions as a point of structure (think sushi roll), either absorbs a sauce (chicken vindaloo) or thickens it (paella) is a non-match for the ruse.

Cauliflower rice is to rice as zoodles are to pasta — meaning just like zoodles, there really is no need to cook cauliflower rice for an extended period of time. The longer you cook it, the more water will be let out, diluting your dish and sogging up the texture. The cauliflower will heat through just fine when added to the dish you are making and given a quick sauté or stir. Adding it toward the end of the cooking process will help mitigate the moisture issue.

What to keep in mind when subbing in cauliflower rice

It's important to remember that, unlike grain rice, rice made from cauliflower has no starch. It's just a non-starchy vegetable. Starch adds thickness to dishes — think of a scoopful of white rice soaking up a bowl of gumbo, or the heft it adds to a risotto or cheesy broccoli casserole. Such dishes are not a good match for cauliflower rice.

In addition to thinking of the role the rice plays in a dish when deciding if subbing in cauliflower will work, it's also important to take the type of cauliflower rice into account. Did you grate it fresh on a box grater or give it a whirl in your food processor? Did you buy a pre-made carton in the produce aisle at Whole Foods? Or did you grab a bag of the pre-riced frozen variety?

The two will have drastically different effects on moisture levels. Frozen cauliflower imparts excessive moisture when added to a dish. Freshly homemade cauliflower rice will release less, and the pre-made store version just may soak up a little bit of liquid depending on how fresh it is and if it has dried out at all.