Cauliflower rice au gratin and low-carb chicken Parmesan meatballs

For health reasons my wife has gone back to eating low-carb, as of just this week. While I’m not joining her in that, I’ve been trying to find more dishes that I can cook for us both.

We’re both big fans of rice au gratin, and I know from experience it pairs very well with cauliflower (and steak). While I was looking up rice alternatives, I found out some people like to make “cauliflower rice”. As it happened, my mother had a head of cauliflower that was way too big to fit in her fridge and had a bunch to give us, so I decided to have a go at a crazy experiment.

Cauliflower rice au gratin

  • About 3 cups cauliflower, riced (via food mill or food processor)
  • Olive oil or vegetable oil for pan-frying
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 tsp. McCormick curry powder
  • 10 oz. Velveeta

Preparing cauliflower rice: Shred cauliflower in food processor until it forms rice-sized pieces, or use a food mill. Add oil to large frying pan, and add cauliflower to pan—a little bit at a time if the pan is small. Fry on medium to medium-high heat to sweat cauliflower for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Check for doneness; an ideal result is chewy but not crunchy. When rice is nearly finished, add ½ stick of butter.

Preheat oven to 350°. Cut Velveeta into cubes. Layer cauliflower rice and cheese cubes in a casserole dish (about 1½ qt.), but save a small portion of the rice (about ½ cup). Add remaining butter and curry powder to remaining rice, and fry on higher heat until well-mixed and browned. Add curried rice to the casserole dish. Bake for about 30 minutes.

So that was the plan. Based on a YouTube video I saw, I added a little sesame oil to the rice while cooking, as it would supposedly change some of the cauliflower to more of a regular rice flavor. Based on my results, I don’t think that panned out. I’ll skip the sesame oil in the future. Another thing I plan to change is using a food processor next time: The food mill worked, but it took forever and was quite a workout. I also underdid it on the curry, using less than half of the normal amount; that was a mistake.

The end result of this effort was interesting. The taste is good, though it’s not quite like rice au gratin. Texture-wise it was rather one-note, owing to the lack of croutons. Quite a bit of cauliflower flavor was left. While I like cauliflower, I think it needs to have its flavor notes turned way, way down to work properly here, suggesting I should have added some milk or cream to the frying process or even used a microwave to prepare it. Structurally, the dish lacked the cohesion I’m used to getting from rice au gratin, and was slightly soupy, which suggests a thickener or binder may be in order. (Maybe an egg?) If I can find a good slightly crunchy element for the topping, that could help too, though almonds are usually the go-to choice and I detest them.

Verdict: A good first effort, not as good as the dish I was trying to emulate but tasty. It needs more work to bring it closer to the goal.

Another recipe I tried is a low-carb variant of chicken Parmesan meatballs. These are already pretty low-carb, as the only carby ingredient in them is bread crumbs. I make half a recipe when I do these at home, which means there’s only ⅓ cup of seasoned bread crumbs. The container said they have 20 carbs per ¼ cup, so that’s about 27 for 19-20 meatballs; call it 1.5 carbs per meatball. However I eliminated that by using crushed pork rinds, and mixing a bunch of Italian seasoning in.

Without bread crumbs, I found the meatballs didn’t have enough stability to hold onto all their cheese; the Parmesan didn’t entirely stay with them, and pooled around on the foil. The meatballs themselves were a little flatter and denser. So crushed pork rinds, while they can sub for bread crumbs in some recipes, did not do the trick here well enough for a second go. However, I’m told almond flour can work as a bread crumb substitute as well, so that will be my next attempt. (Yes, I’m pretty sure I’ll be okay with almond flour, even though I hate almonds. Almond extract I like too, though only because it tastes like cherries.)

I still plan to make true rice au gratin in the future, and I’m sure I’ll make the regular meatball recipe again too. For right now though, this was a good time to experiment on some changes to two recipes my wife rather likes that I’d like her to still be able to enjoy in some form.

Sadly my plan to make a trip to Perkins sometime for their awesome pancakes is shot all to crap.


About Lummox JR

Aspiring to be a beloved supervillain
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