Risotto with parmesan cheese is one of my favorite meals. But, rice is full of carbs and can get really heavy, and conversely, you feel really hungry not long after you eat it. I have always felt like you have to fill your plate with risotto if you want to stave off hunger later, which isn’t super healthy. So when the riced cauliflower craze started, the first thing I wanted to do was make a cauliflower risotto, replacing the rice with veggie-healthy cauliflower. Just like when I make cauliflower pizza, I tend to use the frozen bagged riced cauliflower, instead of making my own. I have riced fresh cauliflower before, but I really dislike the strong smell. So I buy one of those bagged already-riced cauliflower packages from the freezer section, and microwave that for a few minutes until it is not rock-solid frozen any longer. One thing I like about both regular rice risotto, and cauliflower risotto, is how easily you can customize it. My favorite flavors are parmesan and pea risotto, or mushroom and parmesan risotto. However, the combinations are endless – you can make it with all sorts of veggies, and add protein as well.
The last time I made cauliflower risotto, I made mushroom and cheese risotto and added a chicken cutlet with a crispy, gluten-free breadcrumb coating:
This time, I was in the mood for cauliflower risotto with peas and parmesan cheese. I had some leftover ham as well, so to make the meal more filling, I added that to the mix. To begin, I always saute a small chopped onion in olive oil. When it’s nice and softened, I add my minced garlic and stir that around for a few minutes.
Next, I add my vegetables if I am using something that needs to cook for a bit, like sliced mushrooms. When I am using something like frozen peas, I do not bother to thaw them first, and just put them in with everything else to cook.
For the ham I wanted to add, it was thinly sliced and already cooked, so I just put it into the pan with the garlic and onions until it was warm and a little browned.
My next step is to add the cauliflower rice. As I said, I microwave it for a few minutes (not the total time on the bag) to soften it up. I stir the cauliflower rice, veggies (if it is frozen peas, this is when I throw them into the mix) and onions/garlic around until everything is nice and combined.
This is where chicken broth comes in, just like in regular rice risotto. I always use either unsalted or low sodium chicken broth. Because I was using parmesan cheese and ham, both saltier items, I chose unsalted broth this time. I add as much broth as I think makes the pan look wet, but not too soupy. This is generally in the 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of chicken broth range. I want it to be a little soupy, because the cauliflower rice needs to absorb the flavor of the chicken broth and plump up a bit. I do not make it too watery, however, because it is not like regular rice, and doesn’t need to absorb the liquid in order to cook. The purpose here is absorption of flavor, not to soften the cauliflower. I usually add some cracked pepper on top and then let the cauliflower rice mixture simmer until the liquid is absorbed. This is a photo from right after I added the chicken broth, before it had absorbed, in my ham and pea cauliflower risotto:
Here is a photo from the last time I made mushroom cauliflower risotto, as well – you can see I added a little more chicken broth to this one, so it took a little longer to absorb:
Once the liquid is absorbed (can take about 10-15 minutes), I turn off the heat and stir in some grated parmesan cheese. I usually eyeball the amount and put about a handful in, then stir around and see if it looks cheesy enough for my tastes.
Once the cauliflower risotto is on the plates, I like to add a small amount of chopped parsley on top for extra flavor. If you do not add a protein while cooking, you can always add a cooked chicken breast on the side, as I did with my mushroom risotto, or a salad to make the meal filling, but still lighter.
Light Cauliflower Risotto
• 1 tablespoon of olive oil
• 1 onion (on the smaller side), chopped
• 2 teaspoons of minced garlic
• Small package of sliced mushrooms, well-cleaned, or 1 cup of frozen peas, or any chopped veggie you like
• Protein like thinly sliced ham (already cooked)(optional)
• 10 oz. package of frozen riced cauliflower
• ½ – ¾ cup of chicken broth
• cracked black pepper, to taste
• parmesan cheese to taste
• a handful of chopped parsley, to taste
Directions: Add olive oil to medium-sized, deeper-sided frying pan, on medium heat. Once olive oil is warmed, add chopped onion. Cook onion until softened, then add garlic and heat garlic for 2 minutes on medium. If you are using a vegetable like sliced mushrooms or another vegetable that needs some time to soften, add it to the onion and garlic at this point. Cook until vegetables are softened. If you are using an already-cooked protein like ham, add it now to the mixture, and stir until warm and browned. Meanwhile, microwave the frozen riced cauliflower for a little less than the time on the package (no need to fully defrost). Pour the microwaved cauliflower into the mixture in the pan and stir well. If using a frozen vegetable like peas, add that in now. Next, pour in chicken broth until the mixture is a little soupy. Add pepper to taste. Turn heat up until the mixture is simmering (turn back down if it is too brisk). When mixture has absorbed the chicken broth, after about 10 minutes or so, turn off heat. Add cheese to taste, a little at a time. When serving add a little of the chopped parsley.