Eat Your Vegetables: Cauliflower Rice Pilaf

I was the official rice maker in my family, and I perfected a water-measuring technique that involved placing my thumb against the bottom of the pan, just like my Sitti (“grandmother” in Arabic) taught my mom. I took great pride in my fluffy rice, and it was with a heavy heart that I banished my favorite grain from my diet when I started eating paleo.

Then I learned this cauliflower trick, and my pilaf was reborn.

A Bowl of Cauliflower Rice Pilaf |
Cauliflower Rice Pilaf

Serves 4-6 | Prep 15 min | Cook 10 min | Whole30 compliant

  • 1 large head fresh cauliflower

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 tablespoon coconut oil

  • 8 dried apricot halves, minced (about 2 tablespoons)

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons raisins

  • 2 tablespoons pine (pignola) nuts

  • 1/2 medium onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)

  • 1 clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • salt and black pepper, to taste


Break the cauliflower into florets, removing the stems. Place the florets in the food processor bowl and pulse until the cauliflower looks like rice. This takes about 10-15 one-second pulses. You may need to do this in two batches to avoid overcrowding (which leads to mush).


Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and allow it to melt. Add the apricots, raisins, pine nuts, onion, and garlic. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine and cook until the onions are translucent and the nuts start to brown, about 5 minutes.


Push the onions to the side of the pan and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of coconut oil. Add the cumin and cinnamon to the oil, then stir everything together – oil, spices, onions, nuts, and fruit – so they all mingle in happy harmony. When you can smell the spices, about 30 seconds, toss in the riced cauliflower and sauté until the cauliflower is tender, about 5 minutes. Try a bite, then season with salt and pepper.

Note: I used pine nuts, but walnuts, pistachios, almonds, and pecans would all be very tasty. Mix it up and see what you like best!

Print this recipe
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  • Melissa says:

    This looks super yummy. I have a question, though. If we don't have a food processor on hand, can we grate the cauliflower? Or put it in a blender? I'm desperate to try this ASAP!

    • leoni says:

      Hi Melissa, yes just grate the cauliflower by hand, sometimes if I just want a small bit, that’s what I do instead of getting the processor out.

  • Melicious says:

    Definitely the grater. I fear if you use a blender, you'll end up with cauliflower juice. THAT would be hard to sautee!

  • B Kinch says:

    Yea! You have NO idea how much I needed this recipe! I've been eating a ton of cucumber-yogurt salad because my csa won't slow down the cuke delivery, and the garden is also pretty cuke heavy, so I've been making a bunch of middle east and India-inspired meats to go with, and thinking, man, I wish I could have a little couscous with this…(I'm a low carby diabetic). Hooray! Thanks 😉

  • foodrenegade says:

    Ha! I had the same revelations about cauliflower about 6 months ago. I used to NEVER buy it and only eat it when it was served as part of a vegetable tray. Now I use it weekly.

    Thanks for the recipe, and for joining in the Fight Back Friday fun!

    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  • Melicious says:

    Hey, B Kinch! Glad the Fouscous came along at the right time. Funny… I've been eating a ton of cucumbers lately, too… but I gave up dairy, and man! I miss the Greek yogurt. My cucumber salad is now lemon juice and olive oil. Still tasty, but not the same as Greek yumminess 😉

    Kristen, Food Renegade! Nice to see you over here. I just saw a new cauliflower recipe in this month's Gourmet; if it's as yummy as it looks, I'll share it!

  • Melissa says:

    I had no idea that cauliflower was packed with so much good-for-you stuff! I've never cooked with it before and am looking forward to making the fouscous tonight. I've already prepared the cauliflower… I have no food processor, so I started out grating it and then diced a bunch of it into the teeniest pieces possible. Hoping that'll work! I'll report back with feedback later. 🙂

  • Melicious says:

    Lemme know how you like it! That's a lotta cauliflower to manage by hand… kinda of a WOD, yes?!

  • Melissa says:

    Processing the cauliflower by hand is a pain, but the end results are 100% worth it. I loved the fouscous and will be making it again this weekend. I used dried raisins, cranberries, and apricots, plus almonds, walnuts, and pinenuts… SO delicious! It felt like an indulgent cheat meal without BEING an indulgent cheat meal, and you've gotta love that.

    • Joan Pratt says:

      This looks really yummy but should I be indulging in the dried fruit if I’m doing the whole 30? I was under the impression that I shouldn’t use because of the added sugar.

      • Fruit and dried fruit are not excluded from the Whole30. If you have a serious sugar demon, you *might* just make this without the dried fruit. But this recipe was officially approved by Melissa and Dallas, the creators of the Whole30, so it has a green light. The rice is delicious without the fruit, so if you’re concerned, make it without during Whole30, then try it with when you feel more comfortable.

        Here’s the official Whole30 stance on fruit and dried fruit:
        “Well if you look at the meal template Meal-Planning Template: it suggests occasionally adding fruit to a meal, not as a snack, and it shows you the serving size, basically something you can fold your hand over. This is for fresh fruit, dried fruit packs a real sugar punch, too much for most people to have in any great quantity. The problem is, as the book says, our brains don’t distinguish between sugar from candy and sugar from dried fruit.

        A small amount of dried fruit added to a meal would be fine but it’s not ideal as a snack, sorry. Ideally, our meals should be satisfying enough that we don’t need to snack but it can take a while to get to that state. A snack should ideally be a mini meal, a mixture of protein fat and veg. “

  • Jenn says:

    eating some of this as a snack (yay leftovers) and it was making me so happy i had to comment. this is probably my favourite thing to eat. even though i do have to process the cauliflower by hand!

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Jenn, I don't know how you do that! It makes me a little nutty when I use the food processor! So tedious.

  • Anonymous says:

    SO delicious! It felt like an indulgent cheat meal without BEING an indulgent cheat meal, and you've gotta love that.

  • Anonymous says:

    Have you tried making this greek/italian style and what would you put in it. I liked it but I think my flavors tend towards mediterranean flavors.

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Anonymous! This is a fun game… OK!

    1st step: eliminate these ingredients:
    pine nuts, dried fruit, cumin, cinnamon

    Now… for Italian:
    Instead of the fruit and nuts, add chopped fresh tomatoes or a few sundried tomatoes, slivers of fresh basil, and sliced black olives.

    For Greek: Add chopped fresh tomatoes, fresh or dried oregano, black olives, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

    If you try these, let me know how you like them!

    For Italian:

  • Cari says:

    I've always hated cauliflower and I hope these ideas help change my mind so I can incorporate a "new" veggie into my repertoir!

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Cari –> I hope you like it! Let me know how it goes…

  • Anonymous says:

    I tried making it greek style and it was delicious. But my favorite is your suggestion for left over cold salad. Have you thought about making it for breakfast like cream of wheat – maybe alittle almond milk with some almonds and raisins. I think I am going to try it. Thanks for a great recipe.

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Hey, Chris! Glad the Greek version worked! I've never tried it as a hot "cereal" for breakfast because I'm never ever liked oatmeal or cream of wheat… but I bet it will work if you leave out the onions/garlic and instead of frying the cauliflower in olive oil, cook it in coconut milk with some nuts and dried fruit and cinnamon. If you try it, let us know!

  • Morten says:

    I added some carrot and leek slices at the onion step. Very tasty.

    • Mel says:


      I recently read an article about how Americans don’t use leeks as often as other cultures… and I vowed to start using them more. I have some in my fridge right now, in fact. Alongside a head of cauliflower… hhmmmm.

  • Beth says:

    I don’t have a microwave, do you have a suggestion for how to best cook the cauliflower once it is ‘riced’?

    • Mel says:

      You can skip the microwave step and go straight to a skillet. To get a good texture, you might want to increase the amount of fat in the pan to a tablespoon… then just saute the ‘rice’ until it’s to your desired tenderness.

  • Tiffani says:

    Thanks for sharing, even if did take me 2 years to find it! It’s an awesome recipe, even if it is a little time consuming. Seriously, my husband (who has been fighting me a little on the paleo/whole 30 front), my 2-year old, and our 180-lb great dane all loved it. That’s a winner in my book.

    Just wondering, have you made the fouscous & then frozen it at the end of step 1 to use in the future? I would think it would probably work & then it would almost be like having couscous sitting in your pantry.

    Anyhow, thanks again. It was delicious.

    • Mel says:

      Glad you like it!

      I’m not sure how well it would freeze — it might get too mushy OR it might work brilliantly. My advice: put a small amount in a ziplock bag, squeeze out all the air, then pop it in the freezer and see what happens. Let me know how it turns out!

  • I tried this tonight and WOW, it was amazing! I used pine nuts and sultanas because that is how I usually do my Moroccan couscous and it tasted just the same. Next time I’ll add in some slivered almonds and maybe dried apricots.

    • Mel says:

      Great minds! My cookbook Well Fed has a new recipe for that includes almonds and apricots — plus some yummy spices. It’s SO pretty and delicious.

      Happy New Year to you! So glad you liked the recipe… thanks for taking the time to let me know!

  • Terri says:

    This recipe is awesome and I just wanted to let you know that it freezes wonderfully! I’m the only one in my house who will eat it so I make up a big batch and then put it into small individual size containers to be reheated in the microwave. I LOVE it!

  • 2WheelsOnly says:

    I am totally blown away with the diversity of cauliflowers. As I was making this recipe today, I was thinking “oh well, if I blow a head of cauliflower so be it”. But now I am a convert for this recipe. I probably will reduce the spices and add some garlic and then I think it will be perfect for my taste. Yum – you did good on this one gurl.

  • Jenn says:

    Got a Penzy’s order yesterday and your book today! This was amazing. Thank you! I also had it with Rogan Josh. Great combination. For a minute I thought, “I should probably have a veggie with this…oh yeah, this is veggie.” Could become my new favorite snack. Thanks again!

  • Val says:

    I’m three weeks into going paleo and was craving something carbish… Fouscous totally hit the spot! I added yellow and red bell peppers and dried figs, then stuffed into bell peppers and baked for 20 minutes. Delish!

  • Iva says:

    I made this with some grilled salmon for dinner last night. It was awesome. I’ve been timidly approaching the paleo lifestyle for a while now.
    I want you to know your cook book sealed the deal for me. I start my first whole30 Monday. I planned, went shopping and tomorrow is my first weekly cook up.
    I am so excited!
    Thank Y-O-U!

    • Mel says:

      Congratulations on starting your Whole30. I hope you have an excellent month — hang in there if you get the carb flu… it will pass! I promise!

      Keep me posted on how you’re doing! Happy cooking!

      • Iva says:

        I did it! I didn’t just do it, I rocked it! Whole30 was life changing for me!
        Guess what? I have a gluten intolerance. Guess what else? Oh well, I really don’t miss that junk at all anyway!
        I did a little off roading for the holidays and I’m looking forward to my second whole30 with many others for the new year.
        Well Fed is such a staple of my kitchen. So much so I made a HUGE batch of ras el hanout (sp?) and gave jars of it as Christmas gifts…and my cooking buddies love it!
        I thank you again for being a catalyst for major change in my life!!

        • Mel says:

          Congratulations! That is SO awesome. YAY! I mean, not the gluten intolerance, but tackling the Whole30 and learning about yourself. I love that you gave Ras el Hanout as a gift… LOVE!

          Keep us posted on how you’re new year Whole30 goes — I’m at it again, too!

  • Sam says:

    I’ve tried cauliflower “mash” and it ended up a puree and I didn’t like the flavor, BUT now I have some hope in trying again with the lovely veggie. I want to pair it with your Italian sausage and peppers recipe. I also have been looking for a HEALTHY side dish to our grilled meats.

  • Nicole says:

    This was seriously fantastic! I subbed chopped almonds and dried cherries since that’s what I had in the pantry. I was amazed at how much like couscous this was. Cauliflower rice and potatoes are fine, but it never mimics the real thing enough. This was spot on. Thank you so much for an awesome “starch” alternative!

    • Mel says:

      Dried cherries sound SO good! I think the addition of the nuts and fruit is what makes this one really taste like the real thing. YAY!

  • Karen says:

    Love this pilaf! Served it with the Moroccan meatballs and cumin roasted carrots. HUGE hit. I doubled the batch so I could make the salad and nope! not one bite left!! Making it again very soon!

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  • Linda says:

    You can use a blender to chop the cauliflower in couscous-size pieces. Put the cauliflower florets in the blender add water to cover the florets, pulse-blend for a few seconds, then drain.

    I made a double batch of this recipe to use as a side dish for a few days. It wasn’t all that tasty as a pilaf but think it would be great as the base for a mock rice pudding. Just add an egg and some milk, maybe a little honey or maple syrup…

    • Mel says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I tried this technique once, and honestly, I didn’t like it. The cauliflower got water-logged and did NOT make good cauliflower rice. I can see why you didn’t think it was tasty as pilaf — the water+blender version makes it way too watery.

  • Melindy says:

    I made this tonight along with the meatball recipe. It was really yummy. I grated the cauliflower, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. I will make this again for sure and also try it with different spices, nuts and fruit, or as a cold salad. It’s great to have a rice substitute that is so versatile and tasty.

  • Julie says:

    My hubby and I really enjoyed this recipe along with the Morrocan meatballs. We really would not have known it was cauliflower had we not cooked it ourselves. Thank you so much for the deliciousness!

  • Kirsty says:


    I don’t have a microwave so how best should I go about cooking the cauliflour before adding it to the pan? Would putting it in some simmering water for a few minutes work?

    Doing my first Whole30 and enjoying having lots of new recipes to try.



    • Mel says:

      Kirsty, you can just skip the microwave step completely. Recently, I started skipping that step, and it works just fine. You don’t want to simmer it in water because it will get too mushy. Enjoy!

  • Julie says:

    You have no idea how excited I am that I found your web site via GF Girl’s tweets:)

    I ordered both of your books the other day and I’ve been cooking off your site since. Chicken Thai Cakes w/cucumber salad and Comfort Noodles and tonight, Moroccan Meatballs w/Fouscous. My family loved everything! Oh…and some sautéed spinach with mushrooms.

    Thank you, thank you…the dirty little secret of Paleo is the veg!! Thanks for the inspiration…can’t wait for your books to arrive!


    • Mel says:

      I’m really glad you found me, too! Really happy that you like the recipes you’ve tried so far. And yes! Vegetables are the dirty little secret of paleo 🙂 The media makes it out to be MEAT ALL THE TIME, and the truth is, it’s tons of veggies. It’s a trick!

      Enjoy the Well Fed cookbooks and keep me posted on how you’re doing!

  • M says:

    Do you think this would stand up to being baked inside a butternut squash or pumpkin? Perhaps with a little sausage thrown in…I love baked, stuffed squashes but I’ve yet to find a good substitute for rice or bread.

    • Mel says:

      I haven’t tried it myself, but it should work just fine. If you want to experiment… I’d use raw, riced cauliflower mixed with the browned sausage, then stuff the squash and cover the cauli mix with foil for at least part of the baking so it gets tender instead of dried out.

  • Vicky says:

    Absolutely love the sound of this dish! I never imagined you could make a rice pilaf type dish with cauliflower! Am seriously intrigued! I’m currently traveling (now renting an apt in Malaysia) so sadly do not have a food processor on hand but as soon as I’m near one I’m making this dish!!!!

  • Monene says:

    Loved this recipe. made it last night, my fiancé and I loved it! unexpectedly good!!!

  • Asia says:

    This was AMAZING. I have yet to make a successful cauli rice, but this was perfect and easy. I’m hoping I can use these instructions for future batches and just tweak the flavor profiles as needed. I did up the Moroccan Meatballs (also fab!) and have a dish of Kibbeh Sinayee already baked and in the fridge for tomorrow’s dinner. Thank you for all you do. I don’t think I’d be as successful navigating my Whole30 if it weren’t for your site. 🙂

  • Beatrice Thorne says:

    Love this! I added diced red pepper and some spinach for an extra veggie hit, and turmeric. Delicious and definitely very more-ish!

  • em gee says:

    I love this! I have never been successful with a food processor and it is dangerous to grate this stuff by hand, so I bought a SALAD SHOOTER, yes really. Not quite a Ronco product, but close, and IT WORKS. I have been settling for little mingy servings because it was so hard to grate, now I fill my bowl! Think you could come up with a recipe for KATSU DONBURI? Also bought Well Fed 2 (already have the original) and Amazon was nice enough to sell me the kindle edition for only $0.99 more. It’s a great job formatting for kindle (some cookbooks aren’t very readable) so until the real thing comes, I’m satisfied. Oh and I bot an extra large cookbook holder. I am loaded for BEAR!