I am not generally one to eavesdrop, but I am also not one to hear whisperings of what sounds like an incredible meal and then walk away. This is how I found myself pretending to read messages on my phone while I stealthily listened to two people waiting for coffee talk about a dish involving fried rice made out of cauliflower, as in, the rice being fried was not rice at all, but rather finely chopped cauliflower. It involved ginger, green onions, and then something-something that I could not hear, on account of the steady coffee shop din of sputtering milk steaming wands and a slightly-too-loud-for-eavesdropping playing of the Replacements (Let It Be).
I thought about the dish, and the concept of the dish, during the entirety of my walk home. By some heretofore unseen miracle of refrigerator preparedness, I actually had cauliflower on hand (which never happens, ever, even though, I know, I am Indian and I like to make Indian food and Indian food means cauliflower and potatoes but, still, MIRACLE), but I was mildly flummoxed about what should come after finding the cauliflower in the refrigerator and marveling at my good fortune (it apparently does not take much to impress me). Since I was receiving all the information about this new recipe via an unsanctioned source, there was very little required of me in the way of actually following a recipe. Really, I was in this position on account of a concept, which meant that whatever I wanted to do with the cauliflower could probably not mess things up too badly.
So I went with what I know. The cauliflower rice, originally conceived as a Chinese fried rice-type dish, became an Indian dish. Toasted spices joined a healthy dose of grated fresh ginger, and a tiny bit of heat was added to keep things interesting. What came together was a pleasant, delicious surprise, and one I don’t think that, left to my own devices, I would have ever happened upon myself. Though I can’t condone eavesdropping on a regular basis (I suspect that most topics of private conversation probably involve things a lot more spicy than this dish), I have to admit that, used sparingly, a little nosiness can sometimes result in a lot of deliciousness.
Indian Cauliflower Rice
1 large head cauliflower, leaves and core removed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
½ medium yellow onion, finely diced
¼ teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon coriander
salt to taste
¼ cup fresh cilantro (optional)
Cut the cauliflower into large florets. In a food processor, pulse about 1/3 of the cauliflower until it is uniformly chopped into very small, rice-sized pieces. Repeat with the remaining cauliflower, working in small batches and being careful to pulse the cauliflower only until it is chopped (over-chopping the cauliflower in the food processor will turn the cauliflower into a mushy paste). When you have chopped all the cauliflower, set it aside.
In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. When the oil has just started to shimmer, add the cumin seeds and bay leaf, stirring constantly to keep them from burning. When the seeds start to sputter and pop (this should take just a few seconds), add the garlic, ginger, and onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened and just beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. If your onions and garlic begin to brown too quickly, turn the heat down to medium. Add the chopped cauliflower to the pan, and stir fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until the cauliflower just begins to turn slightly golden at the edges. Add the garam masala, turmeric, cayenne pepper, and coriander. Cook for an additional 7 to 10 minutes, until the cauliflower is golden and the spices smell toasty. Add salt to taste.
Garnish with fresh cilantro, if desired.
Serves 3-4 people as a main dish, twice as many as a side dish.