Grain-free Vegetable ‘rice’ with Indian Spices

Shredded aubergine, carrot and cauliflower florets are lightly fried in a fragrant spice mix, and then garnished with spring onions and toasted cashew nuts.

Grain-free Vegetable 'rice' with Indian Spices

Rice is the perfect accompaniment to spicy dishes, managing to taste of nothing and yet something at the same time. Without being completely bland of flavour and devoid of interest in its own right, rice can stand up to punchy flavours. The fluffy grains excel at soaking up flavour during the cooking process, such as in a rich, creamy risotto or in a fragrant paella.

Rice is also incredibly simple and quick to cook, which is another key consideration when trying to find a grain-free replacement. A lot of Paleo recipes recommend making ‘rice’ out of cauliflower. This involves blitzing a head of cauliflower in a food processor to grain-size pieces, then pan frying in oil for five minutes. Whilst the results are not unpleasant, I find the culinary experience akin to that of gluten-free bread; it reminds me too much of the real thing, and of what I’m missing out on with my ersatz substitute. Better to accept the loss, move on, and find a totally different partner.

Personally, I prefer to cook cauliflower florets whole, as a complementary side (like in this excellent Jamie Oliver recipe for Roasted cauliflower with cumin, coriander & almonds). When it comes to making vegetable ‘rice’, I include whole spices to make the flavour more interesting, aubergine for soaking up the flavour, and cashew nuts for adding texture and creaminess.

This recipe also works well as a super-quick main meal if you have left-over cooked chicken: after dry frying the spices and adding the cooking oil, simply add the chicken to the pan and fry for about 5 minutes to warm and rehydrate, before following the rest of the recipe. I often make this with the odds and ends from a roast chicken, after I have eaten the more ‘usable’ bits like breast and thighs in other meals.

cooking time
Grain-free Vegetable ‘rice’ with Indian Spices


  • 1/4 cup cashew nuts (40g)
  • 1/2 cauliflower head (400g), leaves, stalk and core removed
  • 1 aubergine (220g), ends trimmed
  • 1 carrot (115g), peeled, ends trimmed
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon nigella seeds (also known as black onion seeds)
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil (I used lard)
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon asafoetida
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • 2 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
  2. Spread the cashew nuts out in a single layer in a ceramic dish (you can use a metal tray, but the sides of the nut in contact with the tray will brown faster than the rest). Put in the pre-heated oven and roast for 8-10 minutes, until light brown, giving them a shake halfway through. Remove from the oven. Roughly crush the nuts with the back of a heavy knife, to break into smaller pieces (if you started with cashew nut halves, then skip this step).
  3. Meanwhile, roughly chop the cauliflower into small pieces and place in a food processor. Pulse until the cauliflower resembles small grains or rice. If you don’t have a food processor, then coarsely grate.
  4. Julienne or grate the aubergine and carrot (I used the grater attachment on my food processor, for speed). If using the julienne method, then chop the matchstick strands down into inch-long pieces.
  5. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the fennel seeds and nigella seeds and dry fry for 1 – 2 minutes, or until they release a fragrant aroma.
  6. Add the cooking oil to the pain. Once it has heated up, add the black mustard seeds, ground cumin, asafoetida and black pepper and stir. Leave for 30 seconds, then add the cauliflower, aubergine and carrot. Mix well using a wooden spoon. Turn the heat to high and cook for 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat.
  7. Add the cashew nuts and spring onions, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and mix well. Taste, and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
  8. Transfer into a serving dish and serve hot.

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