I’ve always wanted to figure how to make the classic Cuban Arroz Con Pollo (literally Rice and Chicken) vegetarian. Ever since the United States started talking about lifting the whole travel ban on Cuba, I’ve been daydreaming of visiting the country I am half from but never been to. I’ve been daydreaming about Havana’s streets, its music, and the family I haven’t met yet. Until I get the opportunity to go, I’ll make black beans, tostones, and this Arroz con Coliflor (Rice and Cauliflower).
Even though there are quite a few variations, this recipe is an adaptation of my grandmother’s very Cuban arroz con pollo recipe. Her arroz con pollo is robust, hearty, and rich. It is as wet as a good risotto, heavily seasoned with tomatoes, sofrito, and beer. Knowing I couldn’t really improve a recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation, I took the challenge of proposing an alternative that keeps the essence of the original, but just replaces the chicken with cauliflower.
You are going to love it.
To make this dish, cauliflower steaks are roasted until fork tender, crisp around the edges, and deliciously caramelized. Meanwhile, the rice, preferably red or brown, is cooked in a tomato beer broth until tender and delicious. The key to a successful broth lies in the sofrito (onion, garlic, green peppers, and cilantro), the Latin equivalent to a mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery).
When ready to serve, the cauliflower is scooped into the pot of rice and sprinkled with cilantro. Warm, slightly bitter, and aromatic, every bite delights. The flavors are uniquely Latin, savory, nicely seasoned, and layered. I like how the cauliflower and beer compliment each other’s bitterness against a tomato-y base.
As I patiently wait to visit Cuba, I’ll devour ever grain of rice in this recipe as if it were a tiny spec of sand, every flavor an alleyway, a plaza, and building waiting to be discovered. I will savor each bite as if it were the last salsa song of the night, played by the same guy that’s been there for years. I’ll celebrate everything it stands for, family, tradition, and the taste of home.
Arroz con Coliflor
Makes about a cup
- ½ green pepper
- ½ sweet onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 big handful fresh cilantro
Place all ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until well copped and smooth.
Arroz con Coliflor
Cook time: 50 minutes
- 1 small cauliflower head
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. Cumin powder
- 2 tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp. kosher or sea salt
- 1 cup red rice
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup beer, gluten-free if intolerant
- handful of cilantro for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice cauliflower lengthwise, into ½ inch steaks. Place in a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and half a teaspoon of smoked paprika. Gently turn over, add another tablespoon of olive oil, salt and remaining paprika. Place in oven and roast for 40 minutes. Cauliflower is ready when fully cooked and crispy around the edges.
Place a large pot, ideally a French oven, over medium heat. Add sofrito and a tablespoon of olive oil. Cook, stirring often for about five to seven minutes. You want the sofrito to soften and become translucent. Add cumin powder, tomato paste, and bay leaves. Cook for another 2 minutes. Add salt, then rice. Stir for a couple minutes. Rice should be well coated in the vegetable mixture. Add 1 cup of water and 1 cup of beer. Stir once. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Cook, uncovered, until most of the liquid, except for about ½ inch, has absorbed. Cover and cook over low heat for 25 minutes. During this time, refrain from opening or stirring the rice.
When rice ready, transfer roasted cauliflower on top of the rice. Garnish with French cilantro leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. Mix cauliflower into rice to serve. Eat immediately with avocados, a green salad, tostones.