Saturday, January 23, 2016


If it’s January, it must be diet season. The diet is going just fine—I´m down a pound or two (not yet a kilo!). My problem is how to cook and write about Spanish food while dieting. Is there anything in Spanish cuisine that doesn’t require bread, potatoes or rice?

Even if those favored carbohydrates are not part of the recipe—think gambas al ajillo, ibérico ham, boquerones en vinagre—they are essential as an accompaniment. How can you just eat the shrimp and not sop up the sizzling garlicky olive oil in the cazuelita of gambas al ajillo?

For a couple of weeks, I’m “doing Atkins,” so it’s low, low, low carbs. As a food-centric person, dieting is engaging—planning what to eat and how to cook it is as challenging as planning a dinner party!

Kernels of chopped cauliflower stand in for rice in this paella with typical ingredients.
So, I’ve managed to come up with a dish with real Spanish flavors—paella—but without the carb-heavy rice! Cauliflower, chopped to rice-size kernels, takes the place of rice. Most of the other ingredients are typical to Spanish paella.

While it may not rate highly on anyone’s paella list, let me tell you, it’s probably the best cauliflower in the world!

Chicken, shrimp, mussels, squid, chorizo, artichoke--and saffron-tinted cauliflower "rice."

Cauliflower "grains" have a slight crunch.

Low-Carb Paella

Ingredients similar to traditional paella.
Serves 4 to 6.

1 ½ -2 pounds cauliflower (to make 5-6 cups “rice”)
1 pound boneless chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup green beans, cut in short lengths
6 mussels, scrubbed
½ teaspoon saffron, crushed
¼ cup hot water
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 large, unpeeled shrimp
1 small artichoke
1 small squid, cleaned and cut in rings
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped tomato
3 ounces chorizo sausage, sliced (or 1 teaspoon pimentón)
Bay leaf or sprig of rosemary
½ cup chicken stock
Canned red pimiento
Lemon wedges to serve

Process cauliflower to kernels.
Cut out and discard the center stalk of the cauliflower. Cut into florets. Working in two batches, add the florets and small stems to food processor and pulse until they are chopped to the consistency of rice grains. Reserve.

Cut the chicken thighs into three or four pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Cook the green beans in salted water until crisp-tender. Drain and reserve. Steam the mussels open. When cool enough to handle, discard empty shell. Reserve mussels on half-shell. Place the crushed saffron in a small bowl and add hot water.

Heat  oil in a paella pan or large skillet. Sauté the whole shrimp, turning once, until they have changed color and cooked through. Remove and reserve for garnishing the finished paella. (Sauteeing the whole shrimp flavors the oil.)

Add the chicken pieces to the pan on medium-high heat, turning them to brown both sides. Strip outer leaves from the artichoke. Cut it in quarters. Scoop out the fuzzy choke and place the artichokes, cut-side down, in the oil. (If added to the pan immediately, no need to soak them in lemon water.) Sauté the artichokes, turning them occasionally.

Sofrito of chicken and vegetables.
Add the cut-up squid, green pepper and garlic to the pan and sauté 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and sliced chorizo. Cook chicken, artichokes, squid and vegetables 10-15 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Add the saffron-water and stock. Taste the liquid in the pan and add more salt if necessary. Add the bay leaf or rosemary. Bring to a boil and add the cauliflower “rice.” Stir to combine all the ingredients, arranging them in the pan. Add the reserved green beans. Place the cooked shrimp on top and the mussels around the edge of the paella.

Cook on a medium heat (liquid just bubbling) until cauliflower is done to your liking—7 minutes for a slight crunch, up to 15 minutes for soft (you may need a little more stock). Move the pan around on the stove, so it cooks evenly, but don't stir.

Discard bay leaf or rosemary. Garnish the top of the paella with strips of red pimiento. Let set 5 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges. Guests peel the shrimp at the table. To eat the artichokes, pick them up by the tip and bite the thick heart. Discard the leaves and tips.

Recipes for paella with rice: (vegan)
Paella with pasta:
And, more diet suggestions:


  1. Hi Janet, I really like the idea of using cauliflower as rice. I have used it as cous cous once, seasoned with some spices and mixed with cranberries and cucumber. That was good, but I will definitely try this too, it looks great!

    1. Anneke: You could easily make it a vegetarian paella--just omit chicken and shellfish, maybe add some fat white beans. Hope you enjoy it.