By Laura Mack
April 22, 2016
This Beefy Taco Mexi-Cauli Rice Skillet is delicious comfort food at it’s best. It’s quick and easy, has incredible flavor, is healthy and nutritious, reheats/freezes beautifully, it’s budget-friendly, and there’s just one skillet to clean when you’re done. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Whether you love cauliflower or not, my mexi-cauli rice is a hit with just about everyone. Dale, my cauliflower-hating husband, was so reluctant to try this dish. It was amusing to watch, as he looked liked a 5-year old who was being coerced to take nasty-tasting cough medicine. However, when he went back for a second helping, I knew I had a winner!
Actually, I was just as hesitant to try cauliflower rice the first time. I don’t care for raw cauliflower and, in the past, I’ve found the cooked stuff rather unappealing as well. The first few times I saw recipes for cauli rice, I figured it was just another one of those weird low carb substitutions that wouldn’t work for me. After continuing to see various recipes, I decided that I might as well give it a try. While I’ve learned to live without carby starches and grains, it is nice to have a healthy substitute that tastes delicious.
It doesn’t taste exactly like true rice, but prepared properly, cauli rice has a fluffy texture and neutral flavor. Sometimes I can catch a hint of cauliflower flavor, but it’s not unappealing. As much as I used to enjoy rice, I didn’t like to eat it plain. It was primarily a bland vehicle for other things, like stir-fries, curries, or fried rice. If I served rice as a side dish, I always embellished it with seasonings and aromatic vegetables. Cauli rice makes a good substitute in these applications.
It’s easy to “rice” cauliflower by grating it or pulsing it in your food processor. OhMyVeggies.com has a great tutorial with more details. Cauliflower rice is also available ready-to-cook at Trader Joe’s, both in the freezer section and the produce section. The only ingredient is cauliflower, so it’s a very lightly ‘processed’ food.
This dish is actually two essential recipes, beef taco filling, and Mexican cauliflower rice, combined to create a third. They’re wonderful together, and each is equally good used as part of other meals. I use the beef taco filling for lettuce wraps, salads, and in omelets or scrambled eggs. The mexi-cauli rice is a great side dish with any Mexican-inspired entree, such as my Chicken Chile Verde. For other complementary entrees, I often use my Mexican Seasoning Blend to rub on steak, pork or chicken and grill, or dust it on fish or shrimp and saute. Using ingredients and recipes that are versatile is the key to creating low carb everyday meals that are quick, tasty, and satisfying.
The beefy taco filling comes together quite quickly because — surprise! — it uses my Mexican Seasoning Blend. If you don’t already have it on hand, it takes just a few minutes to throw together. I make it in triple batches as it’s become a pantry essential for me. Similarly, I usually double or triple the taco filling and freeze the extra to use later in different meals.
My first attempt at plain cauli rice yielded mixed, but promising, results. In general, I’ve found that steaming and boiling cruciferous vegetables can bring out flavors and odors that I find unpleasant. Not surprisingly, these are some of the vegetables that I refused to eat for years! I’ve discovered that the cooking method can make a big difference. I like to roast, broil, or saute these vegetables to caramelize and bring out the subtle toasty nutty flavors. Equally important is cooking until just barely done — tender, but with firm toothiness, much like properly prepared ‘al dente’ pasta. To me, this is the sweet spot of cooked cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts. I’ve learned that being willing to try different preparations of foods that I thought I didn’t like has opened the doors to more variety, not to mention nutrients, in my diet.
My preferred way to prepare cauli rice is using a modified version of the “pilaf method” for cooking grains that I learned in culinary school. It’s a simple technique, and even easier with riced cauliflower because it cooks twice as fast true rice.
I lightly toast the grains of riced cauliflower in delicious healthy fat in a skillet over medium heat, often with spices and aromatic vegetables, such as onion, garlic, celery, and peppers. I’m not looking for the grains of cauliflower to actually turn brown, but simply to saute long enough to bring out the subtle nutty flavor, about 5 minutes.
At this point, I add a small amount of flavorful liquid such as broth or wine. For this mexi-cauli rice, I use salsa. I let it simmer just long enough for the liquid to be absorbed by the cauliflower. I want the grains to be tender, yet still firm, about 3 to 5 minutes more. I taste it every minute or two to check for tender/firm texture. While I do want the grains to be fluffy, I’ll add a little more liquid if they seem dry. That’s it! I stir in some fresh herbs, green onions, and perhaps some citrus zest, and my cauli rice is ready to serve.
In this beefy taco mexi-cauli rice skillet recipe, I cook the cauli rice in the same non-stick skillet used to cook the beefy taco filling. I don’t even wipe it out, because the flavors from the taco filling perfectly complement the cauli rice. More flavor and one less pan to wash — sweet!
Have you noticed that one of the great things about Mexican food is the often-abundant use of garnishes and toppings? It’s no different here. I love shredded pepper jack cheese, sour cream, avocado, green onions, and even toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) for crunch. (Although I’m a cilantro-hater, I’m sure that many of you would enjoy the addition of it here.) I also like a squeeze of lime for a bit of bright acid. A variety of toppings can add visual appeal, as well as flavor. Have fun with it!
There so much to love about this dish, because:
- it’s quick and easy to prepare and clean up;
- it tastes delicious;
- it reheats beautifully, great for leftovers or stuffing peppers;
- it freezes well;
- it’s budget-friendly; and, last but not least,
- it’s healthy and nutritious!
When I served up this Beefy Taco Mexi-Cauli Rice Skillet to Dale, he tucked right into it. I asked him if he thought I needed to tweak anything in the recipe. He replied, “It’s perfect. Don’t change a thing.” I do believe that Mr. Cauliflower-Hater is a convert, as am I.
I hope you enjoy these three recipes in one! Let me know what you think, along with any other ways you might use the beefy taco filling and mexi-cauli rice recipes.
Beefy Taco Mexi-Cauli Rice Skillet
Author: Laura Mack
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 25 mins
Total time: 45 mins
Beefy Taco Filling
1 pound ground beef, 80/20
1 teaspoon reserved beef fat* (or avocado oil)
4 ounces diced onion (1/2 medium)
¼ cup Mexican Seasoning Blend
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon tamari
8 ounces / 1 cup water
2 tablespoons reserved beef fat* (or avocado oil)
2 ounces diced onion (1/4 medium)
2 ounces diced red bell pepper (1/2 medium)
1 pound / 3½ cups 'riced' cauliflower
1 teaspoon / 1 clove minced garlic
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon dried oregano
4 ounces / ½ cup salsa (I use Pace Picante Sauce)
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro, parsley, or green onions; additional for garnish, if desired
Optional toppings: shredded cheese, sour cream, avocado, jalapeno slices, toasted pepitas, lime wedge
- For the Beefy Taco Filling: heat a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add ground beef. Cook until brown, stirring and breaking up meat into small crumbles, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beef to a plate or dish and set aside. Pour out the fat from cooking the beef and reserve*.
- Return skillet to burner over low and add back 1 teaspoon of the beef fat. Add diced onions and a pinch of salt. Cook until onion is translucent and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in Mexican seasoning blend and stir for about 1 minute to bloom the spices to bring out their flavors. Return cooked beef to skillet, and stir in Worcestershire sauce, tamari, and water. Cook uncovered, over low heat, until liquid is mostly reduced, about 10 minutes. Transfer filling back to plate/dish, cover with foil to keep warm, and set aside.
- For the Mexi-Cauli Rice: return skillet (no need to wipe out) back to medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of reserved beef fat. If you don't have enough, make up the difference with avocado oil. Add diced onions, bell peppers, and a pinch of salt. Saute until softened, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add riced cauliflower to skillet and stir to blend. Cook, stirring every minute or so, for 5 minutes. Add garlic and spices and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add about ⅔ of the salsa and stir to blend. Cook until cauliflower is tender, but still a little firm (al dente), 4-5 minutes. The 'rice' should be fluffy, but not dry. Add remaining salsa if needed to moisten.
- To finish, return reserved taco filling to the cauli rice in the skillet. Stir to combine and heat over medium to re-warm beef, about 3 minutes. Stir in herbs or green onions if using. Serve with a selection of toppings as desired.
- Leftovers should be cooled to room temperature, tightly covered, and chilled in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or transferred to a freezer-proof container or ziplock bag for up to 3 months.
- Reheat in the microwave or a skillet over medium heat. Frozen portions can be defrosted first in the microwave or overnight in the refrigerator.
Nutritional info*: 383 cal, 23.8 g total fat (56%), 17.1 g total carbs, 6.8 g fiber, 10.3 g net carbs, and 26.9 g protein.
Nutritional info* for beefy taco filling only: 273 cal, 16.8 g total fat (55%), 6.2 g total carbs, 2.1 g fiber, 4.1 g net carbs, and 24 g protein.
Nutritional info* for mexi-cauli rice only: 110 cal, 7 g total fat (57%), 10.9 g total carbs, 4.7 g fiber, 6.2 g net carbs, and 2.9 g protein.
*I use Living Cookbook 2015, along with package information and data from www.nutritiondata.self.com, to calculate the nutritional information for my recipes. Thus, I can make no guarantees as to the accuracy.