This side dish is a twist on the couscous salad that changed my life. For years, my go-to potluck contribution was a couscous salad, loaded with roasted vegetables, dried fruit, cheese, and nuts. It doesn’t wilt on a buffet and pairs well with barbecued meats and other salads. I made it for my own parties, brought it everywhere, and gave out the recipe (it’s more of a technique than a recipe, really, because you can add whatever you like to it) to many friends. I made it for our neighborhood block party one fateful night in August of 2010, in fact, and ate plenty of it, along with a hot dog on a bun washed down with beer.
I’d been having progressively debilitating health problems before that August night. For a couple of years, I had been battling joint pain, digestive distress, weight gain, water retention, low energy, and depression with physical therapy, exercise, medication, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and diet. To say that I was distressed to find no relief from my symptoms is an understatement. Luckily, I started to keep a careful food journal and noticed that when I ate bread or pasta, my joint pain and low energy would peak. As a cook and recipe writer, I was afraid to give up eating wheat, but after the couscous/hot dog/beer night in 2010, I was in absolute misery.
And so I quit eating gluten.
My symptoms improved so quickly, I’ve never looked back. In fact, I’ve progressed to eating no grains and adopting a paleo (whole foods) diet and I’ve never been healthier. There have been bumps along the way – experiments with adding back non-gluten grains that went terribly wrong, for instance. But for the most part, it’s been the adventure of a lifetime, both cooking- and health-wise.
And so I present this grain-free version of my old potluck stand-by. Now, if you can eat wheat, bear in mind that you can easily make a box of couscous and add in all of the delicious things below and presto, you have a quick buffet salad (couscous is lovely that way, five minutes and poof, done). But if you’re a cauliflower fan like I am (BIG time), and looking to eat fewer grains, well this recipe is for you. It doesn’t taste exactly like couscous, but roasting the cauliflower first does give it a wonderful texture and flavor (better than steaming the cauliflower, in my opinion). This version has been every bit as popular with friends and family as the original. See what you think!
Roasted Cauliflower “Couscous”
Note: The beauty of this recipe is in the throw-togetherness of it. None of the measurements need to be exact. I’ve included a base recipe with suggestions for add-ins. Stir in what you like for a combination of crunchy-chewy-salty-sweet and adapt it to whatever vegetables/fruits are in season.
1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/4 cup olive oil or avocado oil
1/2 cup (or more to taste) dried cranberries (or raisins, dried cherries, dried apricots, etc.)
1/2 cup (or more to taste) sliced scallions (and/or garlic scapes)
1/2 cup (or more to taste) finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup (or more to taste) chopped kalamata olives
Zest of 1 lemon (or orange)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon (or orange) juice
Roasted vegetables (zucchini, red onion, winter squash, sweet potato, carrots, asparagus, green beans, kale, kohlrabi)
Raw vegetables (radishes, cucumber, arugula, spinach, celery, avocado, cherry tomatoes)
Roasted nuts (cashews, pepitas, pine nuts)
Crumbled cheese (goat, feta)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange racks in the middle of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Place cauliflower in a large bowl and drizzle with oil. Add 2 teaspoons salt and toss to coat. Divide cauliflower between baking sheets, spreading evenly. Roast for 20 minutes, then turn cauliflower pieces and switch pans in oven. Roast for another 20-30 minutes, until cauliflower is nicely browned in spots and tender.
Transfer cauliflower (working in batches if necessary) to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the texture of couscous. Scrape into a large serving bowl and add cranberries, scallions, parsley, olives, lemon zest, and lemon juice (and any optional add-ins). Season with salt to taste. Serve warm or cool to room temperature.