Spring Vegetable “Couscous” {grain-free}

April 23rd, 2013 at 6:06 am

I used to love couscous slathered with melted butter back in the day. What kid wouldn’t? After all, couscous is nothing more than tiny semolina pasta, so it was really just buttered noodles that I was eating in a different form.

When I grew up and my palate became more refined, I put my buttered noodle days behind me and began adding couscous to other dishes like salads, stir-fries, and more. In the early spring, chilled couscous salad was one of my go-to side dishes or light lunches. Paired with fresh vegetables and a light and lemony dressing, nothing said spring more beautifully.

But you know what they say: out with the old, in with the new.

After kissing gluten and dairy goodbye, my days of buttered couscous and couscous salad were history. Since there’s no such thing as gluten-free couscous (actually, there is, but I’ve tried it and I’m not a big fan), I decided to harken back to my couscous-eating days and recreate one of my favorite spring salads using a fantastically healthy, gluten-free stand-in: cauliflower!

When you chop cauliflower finely in a food processor, you end up with a texture very similar to couscous or cooked quinoa. It looks like this.

Pretty cool, right?

Grain-free and high in fiber and cancer-kicking antioxidants, “riced” cauliflower is the new kid on the salad block. When paired with fresh spring vegetables—tender and sweet carrots, scallions, and plenty of herbs—the cauliflower loses its “cruciferous” taste and takes on the flavor of the lemon and garlic dressing. You can make this salad ahead of time (the flavor improves even more as it marinates), so get ready to add this one to your picnic recipe repertoire!

A couple of notes:

  • If you don’t have a food processor, you can make this salad by hand by finely chopping all of the ingredients. (Or, as one of my astute students at a cooking class recently pointed out, grate the vegetables instead!)
  • Adding diced mango or avocado is entirely optional, but in my opinion a no-brainer. Mangoes and avocados make everything better, yes?
  • For a full meal, toss some cooked chicken, flaked salmon, or chickpeas right into the salad. Add a crisp green apple on the side and boom. Super healthy lunch that will keep you slim, trim, and slipping effortlessly into your bathing suit this summer.

If you haven’t jumped on the cauliflower train just yet, it’s about time you hop on board! Try some of these recipes to get your feet wet:

Spring Vegetable “Couscous”

Yield: Serves 4

This light and refreshing spring salad swaps in finely chopped cauliflower for the traditional pasta, couscous, or cooked grains. Feel free to add your favorite chopped or grated vegetables as the seasons change.


1 medium head cauliflower, cut into large florets

4 small carrots (or 2 large), peeled and roughly chopped

4 scallions, trimmed, white and green parts roughly chopped

1/4 cup (packed) flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup (packed) chives

1/4 cup raw sunflower or pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon honey, coconut nectar, or Grade B maple syrup

1 garlic clove, finely grated

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Diced mango and/or avocado, optional


Place half of the cauliflower florets in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse to finely chop until the cauliflower looks like grains of couscous. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and repeat with the remaining florets, transferring them to the bowl.

Place the carrots in the food processor and pulse until finely chopped (but not pasted). Transfer to the bowl. Place the scallions, parsley, and chives into the food processor and pulse until finely chopped (but not pasted). Transfer to the bowl.

Add the seeds to the vegetables and toss to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, honey, and garlic. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made up to 1 day ahead at this point.)

Just before serving, stir in the mango and/or avocado if using.





  1. Do you think this would work with frozen cauliflower? Maybe roasting it first? Worth a try?

  2. Lori M.: Good question! I don’t think it would work with frozen (thawed) cauliflower, as the florets would probably be way too watery. You could try roasting the thawed florets, but again, I think they might get mushy instead of crispy. Raw cauliflower is probably the best option here. :)

  3. Thank you for your speedy response! I will have to go get some cauliflower then :)

  4. This looks great, I can’t wait to try it! I’m having a hard time giving up rice so I’m trying to jump onto the cauliflower train :) I’ll definitely try your recipes, thanks!

  5. Man cauliflower is the veggie of the year huh? What can’t it mimick? I cannot wait to try this and cauliflower “fried rice”.

  6. Yum! This looks so good, can’t wait to try it.

  7. You know I’m a huge cauli-couscous fan! Love this variation Hallie!

  8. This recipe looks so amazing! Using cauli like that is a great idea and the dish looks so refreshing and light. Can’t wait to try this!

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