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Puffed Rice with Winter Vegetables

Updated: Jan 23

The New Year's weekend project was clearing out the big walk-in closet, which is lined with cedar and needed its periodic re-oiling, It seemed the perfect opportunity to declutter. I managed to rid of enough wire hangers to send Joan Crawford into paroxyms of rage. I did not manage to get rid of much else, because the Decavore likes vintage clothes. Since his father has not acquired any clothes since the Decavore was in pre-school, everything was to his mind "vintage." I had to remind him that vintage clothes were generally not obtained from people still wearing them. I also failed to get rid of the stack of three thousand or so XL, saggy necked, off-color Hanes white t-shirts acquired sometime before that certain year-long family pyjama party. We all wore them, our Covid uniform. For the Decavore and me, the shirts went almost to our knees. They were the official family getup in the house, all of us lounging around in identical long white nightshirts, like members of a cult.

The new year is also a time for me to start considering who will be my new pretend cooking boyfriend. In past years, this has been Eric Ripert (jealous husband made fun of Eric's big horse teeth), Yotam Ottolenghi (Yotam did not inspire so much jealousy, maybe because he is gay and married?), Bryant Terry (husband was similarly not threatened by a vegan) and of course my idol, my love, my get-out-of-jail-free-card, Jacques Pépin. I have written about my crush on Jacques before on this blog. But scrolling through Instagram this week I spotted a chef named Geoffrey Zakarian. His Insta account consists of him cooking dishes that involve entire sticks of butter interspersed with him demonstrating his favorite exercises. These exercises are insane. He's doing push ups while juggling kettle bells, or doing crunches with an anvil on chest. "It's Thanksgiving, so don't forget to get some exercise!" he says, while doing squats, a cartoon safe in each hand. The guy looks old enough to remember the Truman administration and he's a total unit.

I think I am a little scared of Geoffrey, his anvils, and his butter sticks. Maybe I should cook on my own for a while.

As a child I was obsessed with a breakfast cereal called Puffa Puffa Rice. It was like Rice Krispies but so much better. It was unavailable in Canada and could only be obtained by contraband from a trip to the Plattsburgh Mall. The cereal was not on the market for very long and by the time I was out of elementary school it had vanished. This was unfortunate, since it had the best commercial showing how it was made (by Tibetan monks in volcanoes).

I still love puffed rice, and wanted to see what I could do with it in savory dishes using the unsweetened puffed rice from Patel Brothers.

This can be a main dish, using the mushroom to provide some additional heft, as well as depth of texture and flavor. It can be made with only cauliflower, or other vegetables, and be a side dish. It can also be taken in so many directions - you can substitute different vegetables, and you can experiment with different spices on the puffed rice. It can be made mild or spicy. If you skip the anchovies and use oil instead of butter, it can be vegan.

Garlic and anchovies - the essentials. I want the bomb, I want the P-funk.


1 small head of cauliflower, broken up into florets

2 tbsps oil

1 1/2 cup of puffed rice

4 tbsps butter (or oil, if preferred), divided

three anchovy filets (can skip these, along with the butter, to make it vegan)

1/2 tsp sumac

1/2 tsp MSG

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp soy sauce (can use tamari for gluten free option)

curry powder to taste


white pepper

I small red onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, smashed and minced

4 oz of cremini mushrooms, sliced

1/4 head of small purple cabbage, thinly sliced

3 tbsps minced parsley


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss cauliflower florets with 2 tbsps of oil and salt and pepper. Lay florets on a sheet pan lined with non stick foil. Roast in the oven until the cauliflower startes the turn brown and get crispy in spots (about 20 minutes).

Heat 2 tbsps butter (or oil) in a skillet on medium high heat and add puffed rice with salt, pepper, sumac, MSG, curry powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and soy sauce. Fry until rice is golden and remove from skillet.

In the same skillet, or Dutch oven, heat another 2 tbsps of oil (less if using the same skillet) and add onion and mushroom on medium low heat. Cook until onions are soft and starting to brown. The mushrooms will stew, not fry or roast, because of the moisture from the onions. When the onions and mushrooms are mostly cooked, add the garlic and anchovies. Cook until garlic is fragrant and the anchovies have started to break down and 'melt.'

Add puffed rice and mix well. Add roasted cauliflower and cabbage and mix until combined. Remove from heat and add parsley. I chopped up more purple cabbage very fine and mixed it with the parsley. You could add finely minced garlic and a pinch of sea salt or lemon in with them and make a dry gremolata to sprinkle on top.

This dish reheats well. The rice is no longer crispy, but provides a satisfying chew.

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