Pesto Cauliflower Rice – Easy Vegan Recipe

Pesto cauliflower rice is quick and easy and the perfect side dish that is ready in just 15 minutes. This healthy cauliflower rice with pesto recipe is a great way to get in more vegetables or create a lower carb meal that is bursting with flavor.

Large cast iron skillet filled with pesto cauliflower rice, with a yellow napkin on the side.

Why you will love this recipe

  • Easy, flavorful recipe – making pesto cauliflower rice is so simple. Using store-bought pesto and frozen cauliflower rice can make this recipe even easier to make. This healthy cauliflower rice with pesto comes together in just 15 minutes in one pan.
  • Simple ingredients – you can find all the ingredients you need to make cauliflower rice with pesto at the grocery store. If you can’t find cauliflower rice, you can make it yourself with a food processor or a hand grater. Make your own pesto or buy store-bought.
  • Versatile – use this pesto cauliflower rice as a delicious side dish to get in more Make it into a full meal by adding your favorite protein, like chicken, salmon, shrimp, tofu or white beans.
Ingredients to make pesto cauliflower rice in white bowls.
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Ingredients

  • Yellow or white onion – the onion provides a base flavor for the entire dish and provides a bit of crunch to the recipe. If you don’t have white onion or yellow onions, you can omit it and use fresh garlic or omit it completely.
  • Cauliflower rice – cauliflower rice is a low carb substitute for rice that is made with cauliflower. You can find frozen cauliflower rice in most grocery stores now, but you can also make cauliflower rice yourself by putting cauliflower in the food processor or grating it by hand.
  • Spices: Salt and garlic powder – these spices help to elevate the flavors of the dish. The salt helps the pesto pop and the garlic powder adds umami to the dish. You could also use fresh garlic that you sauté with the onions, just be sure it doesn’t burn.
  • Pesto – use your favorite pesto here! It can be homemade or store-bought. A majority of the flavor of this dish comes from the pesto, so be sure you love it! I have listed my favorite pesto recipes and store-bought recommendations below!
  • Tomatoes – tomatoes help to add a pop of color and also pair well with the pesto. If you don’t have tomatoes on hand or don’t love them, you could also use roasted red peppers or simply omit the tomatoes.

How to make pesto cauliflower rice

Start by preheating a large pan over medium heat.

Finely chop the onion. Spray the preheated pan with olive oil or avocado oil spray and add the onion. Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Before and after cooking onion in a cast iron skillet.

While the onion is cooking, break up the frozen cauliflower rice in the bag. This helps to remove large clumps of frozen cauliflower rice that can take longer to cook.

Frozen cauliflower rice added to the skillet.

After 3-4 minutes, add the cauliflower rice, salt and garlic powder to the pan with the onions. Cook over medium to medium high heat for 7-10 minutes until all the water from the cauliflower rice has evaporated and the rice is soft but not mushy. Be sure to stir the pan occasionally.

While the cauliflower rice cooks, chop the tomatoes, and make the pesto if needed.

Grape tomatoes sliced in half on a cutting board.

Turn off the heat. Add the pesto and the chopped tomatoes. Serve hot or room temperature.

Before and after stirring the pesto into the cauliflower rice.

Top tips

  • Be sure to take the time to break up the frozen cauliflower rice in the bag before adding it to the pan. Try to avoid adding large clumps of frozen cauliflower rice, as it can take longer to break down and cook through.
  • When cooking frozen cauliflower rice, it will let off a good amount of water during cooking, especially in the beginning. If you don’t allow the water to evaporate off, the cauliflower rice can get mushy. Be sure to cook the cauliflower rice over high enough heat to allow the water to evaporate quickly, so the cauliflower doesn’t become too soft when cooking.
  • Time saving tip: Use frozen cauliflower rice and store-bought pesto (or pesto made in advance). By having the cauliflower riced in advance and the pesto premade, this recipe is very hands off and easy to make.
  • If you cannot find frozen cauliflower rice, you can make it yourself from a fresh cauliflower. The cooking instructions are similar, except you will want to cover the cauliflower during the first 5 minutes of cooking to allow it to steam.
Spoonful of pesto cauliflower rice.

Other additions

This cauliflower rice with pesto is perfect on it’s own, but you could also add in more veggies, spices or even protein to make it a full meal.

  • Frozen peas (add at the last 1-2 minutes of cooking the cauliflower rice)
  • Artichoke hearts (canned or jarred)
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Sundried tomatoes
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Protein: Chicken, shrimp, salmon, tofu, chickpeas, white beans

What to serve with cauliflower rice with pesto

Pesto cauliflower rice is the perfect side dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Use it like you would pasta for a low carb Italian inspired meal.

Eggs

Italian chicken sausage

10 Minute Italian Chicken

Slow Cooker Balsamic Beef or Crockpot Balsamic Chicken

Salmon

Sundried Tomato Shrimp

Italian White Bean Salad

White bowl filled with pesto cauliflower rice with a white napkin on the side.

Common questions

How to make cauliflower rice

You can make cauliflower rice at home using a food processor or a hand grater. The process is pretty simple either way but you will make a bigger mess using a hand grater.

To make cauliflower rice in the food processor

Cut the cauliflower off the stalk in small enough pieces to fit in your food processor (you may have to do this in batches). Pulse the cauliflower until it resembles rice (don’t make it too small). Remove the cauliflower rice from the food processor and repeat as needed until all the florets are processed into rice.

To make cauliflower rice using a hand grater

Use the large side of the hand grater and grate the cauliflower one side at a time all the way down to the stem. Once you are done one side, flip the cauliflower ¼ of the way and continue until all you have left is the thick stem.

Where to buy cauliflower rice

You can buy frozen cauliflower rice in most grocery stores now. I typically get mine at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Costco, or Aldi. Be sure that there are not any added ingredients, just cauliflower. Some stores carry cauliflower rice that is already seasoned, you don’t want that for this recipe.

Does cauliflower rice taste like rice?

Cauliflower rice on its own has a pretty neutral flavor, but does still have an undertone of cauliflower, especially when it’s raw. It does not taste like rice but is an awesome substitute for rice if you are trying to lower your carbs or add more vegetables to your diet. When cooked properly and seasoned with salt, the cauliflower rice is soft, tender, fluffy and a delicious substitute for rice.

My favorite way to enjoy cauliflower rice is by seasoning it with spices or sauces like this pesto cauliflower rice or Mexican cauliflower rice.

How do you make cauliflower rice not soggy?

Cauliflower rice can get soggy if you don’t allow the water in the rice to evaporate or if you steam the rice too long, allowing it to soften too much.

The best way to cook frozen cauliflower rice is over medium to medium high heat. Cook 7-10 minutes and stir regularly. Cook until you notice that most of the water is gone from the pan. Cooking over lower heat will cause it to take longer for the water to evaporate and the cauliflower will steam and get soggy.

The best way to cook fresh cauliflower rice is to cook it over medium heat covered for the first 5 minutes (this helps to steam the cauliflower, so it doesn’t have that raw cauliflower flavor), then remove the cover and cook 2-5 more minutes ensuring the cauliflower is tender and well cooked.

Bowl filled with pesto cauliflower rice.

Is cauliflower rice good for you?

Cauliflower rice is a great way to get more vegetables in your diet and a great way to fill up your plate on a lower carb diet. It’s made from cauliflower, so for most people it’s good for you. Some people have trouble digesting cauliflower, especially in larger portions.

Cauliflower is full of vitamin C, vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. It’s a great source of dietary fiber and is low in calories and fat.

Like everything, it depends on your body and personal preferences to say if cauliflower rice is good for you or not, but for many people, it’s a great way to get in more vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

What is the best vegan pesto recipe?

Making homemade pesto at home is pretty simple, all you need is a food processor and a few minutes of time. Pesto is typically made with basil, olive oil, lemon juice, nuts (usually pine nuts), garlic, salt and cheese. This means that most pesto recipes are not dairy free or vegan friendly.  

You can increase the vegetables in pesto by adding things like spinach, arugula, peas, kale or even broccoli. You can also make pesto nut free by using pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds or make it more budget friendly by using walnuts or almonds in place of the pine nuts.

Some of my favorite vegan pesto recipes are:

Where to buy vegan pesto?

Pesto can be found in almost any grocery store, but most of these store-bought brands will contain cheese, so they are not vegan.

You can find a wonderful and budget friendly vegan pesto at Trader Joe’s (Cashew Arugula Pesto) in the refrigerated section by the other sauces and hummus.

At Whole Foods, you can find Gotham Greens Vegan Pesto (in the refrigerated section by the deli meats and cheese board spread items) or Seggiano Brand pesto (in the pasta aisle).

There are a few other vegan pestos that I have only been able to find online including ROI, Amore Pesto Paste and Compagnia Sanremo brands. Unfortunately, most store-bought vegan pesto is on the more expensive side. Making pesto at home may be best if you are on a tight budget.

Storing leftovers

Fridge: Store leftover pesto cauliflower rice in the fridge for up to 4 days in an airtight container. You can reheat it in the microwave or on the stove over low heat. Also, you can enjoy leftover cauliflower rice cold or at room temperature.

Freezer: You can freeze leftover cauliflower rice with pesto for up to 3 months in a freezer safe container. The cauliflower rice may be a bit soggy when defrosting, so it’s best to reheat it in a skillet after it’s defrosted to remove excess water.

Bowl filled with pesto cauliflower rice.

Substitutions

  • Onion: You can use shallots or even red onion in place of the yellow/white onions. If you don’t have those or cannot tolerate onions, simply omit them.
  • Cauliflower rice: You can substitute broccoli rice (pulse up broccoli stems in the food processor until it resembles rice) or regular rice or even quinoa in place of the cauliflower. You will need about 2-3 cups of rice (from 1 cup dry rice) to substitute the cauliflower rice.
  • Garlic powder: You can use onion powder in place of garlic powder if you don’t have any on hand. You could also use fresh garlic 1-2 cloves finely chopped, added to the onions during the last minute they are cooking.
  • Pesto: Use your favorite pesto recipe or you could even use roasted red pepper sauce or sundried tomato pesto in place of the pesto.
  • Tomatoes: Tomatoes add a bit of color to the dish. You could also use roasted red peppers for the same effect. If you don’t have either of those on hand, you can just omit the tomatoes, the dish will still be delicious. You could also add any of the additions mentioned above in place of the tomatoes.

If you love cauliflower rice, be sure to try these other recipes

Italian Cauliflower Rice

Cilantro Lime Cauliflower Rice

Mexican Cauliflower Rice

Dirty Cauliflower Rice (Cajun flavor)

Green Cauliflower Rice (Chimichurri flavor)

Cauliflower Rice Stuffing

Cauliflower Lentil Tacos

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  • 1 medium onion (white or yellow is best)
  • 2 bags frozen cauliflower rice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 3/4 cup pesto
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
  • Preheat a large skillet over medium heat.

  • While the skillet is preheating, chop the onion.

  • Spray the skillet with olive oil or avocado oil then add the onion. Cook 2-3 minutes.

  • Break up any clumps of frozen cauliflower rice then add it to the bag. Turn the heat up to medium high and cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  • Chop the tomatoes and make the pesto if needed.

  • Once most of the liquid has been cooked off the cauliflower rice, turn off the heat and add the pesto and tomatoes. Stir well and serve hot or at room temperature.

Top tips

  • Be sure to take the time to break up the frozen cauliflower rice in the bag before adding it to the pan. Try to avoid adding large clumps of frozen cauliflower rice, as it can take longer to break down and cook through.
  • When cooking frozen cauliflower rice, it will let off a good amount of water during cooking, especially in the beginning. If you don’t allow the water to evaporate off, the cauliflower rice can get mushy. Be sure to cook the cauliflower rice over high enough heat to allow the water to evaporate quickly, so the cauliflower doesn’t become too soft when cooking.
  • Time saving tip: Use frozen cauliflower rice and store-bought pesto (or pesto made in advance). By having the cauliflower riced in advance and the pesto premade, this recipe is very hands off and easy to make.
  • If you cannot find frozen cauliflower rice, you can make it yourself from a fresh cauliflower. The cooking instructions are similar, except you will want to cover the cauliflower during the first 5 minutes of cooking to allow it to steam.

Storing leftovers

  • Fridge: Store leftover pesto cauliflower rice in the fridge for up to 4 days in an airtight container. You can reheat it in the microwave or on the stove over low heat. It can also be eaten cold or at room temperature.
  • Freezer: You can freeze leftover cauliflower rice with pesto for up to 3 months in a freezer safe bag or container. The cauliflower rice may be a bit soggy when defrosting, you can heat it up in a skillet to help cook off some of the excess moisture when defrosted.

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Nutrition Information

Nutrition Facts

Amount per Serving

Where does nutrition info come from? Nutrition facts are provided as a courtesy, sourced from the USDA Food Database.

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