Growing up in New York (Long Island, specifically) we ate pizza multiple times every week. With a pizzeria practically on every corner, we were spoiled with some of the best homemade Italian dishes outside of Italy. Obviously the pizza was stellar, but something that I would always enjoy were the Arancini.
Classic Arancini, or rice balls, are these delicious balls of rice, meat sauce, and cheese, which are breaded and deep-fried. The crispy exterior and soft, gooey interior is absolutely unreal.
When you get authentic Arancini, it’s unlike anything else. Unfortunately, these things are loaded with calories. Between the rice, cheese, and meat, and the method of deep-frying, it’s easy to see how the calories can add up.
My friends, don’t you worry. I made my own version using cauliflower rice and chicken sausage, and I swear to you, these are VERY similar to the real deal. And the best part? These are air fried, so there is no need for any oil!
Plus, these don’t require any hard-to-find ingredients. You may even have everything you need already!
I know, I know… cauliflower rice is not the same as regular rice. Trust me, I fully understand that there is no substitute, I absolutely love rice. But take my word for it: you can barely tell the difference in this recipe! Want to use rice instead? By all means, go for it. Just know that it’ll add extra calories and carbs!
One more note before I dive into some of the instructions: this is based off another recipe I found a long time ago, but unfortunately I don’t remember the source. I had taken down some notes to make these, and changed them up to make them my own, so I’ve since lost the original source. I’ll update this with a link if I come across it!
You can take some creative liberties with this one, but here are a few notes on what ingredients I went with.
I used to use Trader Joe’s lite mozzarella, but it was discontinued and I have no idea when it’s coming back! I’ve yet to find a light cheese that melts as well, so my latest strategy is mixing cheeses. Trader Joe’s has an “almond style” mozzarella cheese, which is lighter than regular mozzarella, but doesn’t melt nearly as well. For this recipe, I used one serving of that to save some calories and fat, and one version of regular shredded mozzarella to ensure it would all melt well and create the sticky consistency we’re after. You can use any type of mozzarella you’d like, but I don’t think using a totally fat free version will give you the same results, because you need it to melt well.
For the chicken sausage, I used a sweet Italian sausage I found at Trader Joe’s as well. Each link is only 100 calories and 11g of protein, and they’re fully cooked, so it was a great addition to this recipe. You can use any brand you want here, or opt for regular sausage, ground beef, bacon, whatever you’d like. The meat can be left out all together if preferred, but I would add in a veggie or something else to act as a filler instead. As long as whatever you use is diced up small, it should work out just fine.
These are insanely easy to make- everything goes into a pan, you stir it occasionally, and you’re ready to rock!
I used fully frozen cauliflower rice, no thawing at all, and cooked everything together. All of the flavors will blend together and cook down, and after less than 10 minutes and a little bit of stirring, you’ll be on your way.
Assembling these rice balls is a very simple process. Whisk an egg in one bowl, add breadcrumbs to another, and move on down the line:
You’ll be able to roll the rice mixture in your hands without it sticking- then you roll it around in the egg, coat it in breadcrumbs, and add it to the air fryer! Easy as that.
Measuring Out Each Ball
I don’t worry too much about each serving being the same exact size, but you can certainly weigh your entire mixture and then divide by 6 to figure out exactly how large to make each ball.
For me, I just took a large tablespoon (not a measuring spoon, just one I normally eat with) and put two scoops in my palm, then rolled that into a ball. As you can see, they ended up all being pretty much the same size:
The air fryer is my preferred method, because it helps to give you that crispy exterior we want! You can cook these in the oven instead- I don’t know the exact time it would take, but in most cases it will be double the amount of time, at least. The air fryer instructions call for 400 degrees F for 8-10 minutes, so I would increase the oven temp slightly to 425 and aim for around 20 minutes. Just keep an eye on them!
If you do use the air fryer, I highly recommend the parchment paper sheets I used! I recently came across them and it has made my air frying soooo much easier without having to worry about sticking. You can find them on Amazon for cheap.
That should do it! Let’s jump into the recipe.
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Cauliflower Rice Balls
Macros for each rice ball (recipe makes 6)
- Heat a large stovetop pan over medium heat.
- Once hot, add your frozen cauliflower (or fresh) directly to the pan- no need to spray. Dice up your chicken sausage and add that to your pan, along with 2 tablespoons tomato sauce, 1/4 salt and garlic powder, and a few dashes of basil (or diced up fresh basil if you have it). Chicken sausage is usually precooked, but if not, you’ll want to cook it before adding it in.
- Mix everything together well, then let this cook down for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want the cauliflower to be softened and fully cooked.
- Remove from heat and add your mozzarella cheese and teaspoon of parmesan cheese, then mix everything together until the mozzarella is fully melted and the mixture is sticky. Let this cool down for a couple minutes.
- While that cools, whisk an egg in one bowl, and add bread crumbs to another. You’ll only end up using 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs, but I add a little extra to the bowl to make it easier to coat. You will likely only use about half the egg as well, so don’t be surprised if you’re left with some.
- Add a sheet of the parchment paper to your air fryer, or use cooking spray if you don’t have any of those.
- Using a spoon, add two scoops of the rice mixture to your palm and roll it up into a ball. It should roll without much issue and won’t stick to your hands, but you can use some cooking spray on your hands if it does. Lightly roll the ball in the egg, coat with breadcrumbs, and then add to the air fryer.
- Repeat for all 6, leaving room in between them, then air fry for 8 minutes, carefully flipping them after 4 minutes. If you want extra crisp, you can cook them for an extra minute or two.
- Remove from the air fryer, serve with some additional sauce, and top with basil and grated parmesan cheese. Enjoy!