This Cauliflower Mac and Cheese is your ticket to comfort food with a healthy twist! It’s made with tender cauliflower florets instead of pasta for a rich, cheesy, and satisfying dish without the carbs. Pair it with a refreshing side salad for a wholesome and veggie-packed meal.
Why you’ll love this recipe
- 10 ingredients: This recipe is made with just 10 ingredients (plus salt)! It’s unbelievably easy to whip together when you’re in the mood for something comforting.
- Crispy topping: The addition of panko creates a crispy crunch on top that perfectly contrasts the soft, cheesy cauliflower underneath.
- Crowd-pleasing: No one will miss the “mac” in this cauliflower mac and cheese! With its gourmet feel, it’s sure to be a hit at any dinner party or family gathering.
Comforting cauliflower mac and cheese
Very few things are more comforting than a big bowl of mac and cheese. The mixture of creamy, cheesy sauce and pasta is something I could eat every single day.
The only issue is how much a classic mac and cheese weighs you down! Enter cauliflower mac and cheese. This recipe is the best of both worlds. It’s creamy and cheesy yet low in carbs thanks to cauliflower floret “pasta.”
This recipe is made with just 10 easy-to-find ingredients and is a breeze to put together. Once you try a bite, you’ll be making it for lunch, dinner, and maybe even breakfast!
Ingredients & substitutions
- Cauliflower: Offers a lighter, more nutritious base than pasta. Fresh cauliflower works best here, but you can use thawed and drained frozen cauliflower in a pinch. You can also try broccoli as an alternative.
- Unsalted butter: Adds richness to the sauce. You can also use ghee or olive oil.
- All-purpose flour: Combined with butter, flour forms the roux that will thicken the sauce.
- Whole milk: Creates a creamy base for the sauce. I prefer whole milk, but you can also use half-and-half or heavy cream for a more indulgent taste and texture.
- Seasonings: I like to use a blend of garlic powder, smoked paprika, nutmeg, and salt to add savory, smoky, and rich flavors. Feel free to adjust the quantities or try other spices like onion powder, oregano, basil, cayenne pepper, or chili powder.
- Cheddar: Gives a sharp, tangy profile. Feel free to experiment with other cheeses like white cheddar, Gouda, gruyere, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, or pepper jack for varied flavors.
- Panko: Adds a crunchy topping that complements the gooey cauliflower mac and cheese underneath. For a keto-friendly option, use crushed pork rinds. Or, use gluten-free breadcrumbs or crushed tortilla chips as a gluten-free alternative.
- Chives: Provide a mild, oniony flavor and a pop of color on top. Green onions will also work well as a garnish.
How to make cauliflower mac and cheese
- Prep the cauliflower: Put your cauliflower in a bowl, add water, and cook it for 8 minutes with a plate on top. Once the florets are tender, drain the water.
- Sauce foundation: Melt the butter, then stir in the flour and cook for a few minutes to remove the raw taste of flour. Slowly mix in the milk, whisking constantly, until the sauce is smooth.
- Add the cheese: Remove the sauce from the heat, then mix in the seasonings and cheese until the shreds are completely melted and incorporated.
- Combine & bake: Add the cauliflower to the cheese sauce, then transfer everything to a baking dish and sprinkle cheese and panko on top. Bake until the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown. Switch to broil for a couple of extra minutes to brown the top.
- Garnish: Finish your cauliflower mac and cheese off with some chives, and enjoy!
This cauliflower mac and cheese makes a comforting meal on its own, but I love to serve mine with a few sides for a complete spread. Here are some ideas for you:
- Salad: Try pairing this dish with a green salad, chopped Greek salad, raw carrot salad, or even something filling like a Southwest chicken salad.
- Bread: Add some Spanish tomato bread, garlic bread, or pizza dough focaccia bread to the side of your cauliflower mac and cheese.
Frequently asked questions
Although you can use frozen cauliflower, it’s best to opt for fresh cauliflower. The texture is much better this way. If you are going to use frozen, just make sure to thaw and drain any excess liquid before combining it with the cheese sauce.
If your sauce is a little grainy, it’s likely because you used pre-shredded cheese. For the best consistency, it’s essential to always shred your own!
Absolutely! To make this cauliflower mac and cheese vegan, use vegan cheese and soy or almond milk. You can swap the butter for olive oil or use a vegan butter alternative.
Storage & reheating
If you have cauliflower mac and cheese leftovers, follow these simple storage tips:
- Fridge: Once cooled, store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4-5 days.
- Freezer: Since the cauliflower will become quite watery and mushy once it’s thawed, I don’t recommend freezing this recipe if you can help it.
- Reheating: Cauliflower mac and cheese is best reheated in the oven for a crispy texture. Heat it at 350F for about 10 minutes until warm.
- Prep ahead: You can make the cheese sauce a day or two in advance and keep it in the fridge. Heat it up on the stove when you’re ready to continue with the recipe.
- Protein: Add crispy bacon bits, sausage, or pancetta for a protein boost.
- Spicy kick: Mix in jalapeños or chili flakes for an extra spicy element.
- Truffle: For a more gourmet flavor, drizzle on a little truffle oil before serving.
- Mushrooms: Sautéed mushrooms can elevate the dish and add an earthy component.
- Seafood: Add shrimp or crab meat for a seafood cauliflower mac and cheese.
- Fresh is best: Always use fresh cauliflower whenever possible for the best results.
- Shred your own cheese: Avoid pre-shredded cheese for a smoother, creamier sauce.
- Sauce consistency: Ensure your sauce is smooth before adding the cauliflower.
- Topping: For that extra touch of crispiness, don’t skip broiling at the end of baking.
Looking for more low-carb recipes?
If you enjoyed this cauliflower mac and cheese, take a look at some more of my favorite low-carb recipes like these:
- Pan-Fried Salmon
- Low-Carb Keto Grilled Sirloin Steak Kababs
- Keto Baked Asian Meatballs
- Caprese Chicken Bake
If you try this Cauliflower Mac and Cheese, let me know what you think! Rate and review in the comments below. Share your culinary creation on Instagram with @lenaskitchenblog!
Creamy Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
- 8 cups cauliflower chopped into 1-inch florets (about 1 large head)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 ½ cups cheddar cheese shredded (divided)
- ¼ cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons chives or green onions finely chopped for topping
- Preheat the oven to 375 F degrees.
- Add cauliflower to a microwave-safe bowl, add an inch of water, and top with a plate. Microwave on high for 8 minutes. Drain and set the cauliflower aside.
- In a large sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for about 2 minutes. This helps to cook out the raw taste of flour.
- Turn the heat to medium-low. Slowly whisk in the milk, a little at a time, until completely incorporated and cook the mixture until it’s thick and smooth.
- Remove from heat, salt, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and nutmeg. Mix well to combine, then add 2 cups of shredded cheese (*see notes: shred the cheese yourself) until melted and completely incorporated and smooth.
- Add in cauliflower. Mix to combine. Transfer to a baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of cheese and Panko breadcrumbs.
- Bake for 25 minutes uncovered, or until cheese is bubbly and begins to brown. Switch to broil for an extra 2-3 minutes to brown the top.
- Remove from oven and sprinkle with chopped chives. Dish will be hot! Allow to cool slightly before serving. Serve with a side salad and enjoy.