Comfort food that’s healthy too? This time, you CAN have it all with Cauliflower Mac and Cheese! The recipe replaces the macaroni with tender cauliflower florets for a lightened up remake of everyone’s favorite cheesy pasta.
Why You’ll Love This Baked Cauliflower Mac and Cheese Recipe
- Bold Statement: Cauliflower Beats Noodles. Let’s be honest, the elbow noodles in traditional mac and cheese mainly serve as a vehicle for delivering cheesy goodness. Cauliflower brings some of its own flavor to the table, and all those nooks and crooks make it even better for holding cheese sauce. (Case in point? My Instant Pot Cauliflower Mac!)
- It’s Extra Creamy. The addition of Greek yogurt to the cheese sauce gives it a richer, creamier texture, along with a little bit of tang that complements the flavor of sharp cheddar. Having tested a number of different options, I prefer yogurt to cream cheese or heavy cream.
- Cauliflower Makes It Healthier. Pasta isn’t exactly a nutritional powerhouse, but cauliflower is a great source of fiber and lower in carbs than elbow noodles. Win! For those who need a low-carb or keto diet, this cauliflower mac and cheese is a great option. Be sure to check out this Cauliflower Casserole too.
- The Flavor Will Wow You. Many mac and cheese recipes are kind of one note, but this cauliflower mac and cheese has some depth to it thanks to the Greek yogurt, sharp cheddar, umami Parmesan, and a toasty whole wheat panko breadcrumb topping.
How to Make Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
For the Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
- Cauliflower Florets. You can cut them from two small heads of cauliflower, or save yourself some prep time and buy the ones that come in a bag.
- Unsalted Butter. Even though this isn’t a traditional cheese sauce, it starts the traditional way: with a roux. That means beginning with butter!
- All-Purpose Flour. The next component of our roux. Flour thickens the sauce.
- Whole Milk. Whole milk is best, but you can use 2% if that’s what you have on hand, or substitute half-and-half for a richer sauce.
- Dijon Mustard. Mustard gives the cheese sauce a little bit of pep and its acidity balances the richness of the dish. Even if you’re not a mustard fan, it’s a must in this cauliflower mac and cheese recipe.
- Kosher Salt. Kosher salt is always my choice for cooking.
- Black Pepper. Just enough to enhance the flavor, without distracting from it.
- Garlic Powder. There’s a time and a place for fresh garlic, and it’s not in mac and cheese! Garlic powder is garlicky without the pungency of fresh cloves.
- Cayenne Pepper. Use less if you’re cooking for kids (and those who are heat averse) and more if you’re in the mood to spice things up.
- Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese. Buy a block and shred it yourself. This is critical!
- Full-Fat Greek Yogurt. Our secret weapon for a luxuriously creamy cheese sauce.
For the Topping
- Unsalted Butter. For some buttery flavor in the topping.
- Whole-Wheat Panko Breadcrumbs. Use regular panko if you can’t find whole wheat, or leave it out for a low carb option—it adds a nice crispy-crunch, but it’s not absolutely necessary in this recipe.
- Grated Parmesan Cheese. Parm isn’t a good melter, but it has a lot of great flavor—that’s why we use it as a topping!
- Pre-Cook the Cauliflower. Steam the cauliflower in the microwave until it’s al dente, then drain and pat it dry.
- Make the Roux. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or saucepan, then whisk in the flour. Once the flour is golden brown, slowly whisk in the milk and continue to cook until the sauce thickens.
- Season. Lower the heat and whisk in all of the seasonings.
- Add the Cheese. Stir in the cheese a small handful at a time.
- Stir in the Yogurt. Remove the pot from the heat and add the Greek yogurt.
- Fold in the Cauliflower. Gently stir in the cauliflower, then transfer the mixture to a greased baking dish.
- Make the Topping. Melt the butter in a small saucepan or bowl, then stir in the panko and Parm. Sprinkle this mixture over the cauliflower mac and cheese.
- Bake. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake until the cauliflower is fork tender and the sauce is bubbling up along the edges. Broil if desired, then rest 5 minutes before serving. ENJOY!
- Tex-Mex Cauliflower Mac and Cheese. Use pepper jack cheese instead of cheddar and replace the panko topping with crumbled tortilla chips. Serve with pico de gallo and sliced green onions.
- French Onion Cauliflower Mac and Cheese. Swap the cheddar for gruyere and fold caramelized onions into the cauliflower mixture before adding it to the baking dish. Sprinkle some fresh parsley or thyme on top when serving.
- Smoky Cauliflower Mac and Cheese. Instead of making the cheese sauce with cheddar, use smoked gouda.
- Loaded Cauliflower Mac and Cheese. Add cooked, crumbled Baked Bacon for some protein and bacon-y flavor and serve your cauli mac with an extra dollop of Greek yogurt and chives or green onions on top.
- Cheesy Cauliflower Rice. Instead of using cauliflower florets, use riced cauliflower. (See my Cauliflower Fried Rice post for how to make cauliflower rice, or use store-bought.) Now that the mac and cheese will be more liquidy with cauli rice.
- To Store. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If you have a lot of leftovers, you can keep them in the casserole dish and tightly cover it with foil.
- To Reheat. Reheat leftovers in a 350 degrees F oven or microwave until warmed through.
- To Freeze. Place leftovers in an airtight, freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating according to the instructions above.
Meal Prep Tip
Prep and steam the cauliflower up to a day in advance to get a head start on the recipe. Simply store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to make the cheese sauce.
What to Serve with Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
- Chicken. Round out your dinner by serving cauliflower mac and cheese alongside Grilled Chicken Breast or kid-friendly Chicken Tenders.
- Pork. Breaded Pork Chops are a fabulous accompaniment to cauli mac, or make meal bowls with Slow Cooker Pulled Pork.
- Beef. If you don’t have room in your oven for another recipe, make Air Fryer Steak on the countertop instead!
- Veggie Sides. Use cauliflower mac and cheese as your main dish and serve it with an easy side like Roasted Asparagus or Air Fryer Green Beans. (Pro-tip: Make extra panko topping and toss it with your vegetable side for some extra flavor and texture. It’s my go-to when I roast a big baking sheet of veggies!)
- Bread. You’re saving all those carbohydrates by eliminating the noodles, so now you have room for Rosemary Olive Oil Bread or Beer Bread with your cauliflower mac and cheese!
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Casserole Dish. A quality casserole dish will last for decades, which is why I like simple, classic white. It will never go out of style!
- Cheese Grater. It’s so important to shred your own cheese for this cauliflower mac and cheese recipe.
- Sharp Chef’s Knife. For cutting off all those cauliflower florets!
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Don’t Use Pre-Shredded Cheese. Yes, store-bought bagged cheese is super convenient, but the white powdery stuff that coats the cheese to keep it from sticking is bad news for your mac and cheese. It’s an anti-caking agent that will keep the cheese from melting smoothly, resulting in a gritty sauce. It’s why I shred my own cheese for Gourmet Mac and Cheese, Instant Pot Mac and Cheese, and Brussels Sprouts Mac and Cheese.
- Steam the Cauliflower First. Roasted Cauliflower is delicious, but its flavor will make the cauliflower the star instead of the cheese sauce. You also can’t add it raw or it won’t cook through. Steaming it first is essential!
- Dry the Cauliflower Too. It will release some liquid into the creamy cheese sauce—just enough to give it the perfect consistency. If there’s too much water clinging to the cauliflower when you add it to the sauce, it will end up thin and bland.
- Use a Large Pot. You’ll need to accommodate not only the cheese sauce, but also 8 cups of cauliflower—and you’ll have to be able to stir it without it spilling over the edges and making a mess on your stovetop!
- Pour the Milk in Slowly. If you dump it all in at once, you’ll end up with lumps of flour in your cheese sauce. Not good! (While we’re on the subject of the sauce, don’t let it come to a boil either. After adding the milk, you’ll need to cook the sauce over low heat.)
- Let It Rest. The sauce will thicken after a quick rest once you pull your cauliflower mac n’ cheese out of the oven.
Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
For the Cauliflower Mac and Cheese:
- 8 cups 1-inch cauliflower florets about 2 small heads or 28 ounces florets
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk 2% also works; use part half-and-half for a richer flavor
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 6 ounces FRESHLY SHREDDED extra sharp cheddar cheese about 1 1/2 cups (Do not use pre-shredded! It won’t melt smoothly.)
- 1/2 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
For the Topping:
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs or regular panko
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Set the Greek yogurt out to come to room temperature. Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 375°F. Generously coat a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray.
- Place the cauliflower in a large microwave-safe bowl and add 1 inch of water. Cover with a damp paper towel and microwave on high power for 4 minutes. Stir, then recover and microwave for 4 minutes more, until the cauliflower is slightly softened but still definitely fairly al dente. Drain into a colander, then spread into a single layer on paper or kitchen towels and pat dry. Let air dry while you make the sauce.
- In a Dutch oven or large, deep stockpot, heat the butter over medium heat.
- As soon as the butter melts, sprinkle the flour over the top and cook, whisking constantly, until flour turns light golden brown and smells lightly nutty, about 1 minute. Gradually pour in the milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring continuously to make sure the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom, until the sauce thickens, 3-5 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to low. Whisk in the mustard, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper.
- Next, stir in the cheddar by small handfuls, adding it gradually and stirring all the while to ensure it melts smoothly. Make sure each addition of cheese melts before adding the next.
- Remove from the heat. Stir in the Greek yogurt.
- Add the cauliflower, stirring gently to combine. The sauce will seem very thick, but will thin out as water is released from the cauliflower when it cooks. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and spread into an even layer.
- Make the topping: In a small bowl, melt the butter. Add the Panko and Parmesan. Stir to combine, then sprinkle evenly over the top of the cauliflower mac.
- Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until hot and bubbly and the cauliflower is just fork tender. If you’d like to crisp the top, turn the oven to broil for a few minutes until golden in spots. Let rest 5 minutes, then serve.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate cauliflower mac and cheese in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
- TO REHEAT: Reheat leftovers in a 350°F oven or microwave until warmed through.
- TO FREEZE: Place leftovers in an airtight, freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating according to the instructions above.
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Frequently Asked Questions
The most likely culprit is that your steamed cauliflower wasn’t dried thoroughly. It’s important to dry it well so it doesn’t water down the cheese sauce. Note that the sauce will also thicken as the mac and cheese cools.
Cauliflower mac and cheese tastes very similar to traditional mac and cheese, but it has a slightly nutty, sweet flavor thanks to the cauliflower.
While you can substitute lightly steamed broccoli for the cauliflower, broccoli has a MUCH more assertive flavor to it and the bright green color means it’s not a good swap visually either. If you want a cheesy broccoli dish, try this Broccoli Bake.