Creamy, cheesy, satisfying, and packed with tender cauliflower florets; this cauliflower mac and cheese is a winter dinner favorite when you feel like a warming and comforting meal.
This one’s an easy recipe that takes about 40 minutes to make, it’s excellent for meal prep, and you can have it as a main or a side.
Check out our best vegetable sides recipe collection!
Table of Contents
Don’t get us wrong; we love eating carbs and pasta; however, we think this cauliflower mac and cheese is an excellent alternative to the classic one with macaroni because it’s lighter, packed with veggies, and, most importantly, super tasty!
It still definitely falls into comfort food despite being low-carb, thanks to the super creamy cheese sauce. It will satisfy your wildest cravings.
Also, the recipe is straightforward to make in 3 steps:
- Boil the cauliflower in lightly salted water;
- Make the cheese sauce with butter, milk, flour, and cheese (dairy-free butter, milk, and cheese works well too);
- Drizzle the sauce on the cauliflower and bake in the oven for just over 10 minutes till the cheese gets all melty and golden brown.
Even the pickiest of eaters are going to love this recipe. It’s a wonderful way to add more veggies to your diet.
You can make this recipe with fresh cauliflower or with frozen cauliflower florets.
However, we did test this with both, and the fresh cauliflower keeps a more al dente texture and absorbs less water.
Overall, fresh cauliflower produces better cauliflower mac and cheese.
Butter + flour + milk
Butter, flour, and milk make a quick creamy base sauce to melt the cheese in and coat the cauliflower.
You can easily use vegan butter and plant-based milk to make the recipe vegan. We used unsweetened soy milk.
To make the recipe gluten-free, substitute cornstarch (always read the label to ensure it’s 100% gluten-free) for the flour.
We are looking for the best combination of meltability and flavor for mac and cheese.
The challenge is that cheese that melts well (younger cheese with more water content) usually has a mild taste, and cheese with a strong flavor (more mature with less water content) doesn’t melt well.
Traditionally, cheddar cheese (or sharp cheddar cheese) is used for mac and cheese because it perfectly balances meltability and flavor.
And to be honest, it works wonderfully in this recipe too. Cheddar melts wonderfully, it’s a little sharp but not overly so, and you can get a block and easily grate it yourself.
Also, cheddar will give you a flavor and color closest to the original mac and cheese you grew up with.
Having said that, if you want to try something different, or if you want to make a vegan cauliflower mac and cheese, there are many alternatives to cheddar cheese.
You can use a mix of fontina (or gruyere) and parmesan for an incredible, refined, yet crazy cheesy and comforting flavor with sharp notes and off-the-charts umami.
Make sure you melt them in the white sauce with the heat off for the best results.
Or you can mix shredded Colby and grated Pecorino Romano. The Colby melts wonderfully, giving that creamy orange finish; the Pecorino adds the tang and herby, slightly spicy flavor.
Other cheeses that melt well are Monterey Jack, American, cream cheese, and gouda, but their taste isn’t the richest, so I would pair them with a more mature and flavorful cheese like Parmesan, Pecorino, or Cheddar.
Tips for melting
When it comes to melting the cheese, remember that pre-grated cheese won’t melt as well as a block of cheese that you grate yourself at home.
This is because the pre-grated stuff is mixed with stabilizers and additives that won’t allow the cheese to melt completely.
We tried this and struggled to get a velvety smooth cheese sauce.
To fix that, pour the sauce and the cheese into a blender and go at it for a minute. The result will surprise you.
A perfectly smooth cheese sauce you’ll want to drink out of the blender jug (joking, don’t do that).
I had minimal hopes when I set myself to veganize this recipe because vegan cheese doesn’t melt that well and doesn’t taste like cheese.
However, I was blown away by the result, and I am very excited by the vegan version of this cauliflower mac and cheese (that’s the one you see in the pictures, by the way).
Challenge number 1: vegan cheese doesn’t taste much, so you’ve got to add something else to boost flavor.
Our recommendation is to double the salt, add 4 tablespoons of nutritional yeast, and double the garlic powder. You’ll get a rich and pleasant cheese flavor this way.
Challenge number 2: most vegan cheese doesn’t melt well. If that’s the case for you, don’t panic.
Transfer the sauce with the partially melted cheese into a blender and go at it for a minute.
You’ll get a wonderfully creamy, cheesy sauce perfect for this cauliflower mac and cheese.
Salt and pepper
We recommend using sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
This one’s optional. If you use good quality cheese, you won’t need it. But if you use cheaper or vegan cheese, I recommend adding some garlic powder.
This is also optional and somewhat less traditional. However, nutmeg is the perfect flavor match with cauliflower, cheese, and creamy dishes, so we recommend it. We wouldn’t make this dish without it.
1. Cook the cauliflower
Cut the cauliflower into florets, then boil it in a large pot with lightly salted water until tender but not mushy.
It should take about 10 -15 minutes, but it depends on the cauliflower, so check with a fork if yours is ready.
When ready, drain it and set it aside. While cauliflower boils, make the sauce.
Alternative: want a more crunchy, smokey cauliflower mac n cheese with a tender-crisp texture?
Roast the cauliflower florets in the oven, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and seasoned with olive oil and salt, for 30 minutes at 400°F or 200°F.
Oven-baked cauliflower works well in this recipe and keeps a nice crunch and flavor.
2. Make the cheese sauce
In a saucepan, melt the butter, add the flour, and whisk on low heat for about 1 minute.
You should see the mixture bubble and turn golden brown.
Pour in the milk while whisking, then set the heat to medium and stir for a few minutes until the sauce thickens.
Tip: to speed things up, you could warm the milk in the microwave before adding it to the saucepan.
When the sauce has thickened but is still very much pourable, turn the heat off.
Add salt, black pepper, grated nutmeg, and shredded or grated cheese.
Stir until the cheese melts fully, and you get a silky smooth cheese sauce.
Tip: If your cheese clumps up and doesn’t blend fully, you can blend the sauce with an immersion blender or transfer it into a regular blender and go at it for a minute till it’s velvety smooth.
3. Bake the dish
Transfer the boiled or roasted cauliflower to a baking dish or casserole dish. We use an 11×8-Inch one.
Pour the cheese sauce on top, moving the cauliflower around the dish so that the cheese sauce gets into all nooks and crannies.
Cover with a layer of shredded or grated cheese if you like that golden brown thin cheese crust on top.
Bake in a preheated oven at 350°F or 180°C for 10 minutes.
Then set the oven to broiler function and broil until the cheese on top melts and makes that irresistible golden brown cheese crust.
Serve this cauliflower mac and cheese with a protein–rich main, for example:
- Lemon “chicken” tofu (tofu, lemon, corn starch, garlic, rosemary, flour).
- Lentil wellington (mushroom, carrot, celery, lentils, walnuts, tomato paste).
- Vegetarian meatballs in tomato sauce (tofu, olives, walnuts, cornstarch, oregano).
- Mushroom tofu cutlets (button mushrooms, tofu, porcini, white wine, garlic).
- Fried tofu in a crispy leafy salad (tofu, cornstarch, garlic powder, paprika, chili).
Or make this your centerpiece by serving it with colorful vegetable sides:
- Shaved Brussels sprout salad (Brussels sprouts, walnuts, dried cranberries, maple syrup).
- Red cabbage slaw (red cabbage, carrots, green apple, walnuts, mustard, maple syrup).
- Fennel and orange salad (fennel, black olives, orange wedges, pine nuts, olive oil).
- Chickpea salad (chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, corn, black olives, cucumber, mustard).
- Tomato salad (heirloom tomatoes, basil, red onion, balsamic vinegar, olive oil).
- Green bean salad (green beans, tomatoes, shallots, mustard, olive oil, dairy-free feta).
Make Ahead & Storage
Make ahead: cauliflower mac n cheese is a good recipe for meal prep because it keeps well in the fridge for a few days, and you can even freeze it.
Also, if you have people over, you can assemble the dish up to a day in advance and keep it in the fridge wrapped in plastic. Then, bake it a bit longer if it comes from the refrigerator.
Refrigerator: keep leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Freezer: let it cool down completely, transfer it to a freezer-friendly container, and freeze it for up to 3 months.
Thaw: defrost over several hours in the fridge.
Reheat: reheat in a preheated oven at 400°F or 200°C for 10 -15 minutes or in the microwave for 2 minutes.
More cauliflower recipes
If you’re curious about cooking with broccoli, get easy and wholesome inspiration from these cauliflower dinner ideas:
- Creamy cauliflower soup (cauliflower, nutmeg, garlic, onion, thyme, potato).
- 10-minute cauliflower rice (grated cauliflower, parsley, salt, pepper).
- Cauliflower curry (cauliflower, coconut milk, ginger, garlic, curry, turmeric, chickpeas).
- Lighter cauliflower alfredo sauce (cauliflower, milk, dairy-free ricotta, parsley).
- Cauliflower lentil salad (canned lentils, cauliflower, cumin, parsley, maple syrup, mustard).
More vegetable side ideas
- Roasted zucchini (zucchini, breadcrumbs, parmesan or dairy-free, garlic, rosemary).
- Air fryer asparagus (asparagus, olive oil, lemon, garlic, fresh parsley).
- Easy roasted fennel (fennel, olive oil, pepper, salt, parmesan, or dairy-free cheese).
- Eggplant pizza (eggplant discs, marinara sauce, garlic, oregano, cheese, or dairy-free).
- Cauliflower mashed potatoes (cauliflower, potato, milk, nutmeg, dairy-free parmesan).
For many more side dish ideas, check out our sides category page.
Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
- 3 pounds cauliflower about 2 medium heads
- 4 tablespoons butter sub dairy-free butter
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk sub dairy-free milk
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder optional
- ⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg optional
- 8 ounces (2 cups) shredded cheddar sub shredded dairy-free cheese + 4 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- ½ cup grated parmesan sub dairy-free cheese
COOK THE CAULIFLOWER
- You can either boil the cauliflower or roast it in the oven. Pick your favorite cooking method.Boiled: Cut the cauliflower into florets, then boil it in a large pot with lightly salted water until fork-tender (about 10 – 15 minutes). Drain it and set aside.
- Roasted: preheat oven to 400°F or 200°C. Arrange florets on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, season with olive oil and salt, and bake for 30 minutes, or until slightly charred and fork tender.
MAKE THE CHEESE SAUCE
- In a saucepan, melt the butter, then add the flour and whisk for 1 minute or until it starts to bubble.
- Add the milk and stir on medium heat until the sauce thickens.
- Turn the heat off, then add salt, black pepper, grated nutmeg, and shredded cheese.
- Stir until the cheese is fully melted in the sauce. Taste sauce and adjust.Tip: if you can't get the cheese to melt fully, you can blend the sauce with an immersion blender, or in a regular blender.
BAKE THE DISH
- Preheat the oven to 350°F or 180°C. Transfer cauliflower florets onto a baking dish (11×8-Inch or 28x20cm).
- Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower, and move the florets around so that the sauce goes into all nooks and crannies.
- Sprinkle the grated parmesan on top.
- Bake at 350°F or 180°C for 10 minutes, then set the oven to broiler function and gratin for 5 more minutes, or until the cheese on top melts and turns golden brown.
- Serve as a main dish or as a side.
If you liked this cauliflower mac and cheese recipe, you might also enjoy the following: