Cauliflower at Thanksgiving

Do you want something new for your Thanksgiving or everyday table? Try this quick and easy recipe with local cauliflower that's now available. 

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Photos by  Zachary Cross

Photos by Zachary Cross

I love cauliflower and look forward to the season beginning each fall. Cauliflower is a bit more temperamental than other brassicas like broccoli and cabbage that can have a longer season. It’s worth the wait! It will depend on weather, of course, but the farmers I talked to have theirs planted under cover and harvest should be staggered all winter.

I like cauliflower cooked and served straight up with a little butter and salt. I’ve enjoyed, too, though, all the new cauliflower recipes that have popped up with paleo-style eating where some people avoid certain starches. Cauliflower has proved a good substitute for white potatoes, rice, and some kinds of breads.

While I won’t tell you that cauliflower rice and pizza crust are just like the original, they are both yummy and a nice change of pace. Also, you’ve automatically eaten a serving of veggies! Mashed cauliflower, however, will almost sneak by as mashed potatoes.

I’m not interested in replacing mashed potatoes, but this is a tasty and even easier recipe. No peeling potatoes; the cooking time is a bit shorter; and you can whiz them with an immersion blender. Bonus: cauliflower does not get gummy with over blending, it just gets smoother and creamier.

This is another recipe that I do not measure precisely but I’ve gotten it down to some basic guidelines. It’s about: 1 pound cauli, 3 cloves of garlic, 3 Tbsp of butter, and salt to taste. That makes about four servings as a side dish so adjust as necessary.

Use your your whole cauliflower, trimming any hard spots (usually the stem end), large leaves, or black spots smaller than little dots. That beautiful cauliflower in the blue bowl above? It’s not as pretty on first sight. But it’s fine underneath. Watch for places where those little spots get bigger and cut them out. While cauliflower leaves are edible I find the largest ones to be tough and cut those off. It’s a similar situation for stems. They will usually soften up fine without peeling (cut them up a bit), but the ends get tough.


The garlic adds flavor and is surprisingly mild. Garlics differ in strength, though, so if you have an especially mild or pungent garlic, adjust as desired. The garlic adds a bit of a root vegetable, and I think that contributes to the taste and texture as well.

A big difference I’ve found between potatoes and cauliflower is that potatoes will soak up butter all day and just get yummier while cauliflower gets runny if too much is added. For best texture start low and add rather than try to subtract. I’ve found three tablespoons to be a consistently good amount for a pound of cauliflower.

Prep your cauliflower, break apart the florets, cut up the stems and steam or boil with the garlic. This takes as little as ten minutes, but you do want it to be tender, so give it longer if necessary. I’ve always boiled the cauli and garlic in a bit of water together, then drained. Steaming is another option I’ve seen online, as well as sautéing the garlic separately. I think boiling mellows the flavor better, but it is also draining away some of the nutrients.

And you do want to drain it well! That’s the key to good texture. Drain well (and don’t make the mistake we once did and set it aside in the cooking water to drain later. Whoops, lesson learned!), add cut up butter, sprinkle some salt, and blend with a hand blender. If you prefer chunky textures use a potato masher. Or try your favorite way of mashing potatoes. I found a mixer to be a bit difficult to use with it but it worked.

Taste and add butter and/or salt as needed. Garnish with pepper, chives, and whatever you think looks pretty. Serve in the same style of bowl as your mashed potatoes and see who can tell the difference by looking! Or tasting, for that matter.


Mashed Cauliflower

Serves 4

1 pound of cauliflower (1 med-large head)
3 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons butter
Salt to taste
Garnishes as desired, e.g. pepper, chives, parsley

  1. Prep your cauliflower by trimming off large leaves (small tender ones are fine), cutting out any bad spots (tiny dots are fine), and cutting any hard ends. Break apart florets and cut up stems.
  2. Add to a pot with garlic and steam, or boil with a little water, until tender, 10 minutes or as needed.
  3. Drain well. Add butter, cut up, and sprinkle with salt. Blend with an immersion blender or mash with a potato masher to desired texture.
  4. Taste and season as needed. Add more butter as needed, or cream or sour cream. Sprinkle with garnish of choice.

Printable recipe here

Heather Cross