A slimmed down, kicked up twist on mac ‘n cheese
We love mac ‘n cheese. And it loves us back. So if we eat too much, it sticks to our ribs. Like, permanently.
So sometimes we make a healthier, less fattening version by substituting cauliflower for macaroni. The cheese keeps this dish from being truly low cal, of course. But you get the idea.
And this dish tastes great! Spicy green chilies love to snuggle with cheese, and both blend happily with cauliflower.
This dish makes a great side for a weeknight, or even a fancy weekend dinner. Plus, it’s hearty enough to serve as a main – just add salad for a complete meal.
And if you’re looking for a new dish to accompany your Thanksgiving turkey or ham? You just found it.
Recipe: Green Chile Cauliflower ‘n Cheese
You can make this dish with any kind of green chilies (we use a combination of Hatch, Anaheim, and jalapeño peppers). If you have time to roast the peppers first (see Notes for instructions), you’ll get better flavor. But if you’re pressed for time, you can just dice the peppers and use them raw (which is the method we describe in this recipe).
We mix cheddar and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in this dish. But you could use just cheddar alone. Or substitute another cheese, such as Swiss cheese or Monterey Jack.
Prep time for this dish is 15 to 20 minutes. Plus, you’ll need another 25 minutes or so for baking it.
This recipe is sized to fill a baking or gratin dish that holds about 2 quarts. The recipe yields 4 very generous servings when the dish is used as a main course, or 8+ servings if used as a side.
Leftovers keep well for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- 1 small head of cauliflower, or half a large head (about a pound, maybe a bit more — exact quantity not hugely important)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt for seasoning the cauliflower cooking water (see Notes)
- 6 to 8 ounces green chilies (we use a mix of Hatch, Anaheim, and jalapeño; see Notes)
- 8 ounces cheddar cheese, divided
- 3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
- 1 tablespoon butter for greasing the baking dish
- 2 cups milk (whole milk is best, but 2% or even skim will work)
- 2 additional tablespoons butter for making roux
- 2 tablespoons flour
- salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon kosher salt for us; see Notes)
- garnish of jalapeño pepper dice/slices or chopped parsley (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Place a large pot of water on the stovetop and bring it to a boil. While the water is heating, clean and core the cauliflower, then cut it into small flowerets. When the water reaches boiling, add 1 tablespoon of salt to season it. Add the cauliflower and bring the water back to a simmer. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes, until the cauliflower is just tender. Drain the cauliflower, then rinse it with cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.
- Wash the chilies, then cut off their stems. Cut the peppers in half and scoop out the white pith and seeds with a teaspoon. Then cut the peppers into dice (you may want to reserve some jalapeño dice or slices for garnish). Remember, chilies are spicy and can burn your skin, so wear kitchen gloves while doing this step. Set the diced peppers aside.
- Grate the cheddar and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses. Divide the grated cheeses, reserving about 1 ounce of cheddar and 1½ ounces of Parmigiano-Reggiano to use as topping.
- Butter the baking dish (using about 1 tablespoon of butter).
- Heat the milk in a 2-quart saucepan. Use medium heat and be careful not to scorch it. You don’t need to heat the milk to the scalding point (180 degrees F), although you can do so if you like. You just want the milk to be hot enough that it combines well with the roux you’ll prepare in the next step (warming the liquid helps prevent lumps from forming when making a flour-based sauce or gravy).
- Add 2 tablespoons of butter to a 2- or 3-quart saucepan or saucier (the latter is a saucepan with sloping sides, which make it easier to whisk a sauce). Place the pan over medium stovetop heat. When the butter is melted and hot, add the flour and stir it in, using a wire whisk. Continue stirring for the next two minutes (you don’t have to stir nonstop, but keep the mixture moving so it doesn’t overbrown).
- Now begin adding the hot milk to the butter-and-flour mixture. Using a ladle, add 4 to 6 ounces of hot milk while continuously whisking the roux. The milk will be absorbed into the roux almost immediately. Add another ladle or two of hot milk, continuing to stir with the whisk. The mixture will be liquid but fairly thick. Now pour the rest of the hot milk into the roux and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking vigorously (to keep lumps from forming). Continue to whisk every 20 to 30 seconds as the mixture thickens and forms a sauce. Add salt to taste.
- Now add the cheeses to the roux. Use about 7 ounces of cheddar and 1½ ounces of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir to incorporate the cheese. Cook briefly (maybe a minute) until the cheese has melted into the sauce.
- Add the diced chile peppers to the sauce and cook another minute. Then add the cooked cauliflower to the sauce (a 2-quart saucepan will be just large enough; if it isn’t, you can combine the mixture in a bowl). Stir to combine. Then spread the cauliflower mixture into the prepared baking dish and smooth the top. Dust the top with the reserved cheddar and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
- Bake the mixture for about 25 minutes (we usually begin checking for doneness at 20 minutes). The gratin is done when the sauce has thickened and the mixture is bubbling hot. If the top hasn’t browned as much as you’d like, run the baking dish under the broiler for a minute or two to create a nice brown crust.
- Serve and enjoy. We like to garnish each serving with a jalapeño slice or some chopped parsley. Or you could sprinkle some diced jalapeño on top.
- As noted, you can use any kind of green chilies in this dish. We love Hatch chilies, so we used some frozen ones in this dish, along with a couple of fresh Anaheims and jalapeño peppers. Poblano chilies would also work well.
- You can use canned green chilies in this recipe if you wish. Canned chilies are usually available in the Mexican food section of your supermarket. The cans come in various sizes, though 4-ounce containers are very common. We suggest using 8 ounces of canned chilies in this dish.
- Green chilies develop deeper flavor if you roast them (though we don’t bother doing this with jalapeño peppers). To roast, just heat the chilies under the broiler or over a gas flame until the chile skins begin to blister and turn black. Turn the chilies and repeat until all sides are blistered. Then place the roasted chilies in a bowl and cover with a damp towel. Allow the chilies to steam for about 15 minutes. Then rub the skins off the chilies (wearing kitchen gloves). Cut the stem ends off the chilies, remove the seeds, and cut away the white pith. Then cut the chilies into dice.
- Cheddar cheese adds great depth of flavor to this dish. And Parmigiano-Reggiano adds sharpness, which we find very attractive. But, as noted in the recipe headnote, you can substitute other cheese(s) if you prefer.
- If you want a very rich version of this dish, substitute cream for milk (or use half-and-half). That’s overkill, in our opinion, but if you crave unbridled lusciousness, go for it.
- We find this dish pleasantly spicy. But if you want even more fire, just add some Tabasco sauce to the cauliflower/cheese mixture.
- We use kosher salt for cooking and baking. Kosher salt is less salty by volume than regular table salt (its crystals are large and more coarse, so they don’t fill a measuring spoon as tightly). If you’re using regular table salt, use about half as much as we suggest. But, as always, adjust the seasoning to your taste.
“Great dish,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Love the chile ‘n cheese.”
“It does have flavor,” I agreed. “You might say it’s the big cheese.”
“Are you going to pepper me with cheesy jokes?” said Mrs K R.
“No whey,” I said.
“Gouda one,” said Mrs K R. “You’re extra sharp today. Not.”
I camembert it any longer. Time to cheese it with these jokes.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Old-School Macaroni & Cheese
Bacon Macaroni and Cheese
Kale and Cabbage Gratin
Winter Squash Gratin
Sweet Potato and Rosemary Casserole
Or check out the index for more
I love low-carb recipes and anything with cheese is right up with my alley. This looks not only comforting, also delicious and relatively healthy!
Hi Angie, we can never resist cheese! And it's SO good with cauliflower. And green chilies. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I have made a semi spicy version with poblano. But mild green chilies are a great match with cheese. GREG
Hi Greg, mild, semi-spicy, spicy -- all versions are good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This looks so creamy. Isn't it amazing what you can do with cauliflower. I love the addition of the chiles you added. :) Pat
Hi Pat, cauliflower is SO versatile. Had no idea when I was a kid -- I think my mom had maybe 2 recipes that used it. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I don't eat pasta much anymore so this is a great idea to have that macaroni and cheese vibe with extra vegetables.
Hi Laura, cauliflower makes a perfect substitute for pasta in this dish -- don't miss it at all! Thanks for the comment.
John, this recipe is a killer a real comfort food in such a hard life :). I must tell you that right now I am at Barnes and Noble and came this nice lady to pat me on the back - you know why- then she told me this really looks yummy and she bookmarked it.
What a great dish John, I love the combination of cauliflower and peppers.
Wow you two are really into cauliflower lol. Loads of great recipes lately. And awesome change up from macaroni for sure! The green chile is a great touch too! Thansk for sharing.
I have to tell you that I've never liked mac and cheese. But this I would like. In fact, this I would adore! I camembert all the whey!
Cheese and cauliflower are a perfect pairing, with the added spice from chiles, sublime! I have roasted Hatch chiles in the freezer just waiting for such a fabulous recipe.
Hi Amira, it is a hard life, alas. :-( But this makes everything better! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Gerlinde, that's a great flavor combo! We love it. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Evelyne, I know, I know! We love the stuff, and of course it's kinda trendy so there's that. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Abbe, :-) This is really good -- you'd enjoy it! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Deb, love having Hatch chilies in the freezer for dishes like this. They're true comfort food. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I've been craving mac & cheese and will have to give this low carb version a try. Love the extra heat too!
Hi Tricia, mac 'n cheese is wonderful stuff, isn't it? We think this is even better! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Mmmmm....this looks fabulous! And I can go back for seconds and thirds without worrying about all the carbs. What a great recipe.
Hi Lizzy, it's really good! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Liz, tons of flavor, not as many calories. Winner! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Doesn't this sound comforting and with a bit of a kick! We don't eat enough cauliflower mainly because it tends to be boring. I like the way you've given it something to latch onto for added flavor. The last time I ate the stuff was on my cauliflower pizza, now I'll give this a try.
Hi Vicki, I have yet to make your cauliflower pizza, but really like the idea. Fun to substitute cauliflower for carbs, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.
This looks delicious! I love cauliflower and cheese combination!!
Hi Dawn, isn't that a great flavor combo? And we love to add green chilies to it! Thanks for the comment.
Whoa, I hadn't even thought of using cauliflower in my mac 'n cheese before, but I love it as cauliflower rice so I'm saving this recipe for the books! Thanks!
I love this idea!
I'm thinking this would be a pretty great Thanksgiving side! Or anytime side. Love the addition of chile. ALways thinking, you are, John.
This recipe is a keeper! I am crazy for Mac and Cheese yet not able to eat as much as I want to because it is loaded in carbs. Making it with cauliflower is genial!
Hi Ala, cauliflower makes a great "mac!" :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Jeff, it's really good stuff. Really. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Rosemary, the chile in this is SO nice! And this looks kinda festive, too, so nice for Thanksgiving. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Denise, this still has carbs, of course, but much less than regular mac 'n cheese. And tastes even better! Thanks for the comment.
Hi John, Oh I can tell this is delicious, cauliflower keeps getting better and better:)
Hi Cheri, cauliflower is good stuff, isn't it? Particularly when paired with green chilies and cheese! Thanks for the comment.
That slightly burned surface is pure gold! Love the idea of replacing mac with cauliflower which is still truly under-appreciated. Can never go wrong with this cheesy dish that's not cheesy at all. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Yi, love that brown cheesy surface! Thanks for the comment
My MIL used to make cauliflower and cheese and my husband loved it. I know he would certainly like your version…it sounds yummy.
This is a wonderful idea, I love the combination!
Hi Karen, this is a wonderful dish! Bet your husband will really enjoy it. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Chris, it's incredibly tasty stuff! We love it. :-) Thanks for the comment.
What a terrific side dish! A really nice way to serve cauliflower - and cheese makes everything better.
I love cauliflower and cheese. Never thought of adding chili peppers, but I certainly like the idea. And yes, I'd definitely go with roasting them.
Hi Beth, cheese does make everything better, doesn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Frank, the green chilies really add a lot of flavor! SO good! Thanks for the comment.
Hi John. :) That's a dish I would call comfort food! Roasted chiles sounds even better, I would have never had that idea. This would go so well with a glass red wine on such a Sunday evening. Thank you for sharing and good to be back and reading your posts again.
Love the cauliflower substitution! Now I can eat Mac and Cheese without all the guilt!
Delicious and yummy chili n cheese..
Please visit: http://from-a-girls-mind.blogspot.com
Hi Helene, red wine is wonderful with this! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Krishna, isn't this nice? SO good! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Ashley, definitely lower cal -- something we, at least, need! Thanks for the comment.
My idea of comfort food! Cheesy, spicy and hearty. Can't get better than that.
Hi Carolyn, cheesy, spicy, and hearty is always a great combo, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.
I love cheesy jokes. Bring em on. I also have had some success with cauliflower recipes substituting for carbs. Some are better than others. With all the cheese and chilies, I am thinking this is one of the better. Noted. Printed. Must try.
Hi Claudia, nothing is a real replacement for pasta, of course, but this dish is wonderful! Truly worth trying -- and it's fun to tinker with. Thanks for the comment.
I love cauliflower so much. It's just so good with pretty much everything and adopts ALL flavors!! Cauli-for the WIN!
Hi GiGi,cauliflower is pretty much the universal veggie, isn't it? :-) Such. Good. Stuff. Thanks for the comment.
Love cauliflower cheese and adding the chillies is a sure fire way of livening up this classic. Like your idea of using two cheeses too.
We just took a cooking class at a local grocery store and the chef mentioned he always puts butternut squash into his mac and cheese and his kids don't even know it! I love cauliflower so I'm pretty sure I'd love this recipe too! I'll have to hold the chilies though.
Hi Caroline, using 2 cheese really adds a nice twist of flavor. Love the deep depth of flavor that cheddar adds, and the sharpness of Parmesan. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Eva, easy enough to hold the chilies! And I really like the idea of adding butternut squash to mac ' cheese -- gotta try that! Thanks for the comment.
You have that right. The old fashion high carb mac and cheese does not only stick on your ribs!!! LOL Great M and C alternative with low carb cauliflower. However, my favorite addition is your chilis. Thinking about trying your recipe with a little roasted poblanos. Sharing, of course!
HI Bobbi, we love chilies! Can never get enough of them. And they're great in this dish! Thanks for the comment.
I do love this as a Thanksgiving side dish- rich, creamy, and delish!!
What a great idea to use cauliflower instead of pasta. It looks creamy, cheesy, and delicious!
Hi Mary, this is wonderful at Thanksgiving -- or any ole time! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Pam, this is unbelievably creamy -- really nice texture. Thanks for the comment.
It's like you read my mind! I was contemplating cauli and cheese for my Nov 5th bonfire party and then decided not to make it since I didn't want to go and buy cauliflower! Growing up we ate a lot of this because there was a restaurant in our shopping mall that served this and mac and cheese. It was so good! My dad would always get both and we'd enjoy this after a shopping trip. It's comfort food for me and we do have this for Thanksgiving!
I love the spicy addition and I think my family would like it too. I will make sure to make my cauli cheese with peppers next week :) Thanks for sharing!
Hi Nazneen, green chilies are a wonderful addition to this dish! Really add a lot of flavor. Enjoy! Thanks for the comment.
Love this slimmed down version of mac and cheese! It looks and sounds delicious! I could make a meal of this; never thought to combine chilies with cauliflower. Thanks for the great recipe that I want to try soon, John!
Hi Pam, we did make a meal out of this. :-) Really good! Thanks for the comment.
This is totally how I make my mac n cheese, with only 2 tbsp of butter. I need to seriously get on board with cauli mac and cheese though, I already love cauliflower in rice. :-)
Hi Nisha, this is such a good dish, isn't it? Cauliflower is SO versatile! Thanks for the comment.
Now that is a comfort dish! I so wanna do this
Hi Raymund, total comfort! And totally good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
A very creative dish John and a great twist on mac 'n cheese. We're getting some must needed rain right now and a bowl of this would be just right. Thanks for sharing!
Hi MJ, you'd love the green chilies in this dish! SO good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Post a Comment