For a quick but exciting way to bring vegetables to the table, this recipe is an absolute must-try. In the spirit of reevaluating what vegetables are capable of, I’ve challenged cauliflower’s bland reputation by whipping it into a dead ringer for mashed potatoes. Without a doubt, it puts traditional cream-laden spuds to shame. A quick steam and puree is all it takes to pull this together, making this a favorite weeknight side dish that’s creamy, comforting, and surprisingly healthful. Endlessly versatile with different seasonings and herbs, there is nothing “healthy-tasting” about this cauliflower—even vegetable-averse kids will enjoy it.
Not to demonize potatoes—they are a whole food, after all—but their high starch content is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, sending your blood sugar into the stratosphere much like sugar would. Instead, cauliflower makes a brilliant stand-in that fills you up with fiber, nutrients, and cancer-fighting compounds while still satisfying your fix for that more indulgent kind of “mash.”
1 large cauliflower (about 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
3/4–1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
- Remove the stem and core from the cauliflower (see Beginner’s Tips) and chop the florets into small pieces; the chopped cauliflower should measure about 8 cups.
- In a large pot with a lid, add 2 inches of water and insert a steamer basket. Add the chopped cauliflower. Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, and then steam for 10 minutes, until the florets are tender all the way through.
- While the cauliflower is steaming, place the olive oil and sliced garlic into a small saucepan. Bring the oil to a gentle simmer over medium heat. When the garlic starts to sizzle, reduce the heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes until it becomes tender and soft. Keep a close eye on the garlic to make sure that it does not burn; if it starts to brown, take it off the heat.
- Place the steamed cauliflower in a food processor with a metal blade, along with the garlic and oil. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Let the food processor run until the cauliflower is completely smooth and whipped, stopping the machine and scraping down the sides with a spatula as needed. Adjust the seasoning and serve warm.
- Rosemary Mashed Cauliflower. Add one or two small sprigs of rosemary to the olive oiland garlic mixture as it simmers. Remove the rosemary sprigs before pureeing.
- Sage Mashed Cauliflower. Add 4 fresh sage leaves to the olive oil and garlic mixture as it simmers. Remove the sage leaves before pureeing.
- Quicker and Easier Oil-Free Mashed Cauliflower. Instead of simmering the garlic slices with olive oil, place in the steamer basket along with the cauliflower and proceed with recipe. You can omit the oil entirely. The outcome won’t taste quite as rich, but it will still be delicious.
It’s best to wash the cauliflower after cutting it into florets so that you can reach all the lodged-in dirt. To cut a cauliflower, remove the outer leaves first. Cut the cauliflower from top to bottom, through the core, into halves and then quarters. On each quarter you will see part of the core that’s holding the florets together; use your knife to remove this core and the florets will fall apart. From here, you can chop each floret into whatever size you require. Since the core is also edible, chop it up along with the florets. Keep in mind: the smaller the pieces, the faster the cauliflower will cook.
Cauliflower, along with its cruciferous vegetable relatives, has long been studied for its cancer-fighting properties. All these vegetables contain glucosinolates, which are digested into compounds that help inactivate carcinogens and protect against cell damage. In the event that cancer has already formed, glucosinolates inhibit the cancer from growing and receiving nutrients via its own blood supply.
Sulforaphane, a sulfurous compound in cauliflower, eases cardiovascular inflammation that leads to heart attacks and strokes. It may even be able to reverse blood-vessel damage, which is a severe risk factor for chronic heart disease.
Cauliflower is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables on the planet, meaning it supplies tons of nutrients relative to its caloric value. One cup of raw cauliflower is a mere 26 calories, yet its fills you up with significant amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, potassium, and fiber.
When chopping up cauliflower, most people toss the leaves and tender stalk into the trash, but these parts are absolutely edible and nutritious. Once you taste them, you may realize that you’ve been missing out on a good thing. For the mashed cauliflower recipe, chop them up with the florets and puree them along with the rest of the cauliflower. In a stir-fry or soup, cut them into chunks or slices, and cook them like they are any other vegetable. Same goes for broccoli stems!