This Easy, Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole Was a Thanksgiving Hit

My family had its doubts, but even my health guru sister ended up going back for seconds.

Easy Cauliflower Casserole
Photo: Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Heather Chadduck; Food Styling: Chelsea Zimmer

I have never liked Thanksgiving. Growing up, it was my least favorite holiday. Don't get me wrong, I loved getting together with my extended family and playing touch football in the yard, but I dreaded the Thanksgiving meal itself. I was a hyper-picky eater, and dry slices of turkey never sounded very appetizing to me. I'd fill up on bread rolls, and that would be that. As an adult, I was determined to finally revamp my family's Thanksgiving meal.

Looking back, I can attribute my dislike for Thanksgiving to the fact that my family never put much thought into the actual meal. We'd spend the morning volunteering at a soup kitchen, a tradition that I cherished, but it left us only a couple of hours to prepare the whole feast. This meant that our Thanksgiving spread was anchored in simplicity: There were a few staple dishes (noodle kugel, green beans), but rarely any standouts. I recently learned that my grandma's sweet potato casserole—the shining star on our Thanksgiving table—was really just canned sweet potatoes that'd been pulsed in a blender, spooned into a casserole dish, and topped with a thick layer of marshmallows. I've never seen it the same way since.

The Southern Thanksgiving

After moving to the South and learning about the classic Southern Thanksgiving—complete with elaborate table settings, an opulent sideboard, and lots of butter—I realized that Thanksgiving didn't have to be the simple, unmemorable ritual of my childhood. I love to cook, and I love spending time with my family, so I knew that the Thanksgiving meal held the potential to be so much more than plain yeast rolls and canned sweet potatoes. Determined to transform my image of the holiday, I took charge of my family's Thanksgiving menu.

I spent weeks researching, sifting through the Southern Living archives to find the perfect recipes. I left the turkey and the stuffing to my grandma so I could focus all of my attention on the side dishes, a category that had been previously neglected at my family's celebrations. My siblings volunteered to serve as my sous chefs, and my mom did all the grocery shopping in advance.

My family has been on a health kick, so they requested that I make a few different veggie dishes. I agreed, but in the spirit of a true Southern Thanksgiving, I wanted to make the vegetables as indulgent as possible. When I stumbled upon this recipe for Easy Cauliflower Casserole, I knew it'd fit the bill.

My First Easy Cauliflower Casserole

At first, my family was skeptical of this recipe. I sent my Northern mom the ingredient list and she responded, "Canned soup? Really?" I told her to trust me.

The actual recipe couldn't be easier to prepare—after boiling the cauliflower until just slightly soft, you drain the water and mix in the sour cream and canned soup (any "cream of" soup will do: I used creamy cauliflower soup). Then you dump it all in a casserole dish—I also mixed some extra shredded cheese into the casserole because why not? Top it with a generous sprinkle of sharp cheddar cheese (I used white cheddar because I love the flavor, but you can go for orange if you're looking for that deep color) and panko (crushed-up crackers make a fabulous substitute). My health-conscious sister had to turn the other way while I dotted the top of the casserole with half a stick of butter, sliced into thin pats.

I changed into my dinner attire while the casserole baked, letting the topping crisp into a bubbly, cheesy layer. I let it go for 40 minutes as opposed to the instructed 30 because I wanted an extra-golden topping. The dish reheats beautifully, so you can bake this casserole, tent it with tinfoil, and transport it to the party. Just pop it back in the oven for 10 minutes (keep the tinfoil on so the topping doesn't burn) and you're good to go.

My parents instructed me to introduce the dish as "Cauliflower Mac and Cheese," which they said would appeal to a group of Northerners who did not yet appreciate the virtues of a catch-all casserole. And it truly does taste like baked mac and cheese, but you can get away with calling it "healthy" because of the cauliflower base.

This recipe is proof that the amount of butter used in a Thanksgiving dish is directly proportional to guests' enjoyment. The butter melted right into the casserole, delivering pools of rich, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth goodness at every turn. My brother called it his favorite dish of the spread, and even my health guru sister went back for seconds. Needless to say, my family has been educated on the art of the Southern casserole. I have a feeling this Easy Cauliflower Casserole will be a staple on my Thanksgiving table (and in my family's weeknight dinner rotation) for years to come.

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