How to Substitute Cauliflower for Carbs

Published on 
June 18, 2024
April 22, 2024
Theresa Link, RD, CDE
Theresa Link, RD, CDE
Theresa Link, RD, CDE

Ask Theresa is a weekly advice column by Theresa Link. A Virta Health Coach since 2015 and a loyal follower of the ketogenic lifestyle, Theresa is a Registered Dietitian who is an expert in living a metabolically-healthy life.

This week, Theresa delivers tips and tricks to help you master the ultimate starchy substitute: the wonderfully versatile (yet sometimes tricky) cauliflower. Read on to discover your inner culinary virtuoso as she dives into three essential dishes



I’ve heard cauliflower makes a great substitute for high carb sides like potatoes, rice, and even pizza crust. But when I try to make them, they’re too watery and no one will eat them. What’s going on? 


Crying over Cauliflower

👩🏻‍💻 Theresa

Dear Crying,

It’s true. Cauliflower is incredibly versatile and an excellent substitute for many high carb foods. You can significantly increase the variety of your meals with this cruciferous blank canvas.  Imagine enjoying steak and mash, shepherd’s pie, country beef stew, shrimp fried rice, chicken tikka masala over rice, pork carnitas with fajita veggies and Mexican rice, and, of course, pizza.

Even so, iIf you’re anything like me, your first few attempts with cauliflower substitutes were more painful than slamming your fingers in the car door. The key to fooling your family into believing cauliflower is the real deal is to remove as much water as you can before cooking. It may take a few more minutes, but it’s worth it in the end. Let’s walk through a few cauliflower game changers and how to get them right so you can become the dinner hero you were born to be.

Cauliflower Mashed “Potatoes”

You need four ingredients: 1) a head of cauliflower, 2) sour cream, 3) salt, 4) pepper. That’s it. Seriously. Do NOT add butter. Do NOT add heavy cream. These will only water it down. Avoid frozen, pre-cut or pre-riced if you can because those tend to get too mushy for this dish. And we want fluffy, perfect cauliflower mash, don’t we? So you roughly chop it, throw it into a pot, and boil the heck out of it. Once it’s reached a rolling boil, let it cook for 5 more minutes. Then drain it until the last drop of water has released its grip. Add about a half a cup of sour cream, generous salt, and pepper to taste. You can smush it using a potato masher or blend it with a hand mixer or immersion blender. People will think it’s mashed potatoes, no joke. They’ll chant your name. They’ll write songs about you.


Wanna take frozen riced cauliflower from a softball-sized hunk of ice to perfectly al dente creation in less than 8 minutes? Who doesn’t! Don’t microwave it. Instead, heat it in a pan until the excess water evaporates and the cauliflower is slightly brown. For even cooking, gradually smash big chunks into smaller chunks using the end of a wooden spoon (it’s cathartic). Season with salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you desire. Indian take-out? Try adding some garam masala seasoning. Mexican? Add chili powder, cayenne, and paprika. Ginger and soy sauce will amp up your stir-fried shrimp. You can take a slightly heavier hand with seasoning cauliflower, too. It can handle it.

Pizza Crust

Let’s all be adults here and admit that cauliflower pizza crust is not exactly the same as regular pizza crust, and that’s okay. But the great thing about nailing down this crust is that you can get back to pizza Fridays and still button your pants the next day. There are many recipes out there, each one claiming to be the holy grail of cauliflower pizza, but once again the key to success is to get all the water out. Most say to use a cheesecloth to do this, but I think a dish towel works just fine for squeezing. Unless you want a bonus trip to the ER for burns, let the boiled cauliflower cool completely before squeezing the life out of it. And then do it again. And again. And one last time, then continue making the dough. That’s Amore!

This blog is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or any advice relating to your health. View full disclaimer

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