Recipe: Tarator Cauliflower with Rainbow Chard and Bulgur Wheat

As the woman of our household, my responsibilities in the kitchen are great. And I’m not referring to the responsibility of having dinner on the table every night. That onus falls squarely on the shoulders of both genders. But as a woman who brings to the kitchen a passion for food deeply rooted in rich cultural heritage, I feel a strong pressure to create a culinary legacy for my children and the generations to follow.

I am the daughter of a mother who commands the kitchen like no other. She, like many of her generation and milieu, learnt to cook via quiet observation of her Chinese foremothers. For her, as in many cultures, the kitchen is a place where women are boss, where the matriachs rabidly and humbly cook for their families while creating lasting memories, rituals and customs.

The collection of memories from the kitchen is a physiological one. Studies have found that when we smell or hear something during an emotional experience, that aroma or sound is interlaced with the memory and stored in the same part of the brain. This explains why food, and the scent of food, can trigger such robust notions of nostalgia.

As a cook and as a mother, I am aware that the food I dish up for my family today will shape their relationship to food tomorrow. It is my responsibility to foster good food memories with my children, to show them that food is not only nutritious and delicious, but also fun. Most of all, I just want them to love food and appreciate the act of cooking and sharing food with others.

When my kids step into the kitchen, as they have already done from time to time, they will not be cooking alone. Along with their chosen recipe, they will be cooking surrounded by the influence of generations of women who used the kitchen to express themselves and assert their independence.

They will be a part of a food legacy that has been passed from one woman to another, from generation to generation, a kind of edible family tree.

This recipe was passed on to me, not by my mother, but from my friend Elham Abi-Ghanem, a neighbourhood institution in Surry Hills, Sydney. Elham was born in Senegal, of Lebanese descent and now resides in inner city Sydney where she shares her vast knowledge and love of food with the kids at Bourke Street Public School (where she has volunteered and run the canteen for over 20 years). In her role, where she nurtures and nourishes the children as a mother or grandmother would, she is creating important food memories for hundreds of children, a culinary legacy that will last a lifetime.

I have been lucky enough to learn a lot from Elham – she taught me all about this lemony Lebanese tarator, which I have teamed with cauliflower and chard, stalks and all!

Tarator Cauliflower with Rainbow Chard and Bulgur Wheat
Serves 4–6


1 large cauliflower head (about 1 kg), cut into florets
3–4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
200 g bulgur wheat (cracked wheat)
375 ml (1 ½ cups) vegetable stock
200 g rainbow chard, leaves and stalks separated
½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
juice of ½ lemon
½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
sea salt and black pepper

Substitutes if required
rainbow chard | spinach, kale, cavolo nero
bulgur wheat | quinoa (for gluten free)


270 g tahini paste
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
juice of 1 large lemon
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
sea salt and black pepper


Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Make the tarator by mixing together the tahini, garlic and lemon juice. Gradually stir in 5 tablespoons of water, a little at a time, until you have a smooth, creamy sauce. You want the consistency of cream. Taste and add a little more lemon juice, if you like, then stir in the parsley and season with salt and lots of pepper.

Place the cauliflower florets on a large baking tray and pour over two-thirds of the tarator, keeping some aside for serving. Drizzle over 1–2 tablespoons of olive oil and mix everything well to coat. Season with salt and pepper and roast for 20–25 minutes, or until golden.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan over a low heat, add the onion and sauté for 1 minute until softened. Add the garlic and bulgur wheat and stir well to coat the grains in the oil. Pour over the stock, cover with a lid, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, or until the stock has been absorbed and the grains are tender. Remove from the heat, place a clean tea towel over the pan and leave to sit for 10 minutes to allow the grains to fluff up.

Finely slice the rainbow chard leaves and stalks, keeping them separate. In a frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil, add the chard stalks and sauté for 3–4 minutes over a medium heat until tender. Add the chard leaves and sauté for another 2 minutes until the leaves are wilted and the stalks are cooked through.

Combine the rainbow chard, bulgur wheat, roasted cauliflower and parsley. Spoon over the remaining tarator, drizzle over a little olive oil and squeeze over the lemon juice. Serve topped with the almonds.

This recipe is extracted from Hetty McKinnon’s new book Neighbourhood, out now. Published by Plum Books/Pan Macmillan $39.99. Available from bookstores Australia wide.

Images by Luisa Brimble, supplied by Hetty McKinnon.