Karen Dudley

Pick a side

The main dish usually gets all the applause. But we speak to thoughtful Cape Town foodie Karen Dudley about preparing sides that might just steal the show.

In this time where we draw our loved ones as close as we can and our hearts fill with nostalgia for Christmases past and gratitude for all we have now, we bring a new mindfulness to festive preparation.

Here are my 5 tips for making your festive table particularly memorable:

1. Preparation allows you to appear as a host with grace and sophistication.

Do shopping well in advance and as much preparation as you can, so that you have fun! Have a playlist ready, lots of ice, and bubbly or a signature cocktail at the ready. Brine your bird, glaze your gammon, baste your fish.

2. Everyone eats the so-called “sides” and this is where you should let colour shine.

Think a medley of fine greens, baby peas, long stemmed broccoli with a good dressing, colourful shaved root vegetables, a good stand-alone roasted vegetable like cauliflower or aubergine for vegetarians (or all). 

3. Leverage your relishes and dressings.

These transform the blah to bling!

4. Go for the (carb and butter) jugular.

Roasted potatoes are a must! Brandy butter for the mince pies or Christmas Pudding.

5. Finish glamorously!

There are wonderful berries and stone fruit available this season and everyone loves fruit! Stir mascarpone or yoghurt through cream and drizzle with a spiced syrup or top with a favourite crumble or brittle. Those fatigued by sweetness might like a champion cheese to finish. I know I do. And then some more mince pies!

Feast on these delicious side dishes from my latest book entitled Set A Table.

Poppy Seed Coin Salad

I sometimes put a big note in the parking machine just to harvest a big clanging tinkle of coins! People think I’m crazy when I pretend that I’ve won at a slot machine! And I get a great big handful of coins to pay parking guards around the city. In this salad, vegetable currency is great value! For the last little while, cutting vegetables on the diagonal has been de rigeur but now it’s all about the coins! They certainly make a comeback in this salad!

Karen Dudley, Poppyseed Coin salad
  • 200g radishes (if you’re lucky enough to find a selection, bravo!)
  • 200g carrots (jewelled carrots make for great coins!)
  • 100g courgettes (or kohlrabi or daikon)
  • Maldon Sea Salt


  • 5 T olive oil
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 3 T fresh lemon juice + ½ lemon for a finishing squeeze
  • 1 tsp English mustard
  • 1 T poppy seeds
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Mix all the dressing ingredients thoroughly together.

Slice the radishes very thinly and spread them out on a plate. Reserve a few slices for garnish. Drizzle with a few teaspoons of the poppy seed dressing. Wash the courgettes thoroughly, drying them with a clean tea towel. Slice them into coins and arrange them on top of the radishes so that some radish shows through the layer. Drizzle with dressing. Scrub the carrots and slice them thinly into coins. Arrange these coins on top of the courgettes so that you see some of the other layers beneath. Drizzle with more poppy seed dressing. Finish with a few slices of radish and a last drizzle of dressing, a squeeze of lemon and a good sprinkle of flaked sea salt. You will, in effect, have a vegetable poppy seed carpaccio!

Green Medley with Toasted Black Sesame Dressing

Remember that when you are planning a meal, balance and colour is critical. If you have a rich dish for your main course, you need an astringent, clean sharp flavour to accompany it. Colour too, can transform a meal. For this reason, you will find many “green” options for your visual and flavour palette in this book. For a sesame-phile like me, you can get none better than this Green Medley!

  • 150g broccoli (roughly a head), cut into florets
  • 150g fine beans
  • 100g sugar snaps
  • 100g petit pois
  • 100g mange touts or asparagus tips


  • 100g black sesame seeds, dry toasted in a pan
  • 2 ½ T sugar
  • 4 tsp mirin
  • 2 ½ T soya sauce

Roughly bash the toasted sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle, then add the other dressing ingredients and mix well.

Bring a generous saucepan of water to the boil and prepare for some blanching: blanch the broccoli for 3 minutes, spoon out with a slotted spoon and into a colander and rinse with cold water to arrest the cooking process. Next do the fine beans (3 minutes), sugar snaps or asparagus (1 minute), mangetouts (1 minute) and finally peas (2 minutes). Refresh all with cold water as you remove each green of the medley from the blanching water. Lay them out on clean tea towels to drain and dry.

Top the fine beans and cut the sugar snaps in half lengthways (revealing the little peas hiding in their pods). Finally, mix the dressing with the greens very gently with your fingers and tip them into a wide serving bowl which will best show off their surprising colour.

Angostura Sweet Potatoes

Angostura bitters, usually added to your G&T or for Screwdriver Cocktails, is harnessed here to deepen the orangey-ness of these sticky sweet potatoes. (K-secret: a few splashes of Angostura in a fruit salad takes it to a new level!) Adapted from the inimitable Ottolenghi, the garlic-orange stickiness of this salad is tamed by dollops of crème fraîche.

Green medley, Angosutra sweet potatoes
  • 6 sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 2.5cm wide wedges
  • 4 T vegetable oil
  • 300ml orange juice
  • 50ml sweet chilli sauce
  • ½ cup soft brown sugar
  • 80ml red wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ T Angostura Bitters
  • 2 chillies slit open across the centre
  • 15 thyme sprigs
  • 2 heads of garlic, halved horizontally
  • ½ cup crème fraîche
  • 1 orange, cut into 3mm slices

Pre-heat the oven to 220°C.  

In a large mixing bowl, toss the sweet potato wedges and garlic bulbs and orange slices with the vegetable oil to coat. Lay out the wedges on a baking paper lined baking sheet, so that the wedges fit onto the sheet in a single layer. If you have too many wedges, you may need to employ a second baking sheet. Tuck the halved garlic bulbs, chilies and orange slices under the wedges and blast roast at 220°C for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the orange juice, sugar, vinegar and sweet chilli sauce into a medium saucepan; bring to the boil over high heat and allow the syrup to simmer over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes. Add the chillies, thyme sprigs, bitters and olive oil as well as 1 ½ tsp salt.

Remove the partially roasted sweet potatoes from the oven and pour over the orange-chilli syrup tossing lightly to coat the wedges. Return to the oven and continue roasting for a further 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Arrange the roasted sweet potatoes with all their bits on a serving platter and dot with crème fraîche.

Beetroot Ginger Mango (Papaya/Pineapple) Salad

Really Karen? Another beetroot salad? The thing is this: when a salad is so good, and its colour contribution so significant, its friendship with other dishes so sweet and its clean healthfulness so apparent, why ever not? 

  • 10 medium beetroots
beetroot mango salad


  • 6 cm finger of ginger, peeled and minced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 T Indonesian soya sauce
  • 3 T moskonfyt or honey
  • Juice and grated zest of 2 oranges
  • Juice and grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 T lime juice
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:

  • One large papaya
    (or 2 breakfast papayas or 2 pineapples or 3 mangos)
  • 8 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
  • 60g fresh mint, finely shredded or snipped

Boil the beetroot, skin-on, for 30-40 minutes or until just tender. When they are cool enough to handle, slip off the skins. Cut into 1½ cm cubes and place in a large mixing bowl.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a jug or bowl and pour over the beetroot, tossing gently to coat.

Peel and seed the papayas (or peel and core the pineapples) and cut them into cubes of similar size to the beetroot cubes.

Stir the fruit and most of the spring onions and mint into the marinating beetroot very gently and refrigerate for 30 – 40 minutes so that the flavours meld together.  Arrange on a salad platter and sprinkle over some reserved spring onions and mint leaves.

Red Cabbage Salad with Cranberries and Dill

This does all the things a slaw should do: add brightness, colour, crunch and juicy friendship!

red cabbage salad
  • ¼ red cabbage, finely sliced (about 3 cups)
  • 6 celery stalks, very thinly sliced
  • 3 granny smith apples, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2/3 cups full-cream yoghurt or crème fraiche
  • 50g dill, chopped
  • 120g dried cranberries
  • 80g walnuts, toasted, and chopped
  • Salt and black pepper


  • 1 T finely chopped red onion
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 T cider vinegar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 160 ml vegetable oil

Put all the ingredients for the dressing, minus the vegetable oil, into the small bowl of a food processor. Process these together, and with the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. Your patience will reward you with a thick, creamy mayonnaise.

Place the cabbage, celery, apples and onion in a large mixing bowl and add the crème fraiche, dill, mayonnaise dressing, cranberries and ½ tsp salt and some good grindings of black pepper. Mix together with your hands to distribute all the bits through the cabbage. Lift onto a serving platter and scatter with the toasted walnuts.  

This is a great salad to accompany a simple Summer Roast Chicken. You’ll need little more. Perhaps just some leaves with pickled mustard seeds or a pickled ginger dressing.

Karen Dudley, Set a Table book


Karen’s latest book SET A TABLE is available from all good bookstores countrywide. Also, try her ‘Box for Cooks’… a monthly box of homemade pastes, jams, marmalades, dressings and more.

J-P de la Chaumette 

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