Book Buzz: Set a Table by Karen Dudley

Most Capetonians will be familiar with the gem of an eatery located in Woodstock known as The Kitchen, run by the dynamic and talented Karen Dudley. She has become one of South Africa’s most favoured cooks and food personalities, recently adding ‘My Kitchen Rules South Africa judge’ to her repertoire.

A few years ago she published her first book, and then another, and now her third!

Her latest book, Set a Table, is a sumptuous delight of beautiful food styling and photography plus incredible recipes to encourage and instruct home entertainers on gathering their favourite folk around their table for a truly memorable dinner.

Following in the footsteps of her ground-breaking and much-loved Week in The Kitchen books, the recipes are carefully selected to showcase exceptional flavour, but they have also been chosen because they are easily achievable at home – even Karen herself admits to being not an amazing home chef if you can believe it!


“Set a Table: create the space, make something simple and beautiful, lay out your cutlery and your plates and your intention.”


Set a Table Cookbook also contains planning and preparation tips to help you to host a memorable and enjoyable dinner party. This book is a treasure for everyone who loves to entertain, but struggles to know what to make or how to make it – basically me!

I love entertaining friends and family in my home BUT I’m a horrible chef and get very flustered when preparing food for others – fortunately my husband loves to cook!


“My chief thought in writing my new book, Set a Table, has been to encourage readers to create the emotional and physical space for a shared experience of something good. I present the actual recipes and all the knowledge an entertainer would need to make a gathering around the table work. – Karen Dudley”



Below are two recipes from Set a Table that I will be trying out at my next dinner club!


Lamb with harissa fig & Plenty lentils

If you are lucky enough to have a fig tree, this dish would be particularly apt for a late summer dinner. Although figs are sexy, you could use apricots in a similar way or omit the fruity aspect altogether and just use the harissa paste. The Plenty lentils have their origin in the eponymous book by Yotam Ottolenghi.

A deboned, butterflied leg of lamb (about 2.5 kg)
3 stalks rosemary, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup olive oil
8 figs
6 tsp runny honey
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
2T water
1T vegetable oil
4t red harissa paste
4t olive oil
For the Plenty lentils
2 cups cooked lentils
Salt and black pepper, to taste
3T olive oil
1T vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½t ground cumin
1 ½t ground coriander
4T coriander, chopped
4T mint, chopped
2 cups baby spinach, shredded
For the lemon yoghurt dressing
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 cup full-cream yoghurt

Prepare a marinade by combing rosemary, garlic, crushed, lemon juice, olive oil. Lay lamb in the marinade, making sure the joint gets maximum exposure. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Before roasting, take lamb out of marinade and allow it to come to room temperature. Roast for an hour or two at 200°C.

While the lamb is roasting, prepare the lentils. You could also prepare the dressing a good few hours in advance, adding the yoghurt at the very end. Place the lentils in a large mixing bowl and season with salt, pepper and olive oil. Fry the onion in the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. When the onions become more translucent, add the minced garlic and fry for 1 minute. Add the ground cumin and coriander and cook, stirring, for another 2–3 minutes. Add a dribble of water if you think your onions are looking too dry. Toss the spiced onions through the lentils. Stir through the chopped herbs and the shredded baby spinach.

For the dressing, add the lemon juice and half of the zest to the yoghurt and stir to combine. I like to spoon the yoghurt on top and garnish with the remaining zest. The oily harissa is a great friend to this lemony yoghurt dressing, so when plating, allow some of the spicy red to drizzle over the yoghurt. Cut the figs in half. Mix together the honey, sugar, lemon juice and water. Drizzle over the cut figs to marinate. Add vegetable oil to a hot pan and quickly put all the figs, cut side down in the pan so that they caramelise for a few seconds. Turn the heat down to medium and quickly turn the figs over with your tongs so that the other side of the figs become acquainted with some heat too. Remove from the heat and set aside until you are ready to plate. Stir the harissa paste and olive oil together in a small jug or bowl until well combined.

For platter plating, spoon the lentils down one side of your serving platter. Spoon the lemon yoghurt dressing over the lentils allowing some lentils to be revealed beneath the yoghurt blanket. Slice the lamb into thin slices and lay on the other side of the serving platter. Place the figs all around and drizzle each half with the harissa. If you had a clean, young fig leaf or 2 in your garden, you could place them beneath the sliced lamb for an added wow factor.

Serves 8


Root ‘fire’ with Béarnaise yoghurt

When Judy Badenhorst, one of the grande dames of the South African food scene, came to my shop for the first time, I felt as though the South African Alice Waters herself had come to visit! Judy began the beloved Old Cape Farmstall – that epicentre of reliably amazing foodstuffs – deep in the ’80s when we South Africans, in apartheid isolation, knew little of ciabatta or balsamic vinegar, celeriac, whole artichokes or tarragon vinegar! I want to honour her zest for life, and the pioneering passion she brought to bringing good things into our world. In this recipe I showcase the roasted vegetables that were staples for my catering company in the ’90s and I make a cheat version of Judy’s yoghurt Béarnaise from The Old Cape Farmstall Cookbook (1983) which boasts such gems as shaken peas, beetroot and horseradish relish, spiced grapes and guava fool… true style is always en vogue. Thank you, Judy Badenhorst!

3 medium carrots, scrubbed or peeled (rainbow ones are quite spectacular)
3 turnips, scrubbed
½ butternut (350g)
1 red medium sweet potato
3 parsnips, peeled
4T vegetable oil
2 medium cooked beetroots
1 cup cooked lentils, flavoured with 1 tbsp olive oil, flaked salt and black pepper

For the Béarnaise yoghurt
2 egg yolks
1T tarragon mustard
1T onion, grated
2T tarragon vinegar
1t dried tarragon (or 2T chopped fresh if you can get it!)
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup full-cream yoghurt
Salt and white pepper, to taste

To make the Béarnaise yoghurt, blend the eggs, mustard, onion, tarragon vinegar and dried tarragon together in a food processor and slowly drizzle in the vegetable oil to make a tarragon mayonnaise. Add the yoghurt and blitz to combine then season with salt and white pepper. Chill and set aside until needed.

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Cut the root vegetables into long ‘kindling’ strips of more or less the same size, about 10–13 cm long. Make sure to keep the long tails of the parsnips and carrots. Cut the turnips and beetroot into 1 cm wedges. Pour the oil into a large mixing bowl and toss each kind of vegetable with oil, taking care not to mix the vegetables. Since they all roast for different lengths of time, keeping them separate allows you to manage their cooking better this way. Lay out the strips of vegetable kindling in their families on a baking paper-lined baking tray and blast roast at 220°C for 25–35 minutes depending on the different vegetables. The vegetables should be richly coloured with some dark spots of colour here and there and be tender on the inside. Remove vegetables from the baking tray as they are done. Put others back if need be.

When you are ready to serve, spread a good puddle of the Béarnaise yoghurt on a platter. Build a “fire” of vegetable kindling on top of the yoghurt, inserting roasted beetroot and turnips here and there. Sprinkle the lentils all over the ‘fire’ and finish with flaked or any fancy salt you like and freshly ground black pepper. If you like, you could add any herb of your choosing as garnish. I’m happy with it just so!

Serves 8

If you enjoy Set a Table why not look out for A Week in The Kitchen (2012) and Another Week in The Kitchen (2014)

Set a Table retails at R380. All Karen’s books are published by Jacana Media and are available to purchase online at

They are also available for sale at The Kitchen from Monday – Friday where Karen is happy to sign a copy for you!



Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for over 9 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

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