Dressed to impress

Bart Beek | VOLUME 28, ISSUE 1

These easy-to-prepare dishes get all dressed up with a splash of dressing, a dab of sauce or a few fresh herbs.

Herbs, vinegars and dressings are an everyday part of our culinary lives, from the basic foods we prepare at home to the dishes we order at cafés and restaurants. The best way to liven up a salad is by adding a tangy dressing; dressings are so easy to make I’ve often wondered why they are sold commercially, because nothing beats a freshly made one.

The base for a dressing is oil, vinegar and salt, with ratios varying to personal taste. Classically it is made with one part vinegar to three parts oil, but that can vary depending on vinegar strength and type. There are many varieties of vinegar on the market, including wine, balsamic, cider, black, sherry, champagne, and malt.

Balsamic vinegar, which is produced from a grape product, has become very popular because of its aroma and rich, sweet, complex flavour. The best ones are expensive because of the ageing process used: they will spend many years ageing in various wooden casks. Balsamic vinegars have a high acidity level, but because of the sweetness added, the tartness is quite mellow. The longer the vinegar spends in the cask, the more expensive the product will be.

The use of fresh and dried herbs in savoury dishes enhances flavours and produces well-seasoned foods. Herbs can be added at the start of the cooking process or at the end. I have several large organic garden beds at home that produce a never-ending supply of fresh herbs all year round. It’s such a great feeling to be able to duck out the back and pick the freshest herbs at any time.

I have produced a halloumi and raw beetroot salad, which is dressed with a horseradish-flavoured white wine vinegar dressing. This complements the dominating earthy flavours of the beetroot beautifully and the fresh oregano leaves help balance the sweetness of the roasted onions.

The caramelised prawns are flavoured with nuoc cham, a classic Vietnamese dressing. This is a beautifully balanced sauce, which is simply stirred together until the sugar dissolves. The result is a hot (chilli), sweet (caster sugar), sour (lemon juice) and salty (fish sauce) combination that simply dances on the pallet. The rice wine vinegar in the pickled carrots has a mild sharpness and is popular in the cuisines of southeast Asia. The Vietnamese mint and common garden mint release their perfume into the whole dish.

The salmon broth is a four-minute special that combines soy, fish sauce, chilli, palm sugar and stock. Added fragrance is produced at the end by the last-minute addition of fresh coriander leaves and sesame oil.

I have combined lemon juice with balsamic to make the marinade and dressing for a grilled lamb dish. Everything about this recipe is balanced and the tomatoes combined with mint, fresh basil and mozzarella is perfect … and not just because I grew those stunning tomatoes myself.

I had to finish off with something sweet and it doesn’t get much better than a rich, moist lumberjack cake. I have always found them to be rather heavy and dense, but here I’m sharing my recipe for one much lighter than the standard version. It has a beautiful, lingering orange note on three levels and it can be made by hand in a mixing bowl. The crunchy topping includes coconut, maple syrup, brown sugar and cream. The cake is then presented with orange-flavoured cream and fresh raspberries. I’ll have two, please …

Halloumi and raw beetroot salad with horseradish dressing

Beetroot is delicious served raw and is a very healthy vegetable. Select the smaller beets, which will be more tender than the larger ones. If you can’t find fresh horseradish, purchase prepared horsera dish in jars, available from good delicatessens.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Serves: 4

8 brown onion slices, 1cm thick

2 small beetroots

1 large carrot

2 tblsps white wine vinegar

2 tblsps extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp grated horseradish

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 wedges halloumi

1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil

12 baby beetroot leaves

8 small radishes, halved

¼ cup oregano leaves

8 viola flowers (optional)

Place eight 1cm-thick brown onion slices onto an oven tray lined with baking paper, season well and bake in a pre-heated oven set at 160°C for 45 minutes until golden brown.

Combine together the vinegar, olive oil, horseradish and seasoning. Wash, peel and thinly slice the beetroots and carrot, then dress with two tablespoons of the dressing.

Heat a heavy-based frying pan, add in a tablespoon of the olive oil, then grill the halloumi until golden on both sides.

Place a portion of the grilled halloumi onto a plate and then add some of the roasted onion slices. Place the beetroot and carrot and finish with the beetroot leaves, radish halves, oregano leaves, viola flowers and a little more dressing.

Salmon and bok choy in chilli broth

This broth base is so quick and easy to make and it tastes delicious. The secret to this dish is to keep the salmon moist and glossy in the centre. Taste the broth and adjust the ingredient amounts to suit your own taste.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 3 minutes Serves: 4

1lt good quality chicken stock

2 tblsps soy sauce

2 tblsps fish sauce

1 tblsp palm sugar

1 small carrot, peeled and sliced thin

1 small red chilli, sliced thin

600g salmon, cut into 3cm cubes

4 bok choy, cut into halves

1 cup coriander leaves

1 cup bean sprouts

1 tblsp sesame oil

Combine in a saucepan the chicken stock, soy sauce, fish sauce, palm sugar, carrot slices and sliced chilli. Bring to a boil and dissolve the sugar.

Turn down to a simmer and add in the salmon cubes. Cook for one minute, then add in the bok choy and simmer for a further two minutes.

Place the coriander leaves and bean sprouts into deep bowls, then top with the bok choy, salmon cubes and fragrant broth. Finish each bowl at the last moment with a little of the sesame oil.

Caramelised prawns with pickled carrot and nuoc cham

This is a tasty Vietnamese-style recipe with powerful flavours that works superbly as a starter. Be careful when adding the wet prawns to the hot golden caramel because they may spit and splatter. The nuoc cham will keep refrigerated for up to a week and any leftover pickled carrots can be used up in rice paper rolls or salads.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Serves: 4

Nuoc cham

3 tblsps water

½ cup caster sugar

½ cup fish sauce

¼ cup lemon juice

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 small red chilli, sliced thin

Combine all nuoc cham ingredients and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Pickled carrot

1 small red chilli, sliced thin

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tblsp caster sugar

¼ cup lime juice

¼ cup rice vinegar

¼ cup fish sauce

1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin strips

Combine all pickled carrot ingredients except the carrot and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add in the carrots, cover and refrigerate for one hour.

¼ cup caster sugar

300g fresh green prawns, cleaned

4 tblsps fish sauce

½ cup nuoc cham

2 cups coral lettuce

1 cup Vietnamese and garden mint leaves

Place the sugar into a heavy-based saucepan and heat until the sugar caramelises and turns golden brown. Add in the prawns and cook for several minutes until both sides turn a golden brown colour.

Add in the fish sauce and nuoc cham, cook on high heat until the prawns are cooked and have become glossy.

Place some of the lettuce onto each plate and top with the pickled carrot and mint leaves. Finish with the cooked prawns and a dessert spoon of nuoc cham onto each plate.

Lemon Balsamic lamb with tomato, mozzarella and mint

This is a stunning dish to present during warm summer evenings. All the flavours marry beautifully and it looks very appealing. Rest the lamb for at least 10 minutes before slicing to ensure no loss of juices. Buffalo mozzarella is made from domestic buffalo milk and it has an amazing texture and a wonderful flavour.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 8 minutes

Serves: 4

800g lamb loin, trimmed

½ lemon, zest and juice

3 tblsps balsamic vinegar

6 tblsps extra virgin olive oil

Salt flakes and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

2 vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into slices

2 kumato (dark green skinned tomatoes), sliced

½ cup yellow pear and lemon drop tomatoes, cut in halves

1 buffalo mozzarella

½ cup mint and basil leaves

Combine together the lemon juice, lemon zest, balsamic vinegar, five tablespoons of olive oil and the seasoning. Combine half of the dressing with the lamb loin and cover in the refrigerator for one hour.

Heat a heavy-based frying pan and add one tablespoon of olive oil. Add in the lamb loin and grill on all sides until well browned and medium rare (65°C in the centre). Allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into thin slices.

Place the sliced tomatoes onto plates and top with the sliced lamb. Tear the mozzarella into bite-sized pieces and scatter over the lamb. Finish with the mint and basil leaves and dress with the remainder of the lemon balsamic dressing.

Lumberjack cake with orange cream

As delicious and moist as it is, I have always found the classic lumberjack cake quite heavy, so I set about to make a lighter recipe. I also wanted to create a recipe that needed no machine to produce it. All you need is a mixing bowl, a whisk and a wooden spoon – perfect for when you’re on the boat. The addition of orange zest is divine, both in the cake base, the topping and the cream.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves: makes 12 individual cakes


1 granny smith apple

½ cup dates, chopped

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ cup boiling water

70 gun salted butter, softened to room temperature

½ orange, zest only

½ cup caster sugar

1 small egg

½ tsp vanilla extract

¾ cup self-raising flour


30g butter

1 heaped tblsp dark brown sugar

2 tblsps maple syrup

2 tblsp cream

¾ cup shredded coconut

½ orange, zest only

Orange cream

300ml thickened cream

2 tblsps caster sugar

1 orange, zest only

1 cup raspberries

To make the topping, place all the topping ingredients into a small saucepan and heat until well combined.

Pre heat an oven to 180°C. Wash, peel, core and chop the apple into 5mm dice and place into a small bowl along with the chopped dates. Boil the water and mix in the bicarbonate. Add to the apple and dates, stir and allow to cool for 10 minutes without stirring.

Place the softened butter into a mixing bowl and add in the caster sugar and zest from half an orange. Whisk well, then add in the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Fold through the sifted flour and the apple mixture.

Divide into 12 individual moulds, filling only until half full. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and spoon some of the coconut topping over each cake.

Place back into the oven for a further 10 minutes until tops turn golden brown. Allow to cool in the moulds.

Whisk together the cream, caster sugar and orange zest. Present the cakes with a portion of orange cream and several raspberries.