A Mother of a Feast

Add nostalgia to the celebration. Hilary Biller shares recipes that would make her a happy mom this Mother's Day

05 May 2024 - 00:00 By Hilary Biller
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Layered tuna, avocado and prawn mousse.
Layered tuna, avocado and prawn mousse.
Image: Paul Bransby

A home-cooked Mother's Day lunch made by someone else is possibly the best present any mom can ask for. For me it is an absolute treat — and more so if someone else does the washing up as well.

So what would be on my chosen menu? I spent a couple of hours on a nostalgic journey going through the hundreds of recipes we've put together for Sunday Times readers over the years,  and these are some of my favourite dishes. Happy Mother's Day.



Takes effort, but worth it.

This is an updated version of an old Angela Day recipe that was a hit in the 1990s. It's the kind of recipe that dresses up so well, just like a cocktail dress. It's the scrumptious layers and finishing touches that make it a celebration feast. The best part is it's made the day before, and all the trimmings, the pretty part, added just before serving. 

200g packet of savoury biscuits

15ml (1 tbsp) sunflower seeds, toasted

10ml (2 tsp) sesame seeds, toasted

85ml butter

Dash of cayenne pepper

Tuna layer:

10ml (2 tsp) powdered gelatin sprinkled over 30ml (2 tbsp) water

1 x 170g can tuna in brine or vegetable oil, drained and flaked

A handful of dill fronds, finely chopped

Rind and juice of 1 small lemon

125ml (½ cup) quality mayonnaise

5ml (1 tsp) fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce

45ml (3 tbsp) tomato sauce

1 small gherkin or pickled cucumber, finely chopped

4 spring onions, finely chopped

Dash of Tabasco sauce

Freshly ground black pepper

Avocado layer:

10ml (2 tsp) powdered gelatin

60ml (4 tbsp) chicken stock

Juice of 1 lemon

4 spring onions, coarsely chopped

1 stick of celery, finely chopped

1 small red pepper, cored and chopped

Handful of parsley, chopped

250ml (1 cup) sour cream or plain full cream yoghurt

1 large ripe avocado or 2 smaller ones, peeled and chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prawn layer:

10ml (2 tsp) powdered gelatin

60ml (4 tbsp) chicken stock

1 x 400g can Mexican tomato mix, drained

1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped

1 large handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped

15ml (1 tbsp) Worcestershire sauce

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

300g sustainable pink headless and cooked peeled prawns, remove tails

To serve:

1 packet mixed leaves — rocket, watercress and baby spinach

50g cherry tomatoes, halved

50g sustainable pink headless and cooked peeled prawns

A handful of black and green or stuffed green olives, stoned

1 punnet of micro herbs

Drizzle of olive oil and balsamic glaze

Maldon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Break the biscuits into the bowl of a food processor, add the seeds and process till you have breadcrumbs. Add the cayenne and with the machine running pour in the melted butter. Spray a loose-bottomed 20cm pan with cooking spray and press the crushed biscuit mix into the base. Cover and refrigerate.

2. For the tuna layer sprinkle the gelatin over the water and set aside. Blend the rest of the ingredients in a processor, leaving the mixture a little chunky. Melt the gelatin in a microwave on medium for 30 seconds then add to the tuna mixture, with the machine running. Pour over biscuit base, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to set.

3. For the avocado layer sprinkle the gelatin over the chicken stock and set aside to gel. In a blender or food processor blend the lemon juice, spring onions, celery, red pepper, parsley and sour cream till smooth. Melt the gelatin in the microwave for 30 seconds on medium and add to the spring onion mixture. Add the avocado, blend for a minute and season with salt and pepper. Pour over the set tuna layer, cover with plastic wrap and set in the fridge.

4. For the prawn layer sprinkle the gelatin over the chicken stock. In a food processor, blend the drained tomato mix, garlic, coriander, Worcestershire sauce and seasoning. Melt the gelatin in the microwave on medium for 30 seconds and add to the tomato mixture.

5. Add the prawns and stir through. Pour over the set avocado layer, cover and refrigerate overnight. Before serving allow to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before turning out onto a serving plate. Top with mixed leaves. Sprinkle over halved cherry tomatoes, prawns, pitted black and green olives, and sprinkling of micro herbs. Serve with savoury biscuits, Melba toast or seed bread.

Chicken Kung Pao with noodles salad.
Chicken Kung Pao with noodles salad.
Image: Christoph Hoffmann


Serves 4

The nice part of this recipe is its versatility as the chicken in this popular Sichuan stir-fry can easily and just as tastily be replaced with beef, tofu, cauliflower or any other vegetable as a vegetarian option. I love how this recipe can be made to suit all tastes. 

500g chicken breast fillets, cut into 1.5cm cubes

2.5ml (tsp) salt

2.5ml (tsp) sugar

22.5ml (4 tsp) cornflour

30ml (2 tbsp) water

10ml (2 tsp) fish sauce

15ml (1 tbsp) soy sauce

15ml (1 tbsp) oyster sauce

15ml (1 tbsp) sugar

45ml (3 tbsp) peanut oil or use sunflower oil

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

25ml (5 tsp) finely chopped garlic

25ml (5 tsp) finely grated ginger

15ml (1 tbsp) dark vinegar

125ml (1/2 cup) coconut milk

5ml (1 tsp) dried chilli flakes

150g cooked egg noodles

30g roasted peanuts, roughly chopped

1 spring onion, sliced on the diagonal

Sprigs of coriander

1. Cut the chicken fillets into 1.5cm cubes and place in a bowl. Add the salt, sugar and cornflour, and toss. In a bowl, mix water, fish, soy and oyster sauces and add sugar. Heat the peanut oil in a wok over a high heat. Stir-fry the chicken for five minutes.

2. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the chicken from the wok and place on a kitchen towel to drain.

3. Add red pepper to the oil and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, and stir-fry for two minutes until fragrant. Add the water, mixed sauces, coconut milk and chilli flakes to the wok and bring to a simmer. Allow to simmer for five minutes.

4. Add chicken pieces and noodles and toss to coat with the sauce. Divide between bowls and serve garnished with peanuts, spring onion and coriander.

Braised oxtail with red wine and butter beans.
Braised oxtail with red wine and butter beans.
Image: Gordon Wright


Serves 6

I love the finger-licking part of a good oxtail, nibbling the tasty bits off those juicy knobbly bones. It's the kind of eating the Afrikaans word gesellig sums up so perfectly. Mother's Day Sunday in early May is usually the time when we are reminded that winter is upon us and oxtail is perfect for cold days. This recipe, published years ago, is hale and hearty and all that a good oxtail should be. It comes from chef Gordon Wright's Karoo Food cookbook and is delicious. You won't be disappointed.

1-2kg oxtail, cut into pieces

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

30-45ml (2-3 tbsp) vegetable oil

1 red onion, chopped

2 brown onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

5ml (1 tsp) chopped fresh thyme

15ml (1 tbsp) Worcestershire sauce

2.5ml (½ tsp) smoked paprika

2 whole chillies (optional)

15ml (1 tbsp) tomato paste

5-6 whole allspice (pimento)

5ml (1 tsp) medium curry powder or more, adjust to preference (optional)

1l beef stock

3 glasses full-bodied red wine (two for the pot, one for the cook!)

2 x 400g can butter beans, rinsed and drained

1 handful chopped fresh parsley or sprigs fresh thyme

1. Season the oxtail with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, and then add the oxtail and sauté, stirring frequently, until the oxtail is browned all over.

2. Add the red and brown onions, garlic, thyme, Worcestershire sauce and smoked paprika and stir for about a minute. Throw in the chillies, tomato paste, allspice and curry powder and stir for another minute.

3. Add the stock and two glasses of red wine and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 2-3 hours until tender, while enjoying the third glass of red wine and occasionally stirring.

4. Add the beans 20-30 minutes before you remove the oxtail from the heat. If the sauce is too thick, add more stock. Season with salt to taste and serve with a sprinkling of parsley over fragrant rice or with roasted sweet potatoes in their jackets and hot crunchy vegetables. And a bit more of that lovely red wine.

Chocolate mayonnaise cake.
Chocolate mayonnaise cake.
Image: Sean Calitz


Serves 8-10

What is a Mother's Day without a chocolate cake. I have a nose for quirky recipes and this one fits the genre perfectly because it's moist, dark and delicious, and doesn’t taste of mayonnaise. But what the mayo does is add richness as if one has used butter and eggs in the making. The cake is an old American invention made popular by a mayonnaise company that capitalised on the shortage of eggs and butter during World War 2. Chocolate cakes always taste better made the day before and this one certainly does.

Cherries aren't in season now so use strawberries, or even glacé or maraschino cherries, the ones with stalks on.

360g (3 cups) cake flour

200ml cocoa powder

300g (1½ cups) caster sugar

Pinch of salt

7.5ml (1½ tsp) bicarbonate of soda

300ml good quality thick mayonnaise (don’t use a salad cream)

400ml water

1 shot (60ml) fresh espresso coffee

5ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract


100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

45ml (3 tbsp) fresh cream

15g butter

1. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C. In the bowl of an electric mixer, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, caster sugar, salt and bicarbonate of soda. Use a wire whisk to thoroughly combine this mixture. In a large jug combine the mayonnaise, water, espresso and vanilla extract. Mix well.

2. With the machine running, add this to the dry ingredients and mix until well combined and smooth. Pour the mixture into a well-greased 25cm ring tin. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

3. Combine all the ingredients for the glaze in a glass bowl and microwave on a medium power setting for 1-2 minutes until melted. Stir until smooth. Cool slightly and pour over the cake before it thickens too much. Put the cake in the fridge for about 15 minutes to set the glaze.

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