Post-Christmas Tomato and Bean Mexican Stoup

Amelia Johnson Photography Tomato and Bean Mexican Stoup

Stoup? Stoup is my greatest dieting weapon. Take a tasty stew, chili, or other tasty dish with lots of sauce, and increase the amount of water and or tomatoes until it’s thicker than a soup, but no longer a stew. The word ‘stoup’ is strictly a Rachel Ray-ism but I’d been making them long before I heard the terminology. Stoup is filling because of all the water content and lower in calories than a regular meal, but still packs a punch with the taste. I stoup-ify (sorry I couldn’t resist) with bolognaise sauce, chili con carne, tuna and tomato pasta sauce, amongst others.

This recipe makes a great post-christmas festivities lunch. Warming for those of you in chilly climes, low in calories, and won’t leave you wanting to snack that afternoon. It’s also easy to make!

Tomato and Bean Mexican Stoup

Serves 2-3


1 tbsp olive oil

1 large red onion

2 garlic cloves

6 mushrooms, chopped (optional)

1 chilli, deseeded and chopped

1/2 tsp cumin

300ml vegetable stock

350ml passata

200g cherry tomatoes

400g tin black beans, drained

1 tsp sugar

1 lime

1 tbsp coriander, chopped

1/2 avocado

salt and pepper


Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over a medium heat. Add all but a tablespoon of the diced onion. Fry for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic, mushrooms, chilli and cumin and fry for another minute.

Add the stock, passata, whole cherry tomatoes, beans, and sugar. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Season, then stir through the juice of the lime and most of the coriander.

Serve in bowls and garnish with avocado, onion and coriander.

Tastes-Good-With-Everything Peach Salsa

Amelia Johnson Photography Peach SalsaToday we’re going to talk peaches, juicy fresh peaches. Did you know that here in Dubai we get most of our summer fruit from Europe, and our winter fruit from the Southern Hemisphere*. For the first time since moving here 5 years ago I’ve found tasty peaches. I’m so excited! They’re South African and the only disappointment is that when you buy them, they’re hard. So I leave them next to a banana to ripen and a day later? They’re all ripe. What was I supposed to do with 8 ripe peaches?

I looked through some American blogs and found plenty of tasty peach recipes, but none of them were quite what I wanted. Peach cobbler, peach pie, peach crumble, peach crisp and peach ice cream. But none of them tempted me. Then I remembered an amazing peach salsa I had served with pork loin in peach country- Georgia. What I wanted to do was remake that food memory. I found a couple of different recipes and mixed ’em up. I am SUPER pleased with the results. My husband had this with eggs for breakfast this morning and his first reaction was ‘wow’.

*  I do eat/cook local as far as possible, but living in the desert our produce is limited. Apologies to my British readers for whom peaches are totally, completely and utterly out of season right now.


Tastes-Good-With-Everything Peach Salsa


6 ripe peaches

3 medium tomatoes

1/2 chilli

1 red pepper

1/4 red onion

1 tbsp fresh mint finely chopped

1 lime

1/4 tsp chili powder

1 tbsp muscavado brown sugar

salt and pepper to taste


Dice the peaches, tomato, onion and chilli as finely as possible. Mix together with the fresh chilli. Add in the juice of the lime, chilli, sugar and salt and pepper to taste.

Mix together and store in a sterilized jar. This tastes best after it’s had at least a couple of hours for the flavours to marinate.

Store in the fridge.


Beetroot Gazpacho

Beetroot Gazpacho Amelia Johnson Photography

This weekend I headed down to Safa Park to check out the recently opened Ripe Market. Wow. Dubai’s artisans have really gone from strength to strength over the last couple of years. There was beautiful Christmas decorations, locally made pottery, imported rustic furniture, locally made bags, home-made cakes, delicious coffee stalls, juice bars, and gorgeous hand-made clothes. There must have been at least 100 stalls there of really great quality produce. Marbrook Dubai!

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I resisted temptation to buy anything other than picking up my veggie box as planned. I’ll be back next week with my shopping list. When I got home I saw I had 5 beets in my box… again. I’ll be honest, I’ve had beetroot in my box every time I’ve bought one and I NEVER know what to do with it. Beetroot reminds me of other root veggies, swede, and turnip, and thick, comforting English stews, crackling fireplaces and long hearty walks in the countryside. What could I possibly make that would work when it’s 28 degrees outside?


Enter this divine, deep gazpacho soup. Goodness in a bowl, it is at once hearty, earthy and refreshing. It’s the perfect Dubai winter lunch. I used about a third of my veggie box- tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and onion and it served four people.  All organic, all locally grown. The beet leaves can go in too- no waste, extra depth, extra vitamins! This is definitely going to become a regular Saturday lunch for us.

Beetroot Gazpacho


750g tomatoes, chopped

350g raw beetroot including leaves, peeled and chopped finely

1 green pepper

300g local cucumbers (approx 6 small Dubai, or 1 English)

1 small red onion

2 garlic cloves

2 tbsp red or white wine vinegar

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


Prepare all the vegetables, and using a food processor, liquidizer or blender, puree together until completely liquid.

Season the soup, and stir through the vinegar and olive oil. If your veggies weren’t cold before you started, put in the fridge to chill.

Four Minute Magic Pizza

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Four Minutes to make a decadent tasting but healthy, filling, nutritious meal? Can’t be done? Let me show you how.

Back when I was working in an office this meal became a regular answer to the question ‘What’s for dinner?’ It uses mostly store cupboard ingredients and less than 5 minutes prep. We coined the word magic pizza and it stuck. Seems magic to me- from fridge to plate in less than ten minutes.

The trick is to use Lebanese flatbread as the base of the pizza. This crisps up really nicely in the oven, and is very thin so you don’t feel stuffed full of carbs. Add some pizza sauce from a jar (the fewer ingredients on the jar the better), and then any ingredients you have in your fridge. A lot of the time we reduce the calories by leaving off the cheese, but of course a nice mozzarella, or goats cheese turns this into a treat.

Last night’s magic pizza was fig, mushroom and thyme. A fab combination. The sweetness of the fig was offset beautifully by the cheese and mushroom, and the hints of thyme made it taste really fresh. I suggest you add things like thyme after you’ve cooked the pizza, but it’s really up to you.

Stuck for topping ideas? Most veggies will work well on a pizza- some of them may need fry or bake before you add them, if cooking times necessitate. Anchovies, fresh pineapple, any herb, cold meats, chicken…. really anything you have in the fridge.

What’s your favourite pizza topping?

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Fig, Mushroom and Thyme Magic Pizza

Serves 1


1 medium Lebanese flatbread

2 tbsp pizza sauce (from a jar, I like American Garden’s)

1/2 fig, sliced

3 mushrooms, sliced

3 tbsp grated cheddar cheese

3 sprigs thyme

salt and pepper


Pre-heat your oven to the highest temperature.

Assemble your pizza using the ingredients above.

Cook in your oven on a pizza tray or a thin baking tray until the edges of the flatbread are golden brown and your toppings are turning brown. This takes about 4 minutes, but will vary depending on your oven. Keep checking it.

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Roasted Butternut Squash, Red Onion and Tahini Sauce

Amelia Johnson Photography

It’s taken me five years of living in the Middle East to experiment with tahini. I have no idea why, perhaps I just didn’t know where to start. I certainly wish I’d started earlier- it’s so easy to use and takes all the flavours up a notch. Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds and is used throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. It is one of the main ingredients in hummus.

I was given Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem for Christmas. Filled with ingredients which I’d heard of, but never used, it sat on my bedside table, to be looked through and admired, but not dirtied in the kitchen. I finally bought a jar of tahini a few months ago. But this too sat on a shelf unused. When I realised that I had all the ingredients for this recipe in my cupboards already, I knew I had no excuse.

My husband has been pescetarian for 9 months, and one of my best friends is vegetarian. When she comes for dinner I always struggle with what to make. This will be perfect for our next dinner party. No more failed sweetcorn fritters and boring lentil dishes for my guests!

You can make this in advance, but it’s important not to put the tahini sauce on the vegetables until the last-minute. For those readers that don’t live in the middle east, tahini and za’atar area becoming more and more common in the UK and the States with the popularisation of Lebanese food. If you can’t find the ingredients in your local supermarket, there should be a specialist shop not too far away where you can buy these two mainstays of Middle Eastern food.

One of the things I loved most about this is that I hadn’t realised you can eat the skin of butternut squash. Certainly saves a lot of time peeling it!

Roasted Butternut Squash, Red Onion and Tahini Sauce

(Adapted from ‘Jerusalem’ by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)

Serves 2 as a main course


1/2 butternut squash, cut into 2cm x 6cm pieces

1 x red onion, cut into wedges

1tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp tahini paste

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1 small garlic clove

15g pine nuts

1/2 tbsp za’atar (optional)

To Prepare

Preheat the oven to 220 deg centigrade / Gas Mark 9

Spread the squash and onion on a baking sheet, pour over 2 tsp oil, season with salt and pepper and toss well. Spread out over the sheet with the skin down no the sheet. Roast for 30 minutes, until the vegetables have taken some colour.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Make the sauce. Place the tahini in a bowl with the lemon juice, 2 tbsp water, garlic and a pinch of salt. The tahini will thicken to the consistency of double cream.

Fry the pine nuts with a teaspoon oil until lightly browned.

Spread the warm vegetables on a platter, top with the sauce, sprinkle with pine nuts and top with za’atar.

Smoked Aubergine with Lemon and Pomegranate

Amelia Johnson Photography

Baba Ganoush would make it into my top ten foods of all time. This Lebanese meza dish just hits all the right spots. I love aubergine, and the smoky flavours are amazing. It’s always the first thing my husband orders when we go out for Lebanese food, even though he knows he won’t get his fork anywhere near it.

I’ll be honest- this isn’t the recreation of baba ganoush that I was hoping for. In order to get that extreme smoky taste you really need an open flame and my electric hob just ain’t cutting it. I grilled the aubergine, but again, without a flame it doesn’t work. For now, I’ll continue to rely on Reem Al Bawadi for my baba ganoush kick.

This dish is still delicious in its own right though. The smokiness is subtle and pairs beautifully with the fresh lemon. Be generous with the pomegranate seeds and you’ve got yourself a very tasty dip.

Smoked Aubergine with Lemon and Pomegranate

Adapted from ‘Jerusalem’ by Ottolenghi


1 large aubergine

1 small garlic clove, crushed

grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp chopped parsley

50g pomegranate seeds


Score the aubergine with a knife a few cm deep, about 10 times and place on a baking sheet under a hot grill for about an hour, turning every 20 minutes. The aubergine will be black and very soft.

Allow the aubergine to cool and then scoop out al the flesh. Discard the skin and put the flesh in a sieve over a bowl. Put some foil over the aubergine, and then a bowl filled with water to weigh the aubergine down. Allow the aubergine to drain out the water for at least an hour.

Place the aubergine in a bowl and add the garlic, lemon olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir and  allow the aubergine to marinate at room temperature for an hour.

When you’re ready to serve it, stir in the parsley and check the seasoning. Scatter over the pomegranate seeds and garnish with a little parsley.

I served this with some pita bread and celery sticks. It would also be delicious served with other meze- humus and tabbouleh for example.

Simple Orange, Radish and Fennel Salad

Orange, Fennel and Radish Salad

Two things stick in my mind from my trip to Tuscany with regards Italian cooking. Firstly, don’t be scared of seasoning. The Tuscan food I ate was beautifully and heavily seasoned. I tend to err on the timid side when it comes to salting my dishes. Of course, you don’t want to go over the top, but adding a little and tasting and adding some more will help with this. I’ve been watching Master Chef this season and the chefs are constantly tasting what they are making as they go to check the flavours and seasoning.

Secondly the Italians let the flavours speak for themselves. Few of the dishes were complicated, nor were the ingredients cooked for particularly long. The fresh, local ingredients spoke for themselves. I ordered bruscetta several times. Each time it was just two or three well seasoned, complimenting ingredients, rarely cooked, assembled on toasted bread. It was delicious.

Here I’ve taken three simple ingredients orange, radish and fennel, thinly sliced and raw, and added just enough seasoning and complimentary dressings to really make them zing. This makes a delicious light lunch or would be a great vegetarian starter.

I bought a really interesting salt at San Lorenzo food market in Florence. It’s called Sale Italiano et Vino Rosso- Italian salt and red wine. Personally I can’t taste the red wine in the salt, but it does lend it a delicate pink colour. I use it in salads and it’s interesting because some of the salt crystals are quite large. Whilst I crush the larger ones, I quite like having the larger pieces dotted through a salad. I used this to season the salad but Maldon salt will be just as good.

Orange, Radish and Fennel Salad


Serves 1

1 navel Orange, peeled and thinly sliced

1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

5 radish, thinly sliced

Zest of half a lemon

1 tsp Sesame oil

Sprig of fresh mint

Generous sprinkling of salt to taste

To Serve

Assemble the orange, fennel and radish on a plate.

Toss over lemon zest, sesame oil, mint and salt to taste.

Serve immediately with fresh rosemary focaccia or other fresh bread.

Optional: Add walnuts for some good oils/protein. I didn’t have any in the kitchen otherwise I would have done for some crunch. 

Duck Egg, Mustard Greens and Thyme Cream Cheese Bagels

I popped into my local organic shop, Ripe, on my way home from a meeting and as soon as I spotted these gorgeous blue duck eggs they went straight in my basket. Not only are duck eggs pretty, they’re tastier than chicken eggs. Ripe is one of the only shops that sells a wide range of local organic produce and it’s such a treat to have vegetables from there rather than the tasteless shipped veggies we get at my local supermarket.

Even tastier than locally grown organic veg though? HOME grown veg! I’ve used mustard greens, salad and thyme straight from my balcony. Grown from seed, soil, water and sunshine and and an embarassing amount of love.

Duck eggs are becoming easier to buy ever since Jamie Oliver announced in July that they’re tastier than chicken eggs. If you can’t find them in the supermarket, try your local farmer or organic shop.

Duck Egg, Mustard Greens and Thyme Cream Cheese Bagels

Serves 1

You’ll need:

2 x Duck Eggs

1 x bagel

Handful of Mustard Greens and/or mixed salad leaves

A couple of sprigs of Thyme

2 x Tbsp Cream Cheese

To make:

Heat a frying pan with a splash of olive oil over a medium heat. Once hot, break the ducks eggs into the pan and turn the heat down a little lower. (Note: Ducks eggs have a harder shell than chickens eggs, so give them a good crack!). To make it nice and crunchy you can spoon some of the oil back over the egg white.

Whilst the egg is frying chop half of your fresh thyme and mix it into the cream cheese. Season to taste.

Split the bagel in two and pop in the toaster.

To assemble spread your hot toasted bagel with cream cheese, top with your greens and then the fried egg. Sprinkle the remaining thyme on top and season well.

Copyright Amelia Johnson

Copyright Amelia Johnson

Pizza with Pizzaro

Pizzaro is a new local chain of restaurants here in the UAE. And boy do they know something about pizza.

Italian Chef, Vicenzo is at the helm of this team, who knead and grate and chop all in the name of fresh, traditional Italian pizza.

Last week I shot their take-away menu for 2013 with a great team. Can’t wait to see it pushed under our front door! Coming soon to a road near you… Pizzaro are planning on opening 15 new restaurants next year.

We shot this tasty tasty vegetarian pizza and then I ordered it for lunch. The perks of being a Food Photog: getting to see all the dishes before I decide what to order!

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Sushi and Gardening at Nobu

Last week I had the opportunity to do a quick food shoot at Nobu, in the Atlantis hotel here in Dubai. Nobu is the creation of Nobu Matsuhisa who I was incredibly fortunate to meet and photograph last week when he was in the UAE. Despite having 3 Michelin stars and 29 restaurants to his name, he was remarkably uninhibited and gracious. He spoke at length about the importance of being passionate about our work. We had a great chat about how creatives: Chefs, Photographers, Musicians can’t be truly successful without passion driving what they do.

A week later and I was in the gorgeous sanctury of his vegetable garden. Multiple wooden planters, gravelled paths and moor grass sit in a spacious fenced in private garden. Nobu grow their own herbs- the usual suspects and well as tomatoes, some beans and mizuna (a type of Japanese lettuce which I’m growing too). The tomatoes plants and beans hadn’t fruited yet, so I’m not sure what type they were. Chef said that during the winter most of the herbs come from their garden. I did wonder why, when the space they have outside is so big, they aren’t able to use herbs solely from their garden?

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Here is my first shot from the shoot- a Shrimp Tempura Roll. It was an unusually cloudy day, but I still shot in the partial shade of a palm to get the beautiful soft light.