Recent Work: Gourmet Burger Kitchen

I loved working on this project with my team. Aliaa my fabulous food stylist used her unending energy and fabulous eye to grill up these fabulous burgers for me to shoot. Selva worked his magic with problem solving and his indefatigable attitude. Together we produced the following images for Gourmet Burger Kitchen Dubai who have just launched their new menu. I’ve also included some fun behind the scenes shots. I apologise in advance for drool on keyboards.

blue cheese chicken burger the grateful photographer

Habanero Burger The Grateful Photographer

Burger Amelia Johnson Photography

Burger 2 Amelia Johnson Photography

Sweet Potato Fries Amelia Johnson Photography

Texas BBQ Burger Amelia Johnson Photography

Aliaa styling our first burger:

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behind the scenes food stylist amelia johnson photography

.Behind the scenes photoshoot amelia johnson photographyI

If you’re now fasmished there are branches of GBK in the Marina and DIFC, both in Dubai.

January: Five things I’m lovin’ this month

What a crazy-busy month! It always takes a week or so for January to get rolling, but once it did this year, I was back to back with work. Just the way I like it! Here are a few things that have got me through the busy month.

1. Za’atar from the Palestinian tent, Global Village, Dubai

An old Palestinian lady behind a stall at the back of the Palestinian tent looked up at me smiling as she handed over a fresh piece of pitta, dipped in olive oil, and then covered with her lemony fresh za’atar. She handed me piece after piece, with different za’atars on to try. I selected the ones I want and when I asked for 200 grams she laughed: as most spice sellers do when I ask for my tidily western quantities. This Za’atar is out of this world good. Za’atar blends can be a bit dusty- particularly if they’re too heavy on the thyme. This one is heavy on the sesame seeds and sumac. I asked a Lebanese friend where the best place to buy Za’atar is in Dubai and she agreed with me. Here’s the link for more info about Global Village.

2. Unroll me

Until 2 weeks ago I would wake up to at least 30 newsletters in my inbox every morning. Then I saw a friend tweet about this amazing website. I was very pessimistic. A promise to get rid of all my unwanted subscriptions to newsletters? In 2 minutes? Impossible. I was wrong. Five minutes later, I’d set my email up with them and received a promise that I wouldn’t get any more emails from companies I unsubscribed from. And I didn’t. I’ve spent hours previously unsubscribing one by one, email by email. This service is amazing. And free at the moment!

3. Wingsters

Amelia Johnson Photography

Shameless plug, but nonetheless a very well deserved one, for my friend Ahmed and his amazing Wingsters restaurant in the Marina, Dubai. Ahmed has opened Dubai’s first themed mobster-style Buffalo wings restaurant. As someone who has visited the city of Buffalo wings, where they were invented, over ten times, I feel qualified to tell you that these are the real deal. For the daring amongst you, he’s running an ‘initiation‘ – a challenge only the hardest of chilli lovers should take on to confront his spiciest sauces and come out alive on the other side. Succeed and you’ll earn your photograph on the wall of fame. For those less adventurous the Buffalo wings rock my world. His make-your-own milkshakes are pretty darn good too. Not to mention how good his food photography is…. 😉

4. Frying Pan Adventures

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I met Arva, who runs Frying Pan Adventures in December and as soon as I met her I knew I had to join one of her tours. I went on the ‘Arabian Food Pilgrimage’. I can’t wait for my Mum to visit again so I can take her on this, and then follow it a few days later with the ‘Little India on a Plate’ tour. From start to finish Arva’s energy and enthusiasm for the food and history of the region was infectious. Although we didn’t cover a large distance physically, in food we went from Egypt, to Palestine, to Syria, Iran and back to Egypt. I don’t want to include any spoilers, but our group of 12 tried desserts made from a type of root which can also be used as soap, learnt how to make falafel and ate ice cream with our hands. I’ve lived in the Middle East for five years and learnt more than I ever expected to. Wonderful.

ps. I’ve just noticed they’re number 1 for activities to do in Dubai on Trip Advisor. If that isn’t a recommendation I don’t know what is!

5. The Lebanese Kitchen by Salma Hage

This is the kind of book you open up and dig straight into. Some books I work my way through, and bookmark with post it notes and scribbles about the type of occasion on which I might make something. not this one. Book propped up, cupboards open, oven on. As I received this for Christmas my husband was bombarded in the first week of the new year with fresh, healthy, home-style Lebanese food. I didn’t hear any complaints. The book is well laid out. The recipes are not complicated, perfect for the beginner. As a Lebanese friend told me the other day- a Lebanese person would never refer to a recipe book, they’d use their mother’s recipes. Well for those of us without Lebanese mothers, this is the book to use. I particularly enjoyed the sumac crusted tuna. Recipes to come on here soon. And on that note, I’m off to my kitchen to cook from it!

January Gardening Update: balcony gardening basics

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Last time I posted I had tiny little tomato plants that I prayed would grow strong enough to support just a couple of the heirloom tomatoes I was hoping for. The packet says they’ll grow to weigh 1lb- 2lb each!  This morning I counted TWENTY beefsteak tomatoes on my largest plant. TWENTY! Is it ok to admit that I count them most mornings?

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I don’t have any big secrets to share with you, no clever tricks or methods to help you grow a giant crop. Just one, simple tip: spend a couple of minutes every single morning caring for your plants. Use your common sense: keep them well watered, tomatoes are thirsty, trim dead leaves and keep the soil area clear of debris. Support your tomatoes with bamboo sticks, or purpose made cages from a hardware store. Use gardening wire to tie them to the bamboo sticks. Keep your tomatoes in quite a sunny area. That’s it, that’s all I’ve got.

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0E1A3856People ask how I manage to grow the plants on the 14th floor. To be honest, I see it as an advantage. I don’t seem to get any bugs up here. It’s a very controlled environment: I’m religious about keeping out anything that could bring harmful insects onto my balcony and I control how much water my plants get. The only disadvantage I find is the wind. I get a lot of bloom drop (when flowers grow on the plant, but wilt before they produce fruit) because it’s very windy up here. I am so grateful that the recent rain didn’t turn into storms. During last year’s storms I brought my tomatoes inside, but this year they’re tied tightly to the balcony and can’t be moved.

Here’s what a tomato looks like it when the flower has set and the fruit is just starting to grow:

0E1A3862The flower drops off the bottom as it increases in size.

All my tomatoes are green at the moment and will probably take another 60 days or so to turn red. I think they have to grow to full size (1-2lb!!) and then I have to wait 60 days for them to turn red. Or possibly yellow. I’m not sure if the 2 plants that are growing fruit are red or yellow Brandywine as they came as a mixed packet.

So now the bad news… I have six plants that haven’t yet borne fruit. Again, I think the wind is a problem. Also the pots are a little small. I’m hoping when it warms up they will start to fruit. I really hope they do- one is a purple Tomatillo, and the others are Black Krim, Golden Sunburst and Coustralee. I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing and hope the sun will do its thing. Check out this flower on one of the smaller plants just waiting fruit!

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So, how’s everything else doing?

Well… the mint is slower than last year and I’m not sure why… kinda strange. I think maybe I just need to plant some more. The coriander and thyme, both of which are quite hard to grow from seed are doing ok. Oregano is doing well, as is the parsley. To be honest, herbs are super easy to grow, as long as you keep them watered.

Check out my chillies!

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The chilli flowers are so pretty:

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And finally I’m not quite sure what’s going on here…

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Happy Gardening! Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to help.

Living with Intention in 2014

Hello 2014! And welcome. 2014, you are so very welcome.

It’s January 6th 2014, and there is a whole year ahead of us. I mentioned before that I’d been doing Stratejoy’s Holiday Council at the end of the year. What a wonderful way to finish one year and enter the next. Through international calls, recorded interviews, work sheets, visualisations, asking and answering questions we each decided what we wanted to leave in 2013 and what we wanted to take into 2014. Then we made plans for 2014. Set priorities, intentions and thought about how we’d like to feel at the end of 2014. I am already a goal-setting, self-help loving, manifesting chick, but this made me consider how I wanted to feel, more than what I wanted to achieve, and thenhow I could achieve those feelings. I’ve kept my usual type of goals, continuing to work with and working with new fabulous clients, financial goals, continuing to spend a good amount of time with family and my oldest friends. I will always strive to improve my photography, the quality of work on here, and to quench my thirst for ambition and adventure. But the time I spent on this allowed me to think beyond those gals.

Molly from Stratejoy suggests making a theme for the year. Something that summarises your vision for the year. This is probably the part of the workshop that resonated most with me. We brainstormed around all areas of our lives. We wrote about abundence and cavities, looked at the ‘why’ and then reviewed which words kept reappearing. If you’re interested in creating your own theme for the year, Molly has a free recording on how to do that here: http://www.stratejoy.com/2011/01/how-to-create-your-personal-theme/

When I’m receiving and making 50 phone calls a day, am being bombarded by email, as well as whats’app and sms, I sometimes feel like I’m going a bit mad. My brain feels SO busy all the time. I am half way through replying to a message, only to get a phone call and forget about the message. At the end of the day I fall asleep with my head buzzing with tasks for tomorrow and next week, things I should have done today, people to contact tomorrow, wondering how I’ll fit in  some exercise, and visualising the perfect shot for my client the day after tomorrow. I can be oversensitive, and worry that people are not happy with what I’ve done for them, or that I’m disliked. I hate to fall out with people, it leaves my heart hurting a little, even if that person doesn’t play a large role in my life. And so,  the first word I chose for next year’s theme was peace. This quote summarises my thoughts well.

“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work, it means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart” – Unknown

I’m the only one that has the ability to create peace in my heart. I have plenty of tools- I can run more, create a space in my home just for me, turn my phone off in the evening. It’s something I’ll be working on.

Secondly, I crave JOY! Oh how I miss my Uni days, where on Sunday mornings with our duvets wrapped around and bacon sarnie in hand, I’d sit squealing with my best friends, recalling the night before, or when bursts of giggles would lead to snorts of laughter, inevitably inducing more and more giggles and snorts. I miss being silly and a little carefree. But there’s no reason why I can’t have these things now. Of course, I have responsibilities, but there are still enough hours in the week to set some aside for girlfriends, and joy and laughter and snorting. Being an expat I miss my oldest friends terribly. And I’m so fortunate that I am able to see them so frequently. But it’s not the same as having them down the corridor, or a tube ride away. So, enough complaining and reminiscing. It’s time to do something about that. And because I’m not sure that I’d be able to convince them to leave their lives in England, America, Norway and Singapore, my intention this year is to make more friends. More friends with whom I can laugh and play, and be joyful. With whom I can share.

I’m nervously putting it out there, because I believe the best way to manifest things is to tell people what you want. So here’s the intention board I made:

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Wishing you all a year of Joyful Peace, and that all your intentions come true.

Za’atar Cheesy Biscuits

AmeliaJohnsonPhotographyCheesyZaatarBiscuits

Has anyone else found themselves spending a full day trying to put together an ambitiously fancy dinner party only for it all to be a little disappointing? To wonder why you didn’t just go a bit simpler? Six months ago I spent two hours putting together fiddly, fancy canapés- crositini with ridiculous things like fried sage leaves, and mini yorkshire puddings. They were met with polite compliments, but not much more. Two hours making canapés? I don’t have the time, nor the patience to spend two hours making  canapés! This Christmas I decided to keep it simple. Tasty and simple.

Now, my disclaimer is that they’re not the prettiest of biscuits. Especially after you’ve added the Za’atar, but the taste is SO good that these may disappear before you get the opportunity to try one yourself. Use a star shaped cookie cutter if you have one. That’ll pretty them up. And of course, put on a sparkly dress and everyone will be looking at you, not your food!

To continue on my theme of experimenting with local ingredients, I’ve added Za’atar to these traditional sharp, cheesy biscuits. Mum used to throw these biscuits together for Christmas Eve drinks parties. You can make them several days before as they’ll last for up to a week. I promise they won’t take you more than 10 mins prep.

Za’atar Cheesy Biscuits

Ingredients

200g strong grated English cheddar

50g soft unsalted butter

100g self-raising flour

1 tbsp za’atar

Method

Preheat your oven to 180°C/ gas mark 4/350°F.

Put all ingredients in a bown and mix together until a dough forms.

Bring the dough together into a ball. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface to half an inch thick. Use a cutter to cut out stars or rounds. Keep rolling, cutting and re-rolling until all the dough is used.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange your biscuits on top.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until the biscuits are golden. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack until cool.

 

Grannie Dunning’s Lemon Curd

Grannie Dunning's Lemon Curd

I feel like I’m committing family treachery by sharing this recipe. The photo above is from my Grandmother’s recipe book. Which means it came from her Paternal Grandmother, which makes me the fifth generation to make this incredible recipe, and now I’m sharing it with you.

It’s funny the things we remember about people from our childhood. I remember Grandma always got up at 5am. I’ve no idea why, she didn’t work, but she got up at 5am and she would always have finished her toast with lemon curd before I came down for breakfast. This to me, aged 5 and a half, was a significant characteristic of my Grandmother. I didn’t know anyone else who would get up so ridiculously early. Now as an adult, I can better understand why she’d like to start her day at 5am. Have a couple of hours to herself before anyone else woke up. Potter around in the garden without anyone interfering, listen to the radio, catch up with her reading, and eat her toast in peace. I love having people to stay, but the only thing I don’t like is having my morning routine disturbed. In the morning I get up and put the kettle on, water my plants, make breakfast and catch up on my emails.  Beware the guest that tries to chatter with me about the day’s activities before my morning coffee!

This recipe is divine. I have been known to swirl it through crème fraîche, add meringues and freeze it. You know you want to. Otherwise, simply spread on a slice of toast you will wonder why you EVER bought lemon curd from the store. There is no comparison.

In case you can’t read my Grandmother’s writing here’s the recipe!

Grannie Dunning’s Lemon Curd

Ingredients

Juice and grated rind of 4 lemons

175g butter

250g caster sugar

4 eggs

Method

Using a double boiler, or a bowl set over a saucepan of boiling water, melt the butter together with the juice and rind of the lemons. Dissolve the sugar in the mixture over the water.

Remove from the water and leave to cool for 10 minutes. (If you don’t leave it cool the eggs will scramble! Yuck!)

Beat the eggs together. Place the bowl of lemon mixture back over the boiling water and add the eggs, stirring constantly.

Keep stirring until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.

Pour into sterilised jars and keep refrigerated.

 

Salted Butter Caramels

Salted Butter Caramels

If you can’t beat ’em join ’em? I don’t think I can write this post without at least a nod to the crazy-brilliant current trend for EVERYTHING salted cararmel. Except… salted caramel. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a salted caramel being sold in a shop, nor a recipe on a blog. Salted caramel ice cream? Check. Coffee? Check. Pie? Check. Mousse, brownies, sauce? Check, check, check! So, let’s simplify. Let’s talk sugar, butter, and very high temperatures.

These will make perfect holiday gifts, fairly easy to make, delcious, easy to transport, and easy to wrap up in a pretty and festive way. But a word of warning- don’t share these morish sweets with anyone for whom you pay the dental bill. These are sweet, buttery and deliciously chewy. I made them as a gift for a dinner I’m going to tonight. They are rich, and sophisticated without being boring. Don’t forget your thermometer.

Salted Butter Caramels

Makes a 9 inch by 9 inch tin.

Ingredients

150g light brown sugar

25ml water

75g unsalted butter

150g muscavado sugar

75ml golden syrup

200ml creme fraiche

2 tsps fine salt

1 tsp maldon sea salt

Method

Measure out all your ingredients in advance. You’ll need them ready to go when the temperatures start to rise.

Line a 9″ by 9″ tin with baking parchment.

Mix the water and first 150 g sugar in a large saucepan and heat over a medium heat until the sugar has all dissolved. When it’s ready, remove the pan from the heat and add the butter. Stir in until it’s melted. Then stir in the remaining sugar, golden syrup, the creme fraiche and salt.

Return the pan to the heat and bring it to the boil, watching it all the time to make sure it doesn’t bubble over. Stir occassionally to stop the sugar from burning. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer for 5 minutes. Then turn the heat up to the maximum possible. Put a sugar thermometer in the pan.

Heat the caramel to 125 degrees Centigrade. It will be bubbling like crazy. Whatever you do- don’t touch it! As soon as it hits 125, remove from the heat. Pour into your pre-prepared tin.

Sprinkle over the maldon seat salt. Leave the caramels at room temperature until cold.

When it’s cold, remove from the tin by picking up the parchment paper. Then with a very sharp knife cut into squares. Either wrap individually in parchment paper or wrap as a batch and store in an airtight tin.

December: 5 Things I’m Lovin’ this Month

Listening to an English radio station through my new Nude speakers whilst editing at home, I wanted to share my excitement over my new purchase. Being home alone, I didn’t have anyone to tell. And then I thought of you! So please, indulge me. I’ve had guests for 7 weeks and now they’ve all left.

So without further ado, five things I have wanted to shout out about this week!

1. NudeAudio Move M Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker – Grey/Mint

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So I think I might be a bit slow to the party, but these are awesome! They wirelessly hook up to my iPhone and the sound is bang-ing! I have an ‘Amelia-Proof’ case around my phone and so it won’t fit into a dock without  me going through the hassle of removing the cover. With these the phone can be up to 10 metres (in reality more like 5 around corners) away from the speaker. I’m so chuffed with these. I have music blaring from my phone at least 4 hours a day and now the sound is decent and LOUD (sorry lovely neighbours). Hooray!

2. Stratejoy’s Holiday Council

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For the next 21 days I’ll be reviewing and evaluating. Figuring out what rocked about this year and what sucked. Working out how I want next year to look. I’m SUPER excited about it. It’s not just about goal setting, but about figuring how you want to feel by the end of 2014 and how you can get there. Through a mixture of recorded interviews, phone calls, a  workbook and online questions, we’ll figure this stuff out as an online group. I’ve been feeling a little lacking in direction recently, and this is just what I need to get me on track. Registration has closed now but Molly has courses running through the year and is well worth a look.

3. Woodwick Candle Cinnamon Chai Medium Jar

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Our lovely aforementioned neighbours bought this for us when we dog-sat for them. There was really no need as we loved every minute of having Zura, a gorgeous, Bichon Frisé staying with us, but this candle is wonderful. It smells gorgeous and it CRACKLES like a wood fire! With the soothing sound of crackling, and the gorgeous cinnamon scent I feel like I’m back home in England with a pot of mulled wine on the stove…. which leads me nicely to….

4. Daughter of Fortune: A Novel

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This gorgeous novel is always my first recommendation when guests browse my bookshelf for books to read by their pool. It’s paints the most vivid picture of its characters, their homes and the colours that surround them. I was hooked from the first page. I always enjoy books where I feel that I’m learning whilst unable to put the book down. This taught me more about the San Franciscan gold rush than I thought I needed to know. A Dubai 7 stars to Allende!!

5. Jerusalem: A Cookbook

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I’ve already referred to this AMAZING cookbook by Ottolenghi a couple of times on the blog (here, here and here!) but it is THAT good that it’s worth mentioning again. This would be a super Christmas present for any budding chef (or to yourself?) with an interest in Middle Eastern food. It’s extended my sights beyond Lebanese takeaway and for that I will be forever grateful. Thanks to Ottolenghi tahini has become as much of a staple in my fridge as tomato ketchup. Amen.

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?

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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

Ingredients

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

Method

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.

Za’atar Caramalised Onion and Sumac Chicken Tart

Amelia johnson photography Zaatar Caramelised Onion and sumac chicken tart copy

This was a request from my current house guest. He’s an expat from Singapore, a city with an incredible food scene, but one which is so so different to ours. He’s excited by the new flavours and textures in Lebanese food and requested this for lunch today.

I am planning a series on local and Lebanese ingredients, but for now a short explanation about za’atar and sumac will have to suffice. Za’atar is a herb mix originating from Arabia, but no one is quite sure where specifically. It’s most commonly associated globally with Lebanon, but it’s used all over the region, in varying forms. The main ingredient is thyme, and this is mixed with sesame seeds, dried sumac and salt. Sometimes cumin, coriander or fennel seeds are added. Za’tar is becoming really easy to buy in the West, most supermarkets stock it, but I would highly recommend buying variants from any Middle Eastern stores you see- you may find a new blend you prefer. Many of the mass-produced blends add roasted flour which makes it quite ‘dusty’ in texture and taste. Sumac is made from dried and ground sumac berries and has a really unusual flavour. Here I use it to flavour the chicken, but I often mix it into tomato soups, or add it to salads.

For a much healthier lunch, I suggest serving the chicken, onion, pomegranate seeds and pine nuts over a bed of rocket.

I made this with a whole wheat homemade pastry as I needed to test the recipe for work, but let’s be honest- I’m not sure it’s worth making pastry these days- the frozen ready-to-roll stuff in the supermarket is so easy to use. If you want to make it yourself, just use your preferred pastry recipe.

Za’atar Caramalised Onion and Sumac Chicken Tart

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 short crust sheet ready-to-roll pastry

1/4 cup olive oil + 2 Tbsp for chicken

2 large white onions, sliced thinly

3 garlic cloves

salt and pepper

1 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp za’atar

4 tbsp sumac

3 chicken breasts

3 tbsp pomegranate seeds

4 tbsp pine nuts

Method

Roll out the pastry to fit a 30cm x 15cm rectangular baking tin. Line the tin with baking parchment and put in the tin, ensuring a lip on all four sides to hold in the filling. Cook according to the instructions until the pastry is a golden brown. Take out and cool completely.

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a heavy pan. On medium heat fry the onion and garlic, after 3 minutes add the salt, pepper, sugar and za’atar. Stir to coat everything and turn the heat down to low. Leave to caramalise stirring gently occasionally. Make sure the sugar doesn’t burn. After approx 40 minutes, when the onion is soft and dark brown remove from the heat and stir in 2 tbsp sumac. Pour into a colander to drain off the excess oil. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Centigrade. Cover the chicken with 2 tbsp and then coat with the remaining sumac. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes. When done cover with foil to stop the chicken drying out.

When you are ready to assemble the tart place the tart on a serving plate. Put the onion in the bottom, then slice the chicken very thinly. Layer this on top, followed by pomegranate, and pine nuts. Sprinkle with more sumac and garnish with fresh thyme if you have some.