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

Ingredients

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

Method

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.

AmeliaJohnsonPhotography

Tastes-Good-With-Everything Peach Salsa

Ingredients

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

Method

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.

 

Get Planting! The Easiest Way to Grow Tomatoes

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We have some pretty good weather for growing tomatoes in the UAE, as evidenced by the plethora of local tomatoes in the supermarket. I know very little about growing vegetables on a large scale, but it seems to me that the UAE tomato industry is in the early stages of growth and is just figuring out how it can produce tastier tomatoes, on a larger scale, to a demanding audience. We certainly have the sunshine, maybe they’re just figuring out the technology. The little I do know tells me that you can’t test the value of a seed, or a growing method without allowing nature to take its sweet time growing the plant, the flower and then the fruit. I guess it’ll be a few years til we see really delicious locally produced tomatoes in the supermarket but in the meantime grow your own!

It’s really not too hard- you just need to get started at the right time of year (September to November, not March when the temperatures are searing, as my husband once did), buy some decent sizes pots and good soil, and then some tasty tomatoes from the market. It’s not too late to start right now though. Plant them this week and they’ll do great.

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Firstly, I could launch into a list of suitable items you could recycle and use as a pot, but let’s face it, we live in the Middle East and not many people have old wine barrels or beautiful vintage trunks lying around. I bought some plastic planters from Carrefour, and some pretty ceramic pots from Dubai Garden Centre. Both have lasted me 3 years and still look in very good condition. I scrubbed them out with some washing up liquid in September before adding new soil to get rid of any diseases that may have been festering. I doubt there were any though as they’d been outside in 50 degree heat all summer (yes, you can put your plates outside to warm or fry eggs on cars at this temperature).The general rule, for your pots- the bigger the better. I think my largest is 45cm across and I wish I had bought bigger. Cherry toms will need smaller containers than beefsteaks.

A watering can is useful, but at a stretch you could use a cup. I have a trowel but more often than not use an old spoon.

Ok, so here goes- my so-easy-kids-could-do-it, method for growing tomatoes.

Choose your favourite tasting tomato from the supermarket. What the heck- splash out, hedge your bets, and choose a couple. You can assume that a locally produced tomato will have more chance of success than another.

Fill your container with soil and soak through. It should be damp to touch. Put the container in partial shade. 4-6 hours a day should be plenty in this region. You can always move it if need be.

Take your first tomato and put a hole in it with your thumb. Then bury it in the soil about 3cm deep. You’re done!

Monitor the soil to ensure it’s always damp to touch. You don’t want to over water it as the roots may rot but tomatoes are thirsty. 1 really good watering every 2 days should suffice but it will depend on the position of your pots and how big they are. The bigger the pots, the less frequently they need to be watered.

You will need to thin your tomatoes out once they start coming through. Weed out the weaker, straggly looking plants and keep the healthiest. Don be tempted to keep more than will fit in the pot, this will just result in weaker plants which don’t produce much fruit. 1 plant per 45cm pot is about right.

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Steak your tomatoes using anything you can find once they start to look like they can’t hold themselves. I am still experimenting but Ace Hardware has some good options.

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You should expect to see fruit after about 60 days. It’ll take another whopping 60 days for that fruit to grow and turn red! You’ll need patience!

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Good luck!! Let me know if you have any questions!

Desert Container Gardening

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For the last two years I’ve grown herbs and veg on my balcony both to improve the taste and healthiness of the food we eat at home, as well as for use in food styling. Despite the odds I’ve had a lot of success.

I have a North West facing 14th floor balcony in a city surrounded on 3 sides by desert. Traditionally Emirates eat a diet of fish, imported rice and spices. Before oil was found most of their trade was with India and their food roots are firmly planted in Indian cuisine. Goat also features prominently, particularly during Eid, Islamic festivals, when a goat is often slaughtered as a sacrifice. Biryani as well as flat breads are the mainstay of the traditional Emirati diet. Fresh vegetables weren’t really featured – apart from of course the fantastic Khaleeji dates.

Nowadays the Emirates does produces quite a lot of food, and a few excellent vegetables. The small cucumbers in particular are delicious. There is also a small and growing local organic movement where local farmers are producing vegetables and fruits for a demanding local market.

Having learnt lessons from the past this year I’ll be growing herbs, tomatoes and mixed salad greens. All my seeds come from America and England although you can buy them here from Dubai Garden Centre, Carrefour and Ace Hardware amongst others.

I have had huge success growing herbs, and they’re so useful. This year I’ve planted thyme, coriander and oregano. My basil, mint and chives all survived the summer thanks to my zealous cleaner watering them on a regular basis whilst I was away. I buy soil from Dubai Garden Center- 29AED for 50litres, and simply sow the seeds generously straight into small containers. I water regularly (most of the time!) and pinch back with gusto. The more you pinch back the more the herbs flourish.

The mixed salad greens and mustard greens couldn’t be easier. I sowed seeds liberally in a medium size rectangular container on Friday and by Saturday I could see shoots poking through the soil. I planted ‘cut and come again’ leaves. Last year they provided many bowls of delicious salad, far tastier than anything from the local supermarket. This year I’ve also planted microgreens. You can see last year’s salad in these photos.

Then there’s the tomatoes… I seem to have ended up with 10 different types despite my 7ft x 3ft balcony. I thought it was ok. I counted containers, and figured I could just about squeeze in 10 different tomato plants having abandoned last year’s experimental cucumber, beans, aubergine and lettuce! So, I cleaned out every pot I have and got out my seed tray. I sowed the tomato seeds- purple tomatillo, pink brandywine, super sioux, black krim, bonnybest, evergreen, coustralee, red and yellow heirloom, and Djena Lee’s golden girl, watered them and put them in the shade on my balcony. Then I came back into the air conditioning to research what I’d sown. I’ve never been one to read the instructions first.

Coustralee alone are expected to reach 1-2lb. Whoops.

Last year I struggled to keep my cherry tomato plants standing.

Still, I’m going to give it a bash. You never know, I might win a prize at the Dubai Garden Fete this year.