As I said, there are many tastes that we try to recreate within the limitations of the Indian home kitchen. Earlier the challenge was the unavailability of the fancy ingredients. Now, when most are readily available, I sometimes refuse to buy ‘ordinary’ ingredients such as Philly cream cheese or sun-dried tomatoes if they’re going to cost an arm and a leg. There are others like fish sauce which I must. I haven’t looked for a recipe yet, and doubt if TH will be all that understanding if I stink up the house instead of just the dish I am going to eat all by myself. Believe it or not, I’m the only one who likes Thai in this house!
Now, the cream cheese base I use here is something I have used for years and years. But I used to call it curd-cheese till I had Philly for the first time. So, on my return to India, I knew cream cheese would not be hard to get.
Sun-dried tomatoes?? How to get these without burning a hole in the pocket for something that is basically not so dear? Brace yourself people, here comes another tip that will save many of you who may be the quintessentially penny-pinching Indians (like me 🙂 . It’s a good thing!) some moolah, or help out those of you away from what we erroneously call ‘civilization’, or even those who just want to have more control over what goes inside.
Now, all of us have heard of cooking with dried vegetables, right? Nothing new there. In Kashmir it was very common to dry most vegetable for use later in the winter months when everything would be blanketed in snow. Turnips and turnip greens, egg plant, cauliflower, and even bottle gourd! Dried vegetables have a unique taste and smell all their own. As does hawgaad, the tiny dried fish cooked with other things. I never liked that; only smell, no meat.
If you can dry gourd, you can pretty much dry anything, I thought. And Italians obviously dry the tomatoes in sun?!
So, I tried drying tomatoes in the sun. They took a few days, I don’t remember how long exactly. They were a pretty red (these are now a couple of years old!!). I didn’t pack them in oil, though I guess we could do and get the real thing. But I am not one to ‘drain (all that good) oil’ and use the tomatoes. So I put them in a jar and they have stayed happy all these years. It may be a good idea to not keep them so long. I should make the spread more often 😉 . But these were none the worse off from age. Just darker. Since they are dry packed they do take longer to hydrate. Which is okay since the garlic can use the extra time to meld into the creamy cheese.
Let me say that I feel as if I am sharing a family secret here. So, do keep it yourself. No need to tell everybody you know. 🙂
The recipe is similar to the cream- cheese with sun-dried-tomatoes spread that is available all over bagel shops in the States. But it also takes a little inspiration from the Mediterranean where walnuts and garlic are combined with yoghurt. Before I had discovered the bagel-cream cheese combo this, with some fine chopped green pepper and julienned cabbage mixed in, used to be my special sandwich spread. Always appreciated. We didn’t use to have anything to spread on bread those days other than butter, jam, Amul cheese or dhaniya chutney. Yes, I am talking of long ago, when some of you were not even born.
(home made) Cream cheese with (your very own) sun-dried tomatoes
cream cheese or hung yoghurt!
garlic, smashed to a pulp
dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
red chilli powder (or sweet paprika)
To make ‘cream cheese’ put natural plain yoghurt in muslin and hang, at least 4 hrs, to drain the whey (this whey is truly great in clear soups – waste not). The longer you hang it the thicker will the cheese be. I use home-made yoghurt (made from 3% milk). The creamier your milk the more creamy will be your cheese. You could even add a cup of cream to your milk before setting the yoghurt, if feeling really indulgent.
Chop up the sun-dried tomatoes. Mix all ingredients well. Adjust seasoning. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to let the flavours meld. Garnish with few bits of walnut and a dash of chilli powder. Serve as a spread or a dip for the usual chips, crunchy veges, toast, toasted bagels…You and yours will keep coming back for more. Guaranteed.