Spread #1: cream cheese with sun-dried tomatoes

sun-dried tomato dip
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 πŸ™‚ . 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?!

sun-dried tomatoes
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 πŸ˜‰ . 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. πŸ™‚

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.

sun-dried tomato dip

(home made) Cream cheese with (your very own) sun-dried tomatoes

cream cheese or hung yoghurt!
garlic, smashed to a pulp
chopped walnuts
dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
red chilli powder (or sweet paprika)

making cream cheese

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.

on bagels


Published by


A self professed urban ecologist!

15 thoughts on “Spread #1: cream cheese with sun-dried tomatoes”

  1. Wow..that looks really yummy Anita. Fresh bagels with cream cheese is a wonderful breakfast.
    The winter is in here already and I don’t think my tomatoes will ever dry and might actually freeze in such weather !! I read abt oven drying them in the blogs,will give that a try. Will store bought yoghurt yield the same results ??
    and OMG !! I thought there wasn’t a soul who could hate Thai food !!
    Hi Priya. You may have to resort to ‘oven-dried’ tomatoes then! December is the best season for drying here in Delhi! The sun is bright without the dust of summer!
    And yes, store bought ‘natural’ yoghurt should do. Make sure it is the ‘dahi’ kind, also sometimes called ‘standing yoghurt’ I believe; the kind which shows some water separating when you cut it, and not the other slimy kind.

  2. Wild Oats has a great container of sun-dried tomatoes. These are literally dried tomatoes – thin slivers of dry tomatoes. You can hydrate them before you eat them or eat them as is. They are delicious.
    LOL, slimy kind! You’re hilarious, Anita!
    I love this recipe. I think I will save this for the December holidays when my sister’s bagel-crazy family visits me.
    As for Thai food, we have a new restaurant in Louisville that moved from Aurora. It’s called A Yummy Yummy Tasty Thai Food. And when the owner answers the phone, she says: “A Yummy Yummy, can I help you?” My daughter does not like fish sauce so she is not fond of Thai food. So we wait for her to go for a sleepover or a birthday party and then we gorge on Thai food.

    So, my dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes was not so ‘original’ after all!
    And Manisha, you live in the best place for Thai/Vietnamese food! (You probably already know) On the outskirts of Denver are the best small eateries run by native Asians, and also some great Asian shops. This is where I got initiated and hooked! Great tea too!

    Also, the best Margaritas are to be had right where you are, in Boulder! I miss the easy accessibility of good food and drink at reasonable prices. Delhi’s fancy eating places are not for the middle-class.

  3. Oh you don’t have to drain the oil you stored the sun-dried tomatoes in!! You can use the flavored oil for oh-so-many pasta dishes and just plain indian cooking!
    here’s my recipe(link) for sun-dried tomatoes…i used an oven to get the same πŸ™‚

    You’re right! Who’s going to really throw all that good oil ‘down the drain’. Not an Indian!! I don’t even throw the left over oil from my pickles – it goes into the dough for methi and other paranthas, and even pooris!

    Pasta is not so hot (again) with the family. I make all the pasta, ravioli, lasagne for myself (I do make them eat the lasagne actually!). But I can always use the oil in salads. Actually, the next batch of tomatoes is going to be packed in oil!

    Shall check out your oven-drying though with the plentiful sun, I can be authentic and conserve energy!

  4. Love it! I like your idea of sundried tomatoes, am i supposed to slice and dry them? I have an ABUNDANCE of sun in my whole house, i wont be surprised if turn into a sun dried chickoo myself one day…
    I do find sun dried tomatoes in the supermarket but as u say they cost more than an arm and leg, all for drying the tomatoes in the sun…am going ot try this

    Hi N. Chickoo?…:)
    Yup. Slice those babies and let the sun do the rest! If I remember correctly, I initially spread them on a steel thali. And ‘peeled’ them off while they were still very pliable and then sunned some more till I felt they were dry enough. And it seems I judged right ’cause they have stayed fine longer than 2 yrs! I do the same with karelas, methi, and mint too (keeping the greens in shade after the initial sunning). Put that sunny balcony/terrace to double duty. Why pay more for plentiful tomatoes and free sunshine!

  5. Wow Anita,
    I just love this recipe.Thanks for sharing an easy way to make cream cheese. My daughter is a mad of it. You won’t believe I buy every two months a 3 pound bar of cream cheese from costco just for her. Iam going to try this right away.Thanks again

  6. Hi Anita, Came to your blog for the first time today and loved all that I saw. I have bookmarked your Rawa Idlis. Will probably make them today for supper. I like your style of writing too. You have a subtle but great sense of humour. Will keep visiting

  7. hello,reading your blog for the first time.
    thanks for these wonderful tips.
    u r right,buying these fancy stuffs cost us so much ,that we dont even feel like making them.
    and about penny pinching indians,u r right too,and i always am in look out for how to pinch more-).
    what say,we start something for us indians settled here,who can share these ideas(budgeting ones) with each other?i am sure our garndmas might be having millions of such advices,but we have to take the iniative of asking and collecting them.
    sorry for writing too much.
    thanks once agin.

    Hi Safiya. Go ahead, let’s have them money-saver tips!

  8. Once again, a question. Pls, pls bear with stupid old me. Can I use this home made cream cheese for something like a cheese cake, which needs cream cheese. I wanted cream cheese, but didnt get anywhere in Delhi, but I guess I would if I went to Lodhi Road, or maybe Def. Cols. ……but was wondering if I could use this version??

    Yes, it’s the same thing! You could make it richer by adding cream of course.

  9. So here is the infamous sun-dried tomato post! πŸ™‚ Yes, Italian ones come both ways- in oil and not. I’ve had the oil-packed ones in pasta dishes and the dry kind seems to be more all-purpose, but, at this point, I couldn’t say that I know too much about this cuisine. Have you made sun-dried tomato bagels yet? πŸ™‚ I like ’em with plain cream cheese as they tend to be potently-flavoured…or maybe sun-dried tomato (SDT),chile and garlic bagels with walnut cheese spread. Or walnut and mint! Seems I’ve had that combo once before…hmmm πŸ˜€

    Apparantly you’ve beat me to drying karela… 😦 but I have been drying mint since I was a child! I just rinse them well, shake, and tie em in a bunch and hang upside-down to dry, then strip out all the stems (use the stems for soup-stock along with lemongrass trimmings). This all makes me think of another recipe I ought to post. Mint, tomatoes, browned onions. You’ll know when you see it. πŸ˜‰ Unfortunately my head is stuck in Mexico at the moment.

    …but you had your idea on your own. And you beat me to the mint – I didn’t start till much later πŸ˜†

    Yeah, don’t take forever with the recipes you dangle before us! Get your head unstuck and out with the soups (and now I have added the fish stock request to that…)

  10. Hey! gr8 post! Do you think i can use hung curd in cheese cakes also?

    Yes, you can! If you want it to be rich like the packaged one, use cream+milk to set the yoghurt.

  11. This is one of those unique recipes which can’t be classified either as a raita or as a Pachadi. So I’m including it in both my One page cookbooks – 1001 Blended curries and 1001 Raitas.

    /Thanks for the recipe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s