19 May 2013

How to make sun-dried tomatoes and substitutes for creme-fraiche

There is a restaurant chain in the UK called Zizis which does a particularly tasty creamy chicken dish.  It has recently been posted on their website and the family requested that we eat it over the weekend.  Unfortunately the recipe called for two ingredients that are simply not available in Astana – Red Pesto and Crème Fraiche. 

Normally sour cream is not a good alternative to crème fraiche because it is less stable at high temperatures and can split during cooking.  Here in Astana dairy products come in a bewildering array of fat percentages and the greater the fat content the more stable the cream so a cream with about 30 or even 40 % can take the place of crème fraiche in a cooked recipe.  Marscapone is also a possible alternative for crème fraiche.  By choice I use marscapone in sweet dishes and sour cream in savoury. 

We can get green pesto here but red pesto is an unknown quantity in our supermarkets.  I tend to make my own pesto in any event because I prefer the fresh taste.  I rarely measure out the ingredients but put equal parts of basil, parmesan and pine nuts, a clove of garlic, some salt and pepper (I like pink pepper) in the processor with some extra virgin olive oil and it is done.  I have not yet tried making the pesto with rocket but a friend mentions that it is very tasty and my guess is it would work with almost any fresh herb in place of basil. For red pesto I add a similar measure of sundried tomatoes.

red pesto in uzbek bowl
Fresh red pesto

Sundried tomatoes are also not readily available in our supermarkets but can be made at home.  The cookery shops in Europe sell fancy dehydrators to do this but an oven works just as well.  I halve some baby tomatoes and scoop out the seeds.  I sprinkle the cut sides with salt and leave them for about an hour to draw out the moisture.  I then wash and dry them before spreading the cut sides with a mix of minced garlic and zaatar (you could use oregano instead) and then drizzle olive oil over the top.  The tomato halves go into the oven at 100 degrees for about three hours.

Once they are ready they can be used to make red pesto or put in a sterile jar in extra virgin olive oil.  They are also devilishly moreish and make a good snack.

Sadly the substitutions and the need to make the sundried tomatoes turned what would have been a quick throw-together recipe into quite a protracted day of cooking.  That said the results were delicious.  I made some extra sundried tomatoes so the next time the recipe will come together much faster.  I might also try the recipe with a green pesto sauce.

Click the picture for more posts on the challenges of expat cooking.

Ersatz Expat


  1. Fantastic!
    I will be giving this a go
    Thank you

  2. They are dangerously more-ish

  3. They are dangerously more-ish

  4. Hi! and thanks for a recipe, as I spent hours looking for simple pesto... :)
    And by the way -have you seen brown spagetti around?

    1. You might try Galmart in Keruen for brown pasta - they have a range of different types available there.