When most of us think about drying food, we first think of fruit. But there are actually many veggies (and herbs!) that can be dried and used in lots of different ways! Dried fruits and veggies can be a healthy and tasty snack by themselves, but are also delicious when added to a variety of dishes.
Most stores carry dried fruit, but there are many benefits of drying your own fruits and vegetables:
You will know exactly what you are eating. Many commercial brands have added sugar and preservatives.
Less expensive. Drying your own fruit and veggies at home is almost always cheaper, especially compared to organic.
You get to decide exactly how you want your fruits and vegetables to be prepared. Cooking time, doneness, method, etc.
How to Dry Fruits and Vegetables:
1) Find your Produce. Be sure and select fruits, and vegetables that are ripe (not over ripe,) and in good condition. Make sure your herbs have not flowered. The following work well with the drying method:
Vegetables: green beans, broccoli, carrots, celery, corn, onions, peas, pumpkin, tomatoes, spinach, kale, collard greens, zucchini and
Herbs: basil, oregano, cilantro, rosemary, parsley, bay, dill, marjoram, summer savory and thyme
2) Prepare your Produce.
Thoroughly wash and dry your fruits/veggies/herbs.
Peel, pit/core fruit and veggies if it requires. Some fruits and veggies may be dried as they are (berries, broccoli, peas, etc)
Slice fruit and veggies if needed. The thicker you slice it, the longer it will take to dry. Also, the higher the water content, the thicker it should be sliced because it will shrink more with drying. Keep slices uniform to ensure even drying.
3) Pretreat. Helps your produce maintain color and quality.
Fruits. Dip or soak your fruit in a solution of citric acid. Orange, lemon or pineapple juice works well. 1/4 cup juice to 2 cups water is a good solution.
Vegetables. Blanching is the recommended method. It helps slow or stop the enzyme activity that can cause undesirable changes in flavor and texture during storage. Blanching also relaxes tissues so pieces dry faster, and helps protect the vitamin content. To blanch, heat a pot of water to boiling. Place your vegetables in some sort of a mesh bag, (a cheesecloth will work) and tie to secure. When water is boiling, place vegetables in. Time for 4 minutes. Remove and immediately place in ice water for 4 minutes. Dry on a cloth or paper towel.
Herbs. Not necessary to pretreat.
4) Drying. There are 2 methods that are most commonly used.
Fruits/Veggies/Herbs: 4 -12 hours depending on thickness and moisture content. Fruits will usually be somewhat pliable
and leathery when done. Vegetables and herbs will be dry and brittle when done.
Oven. If you don’t own a dehydrator this method can work well. It does require some watching to prevent scorching. Proper temperature and ventilation are most important in oven drying. Preheat oven at lowest setting (140 to 150 degrees F), then adjust the thermostat and prop the oven door open to achieve a consistent oven temperature of 140 degrees F, and to allow moist air to escape. You can use an oven thermometer to determine temperature. Place it directly on a rack or the drying tray and check it every 2 hours.
5) Packaging and Storing.
I prefer the dehydrator drying method. I have more of a commercial type dehydrator (from Cabellas) that I love. It has lots of racks, and also mats for drying fruit leather, or smaller things like cranberries or peas. Last summer I found a free source of organic apricots. I made jam with some of them, but then dried a ton as leather and just halves.
From left to right: Bananas, Zucchini chips, Basil
One of our readers actually dries things like celery, spinach, kale, collards, etc. Then she puts them into a blender and makes them into powder. When she is cooking things like scrambled eggs, meatloaf, etc., she adds her dried veggie powder.
Other ways to use dried foods:
Fruits: By itself as a snack, in trail mix, in baked goods (muffins, breads) salads, on cereal, oatmeal and yogurt.
Veggies: By itself as a snack, soups and stews, omelets, pizza, breads, and saute.
So shrivel up by your dehydrator and whip up a batch today!