How to Dry and Store Vegetables
The process of drying vegetables is exhausting although technically there is very little to explain. The little pouches of dried vegetables along with the instant noodles and soups that are available in the grocery stores are in fact a result of a very simple (yet time consuming) process of dehydrating vegetables.
Today's fast food style of living generally connects drying of vegetables to grandmother's days and is done mainly by those who have the time on hand or are kitchen lovers. However, if you understand some simple facts on how to dry vegetables at home you can develop an interest about the simplicity of the process and the nutritional benefits attached to it.
This term is self-explanatory. It means you have to dry the vegetables. However, this drying an extensive process to remove the water content present in it so that spoilage or decay of food is prevented during the preservation process. Drying vegetables is one of the many ways of preserving food for long periods. Some other methods of preserving food are canning and freezing. Drying results are best when vegetables are tender, fresh and at their peak quality.
Depending on the method of drying, the first option is usually blanching the vegetables. Dip the vegetable for a minute or two in hot, bubbling water, immerse in cold water for about 30 seconds and then drain. The vegetables should ultimately be par boiled, so to speak, and warm to touch, by the time these steps are completed. Take care not to overcook the vegetables when blanching. Blanching is done to stop enzyme action and bacterial growth that might otherwise affect the drying process or the quality of the dried food.
The next step is choosing the drying medium. There are many choices, some of which are a) Outdoor Drying such as Sun Drying and Solar Drying, b) Indoor Drying such as the use of Ovens and Food Dehydrators and c) Air Drying. Factors that affect good vegetable dehydration are dry air to absorb moisture, proper air circulation and heat which is just right to dry the vegetables without cooking them. Usually with the air-drying method, blanching is not done.
Make use of natural energy for drying vegetables. Use the blanched vegetables for this step.
Place the blanched vegetables neatly on an anti-corrosive rack or on a tray with absorbent paper or muslin cloth. Cover with a light muslin cloth so that bird droppings, dust, and insects do not get to it. Place the tray over two spaced blocks of wood or any make-shift stand so that the tray is away from the floor and also allows proper circulation of air all round. Do this in open areas where there is direct sunlight. Change the muslin cloth or absorbent paper daily as they soak up a lot of moisture from the vegetables, especially the bottom sheet of muslin or paper.
Sun drying is a long process and is subject to the mood of the sun. It takes many days to be adequately dry and take the food indoors each evening so that the cold moist air of the night does not affect the drying process. Follow process until the vegetable becomes crisp and dry.
Solar drying is based on the similar principle of solar heaters and solar cookers. This is easy to make and makes use of the sun's heat along with the use of foil sheets. To make a solar dryer, what you would need are a ply wood box like an open cabinet, a black sheet of paper for the base and the inner back lining, hinges for stacking trays, foil sheets, a transparent plastic curtain and air vents at the bottom and top of the box to facilitate air circulation.
The contraption is such that the inside looks like a black oven with silver foil-covered trays, with a plastic curtain for a door. Place this in the heat and move it around to wherever the heat rays are focused during the day. The black sheets trap heat and radiate it to the foil, which heats up. The inside of the box as a whole heats up and air flows from the bottom to the top as hot air rises.
Many kinds of solar dehydrators can be made based on the principles of trapping heat, proper airflow and protection from contamination.
* Outdoor vegetable drying need to be pasteurized before storing. This is a process of killing insects and insect eggs that might be on outdoor dried items. There are two methods. A) Seal in a dry plastic bag and store in the freezer for 48 hours, and B) heat it in an oven or dehydrator for 30 minutes. Whichever the method, ensure the dried vegetables are restored to room temperature before finally sealing and storing them.
Indoor drying makes use of home appliances for drying vegetables such as the Oven and the Food Dehydrator. For this, maintain a constant temperature according to user guidelines and recipe instructions. Usually blanched vegetables are used.
This is an electrical gadget for drying food, be it vegetables, fruits, poultry or seafood. This can be carried indoors or outdoors (garage or car shed) depending on the choice of vegetable and the strong smell that might result during the process. Dehydrators dry vegetables efficiently and quickly at a constant temperature of 140 Fahrenheit. It consists of a heating element and a fan to enable proper airflow.
This is similar to a dehydrator, but does not have a fan inside to help airflow. As a result, the drying process takes twice as long and is not advisable for those who use the oven frequently for other cooking purposes. This method as a rule is not cost effective, because of the amounts of energy it consumes during the rather long drying time.
Some vegetables can be air-dried. For this, the type of vegetable and the choice of place are very important. Chilies are easy to dry using this method and can be hung at convenient places. All you have to do is needle a strand of twine, strong thread or single strand of fishing wire through the vegetables and tie loops at both ends. Swing the loops on hooks at convenient drying areas.
Vitamin A : Fairly retained.
Vitamin C : Destroyed.
Fiber : Totally retained.
Calorie content : Does not change although in concentrated form.
Vitamin B groups : Partial loss during blanching.
Minerals : Partial loss.
Iron : Totally retained.
As in all preservation techniques, use tight air-sealed jars. You may also use plastic packets as long as you properly fasten and seal them. Affix labels with ‘item name’ and the manufacturing date. Expiry date is optional as long as you know the shelf life of such products. Before you pack the dried items, ensure that they are dry, brittle and crisp. Store the jars and packets in a dark place away from sunlight.
Dried vegetables may be fried, dropped into stews and soups, and may even be ready to use when immersed in water before cooking. When immersed in water, they regain their original size and shape and can be cooked as any other fresh vegetable or added to main course meals such as fried rice, noodles or pizza.
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