Back to Basics: Drying Vegetables
For thousands of years people have dried vegetables to preserve them for leaner times. Preserving foods by drying is still useful, convenient, inexpensive, and needs less storage space.
Basically, drying preserves food by removing sufficient moisture from food to prevent its decay. Drying requires a method of heating the food to evaporate the moisture and some means of removing the water vapor formed.
Selection of Produce
Select mature yet tender vegetables that have their characteristic color, flavor, and texture. Wilted or inferior vegetables will not make a satisfactory dried product. Over mature vegetables will be tough and fibrous or soft and mushy. After gathering, begin immediately preparing the vegetables for dying. From the garden to the drying tray within 2 hours is a good rule to follow. Wash the vegetables gently but thoroughly to remove dirt and insecticides. Wash them before you cut, shell, or snap them. Sort and discard any that have decay, bruises, or bad spots. Most vegetables need to be pared, trimmed, cored, cut, sliced, or shredded. Keep pieces uniform so they will dry at the same rate.
Enzymes in vegetables are responsible for color and flavor changes during ripening. These changes will continue during drying and storage unless the produce is pretreated to slow down enzyme activity. Blanching is the recommended pretreatment for vegetables. It helps save some of the vitamin content, sets color, and hastens drying by relaxing tissues. Blanching may also prevent undesirable changes in flavor during storage and improve reconstitution during cooking.
You can blanch by steaming or immersing the vegetable in boiling water. Steaming allows the vegetable to retain more of the water-soluble nutrients, but it takes a little longer than immersing.
Use a deep kettle that has a tight-fitting lid and a wire basket, colander, or sieve placed so that steam can circulate freely around the vegetables. Layer the vegetables loosely in the basket no more than 21⁄2 inches deep. Add 2 inches of water to the kettle and bring to a rolling boil. Place the basket of prepared vegetables in the kettle. The water should not come in contact with the vegetables. Cover tightly with the lid and steam until each piece is heated through and is wilted. Test by removing a piece from the center of the container and pressing it. It should feel soft but not completely cooked. Drain vegetables on paper towels or clean cloths.
Use a deep kettle that has a tight-fitting lid. Fill full of water and bring to a vigorous boil. Place the vegetables in a wire basket or colander and submerge them in the boiling water. Work with small quantities only. The water should not stop boiling. Cover tightly with the lid. Remove the vegetables, dip in ice water to cool, and drain on paper towels or clean cloths.