Drying vegetables for future use is much easier than other options like canning or freezing. It’s also much safer because micro-organisms can’t thrive and grow in dried vegetables. Historically, drying is one of the oldest food preservation methods and drying meat, fruit, and vegetables in the sun was really the only available option for centuries. Today, vegetables can still be dried in the sun, but other choices are also available. Drying in an oven or using a food dehydrator that is designed specifically for the task are two of the most common methods used today.
If drying vegetables in a dehydrator is the chosen method, it’s important to harvest them at their prime and ensure they are thoroughly cleaned. Before actually beginning the drying process, vegetables should be blanched for a short time in boiling water or in a steamer. Some examples of vegetables that “do not” have to be pre-treated are onions, parsnips, tomatoes, bell peppers, and zucchini.
Once the vegetables are partially cooked and pre-heated, drain them and place them on the drying racks you have chosen to use. Most drying racks are stackable and they sit over top of a heating element. A cover is then put over the stacked drying racks and the temperature and drying time is set. The time and temperature are arrived at in several ways. It will depend on the type of vegetables, the amount that is being dried, how thick the slices are, and the water content of the vegetables. It’s important to test your vegetables as they are drying to avoid over-drying them and destroying their nutritional value. When you remove a piece from the rack let it cool and feel it with your fingers. If they are ready, vegetables will feel a bit tough and will be dry to the touch. You can also check by ripping the piece of food in half. If beads of moisture appear along the tear line, then more drying time is needed.
For future reference, it’s best to record the temperature and drying time that worked best for each vegetable. This way it will be handy for future reference and will take away all the guess-work the next time you dry that same vegetable.
One of the biggest advantages of drying vegetables is how little storage space they require. Most vegetables are 60%-75% water and once the water is removed what remains is very compact and easy to store. Before actually storing the finished product be sure it is properly cooled. Once they are cooled they can be transfered to air-tight containers. These insect-proof containers can be either glass or plastic. It’s important to give each variety of vegetable it’s own container so they don’t pick up flavor from each other. Plastic containers are best as they are easily stacked in small spaces and travel very well.
Drying vegetables is a great way to ensure a bit of summer will be yours to enjoy through-out the year.