Dehydrating vegetables is an excellent way to preserve produce. Depending on the method of dehydration you choose, it’s a relatively simple process. It only entails that you prepare the vegetable and expose it to heat for an extended period of time.
Here’s how to dehydrate vegetables.
- Choose the vegetables to preserve. Most vegetables can be dehydrated, except for perhaps lettuce, which is best eaten raw in a salad. Even spinach and cabbage can be dehydrated, although these may loose some of their color in the drying process. Generally, it’s easiest to dehydrate firm vegetables like carrots, corn, okra, eggplant, potatoes and broccoli. Choose vegetables that are fresh and at the peak of flavor.
- Prepare the vegetable for the drying process. Wash the vegetable that you want to dehydrate. Take out any visible dirt and soil, especially for root crops. Avoid using vegetable washes because you don’t want any chemical residue on the produce. Chop or slice the vegetable into smaller pieces so that it’s ready for use when it is rehydrated to be used for cooking. Most vegetables have to be blanched before drying, such as asparagus, beans, carrots and corn. Remove the seeds in bell peppers, and remove the skin of tomatoes. Cauliflower and broccoli need to be cut into florets. Once done, place the vegetables on a shallow baking pan.
- Use the sunlight. Drying vegetables under the heat of the sun is the traditional method of food dehydration. It is the cheapest and most natural way. However, it is also the most time consuming. If you live in a hot and sunny climate, this is perfect for you. Place an aluminum foil or cheesecloth on the tray and arrange your vegetables. Take your tray and leave it outside. Place it on top of two bricks for air circulation and cover with a sheet of cheesecloth. You need temperatures of about three to four days of 90 to 100 degree weather to dry effectively so this may not be possible in all climates.
- Turn on the oven. Your kitchen oven can be used not only for baking and roasting, but also for dehydrating vegetables. Preheat the oven at the appropriate temperature, usually 120 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the vegetables on a baking sheet and leave in the oven for six to twelve hours, depending on the vegetable. You will need to open the door occasionally to maintain temperature levels and keep the air circulating.
- Use an electric dehydrator. This kitchen appliance comes in a variety of sizes, and has adjustable trays to accommodate various amounts of vegetables. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to get the best results. This is the best way to dehydrate food because it is the quickest and most energy efficient of the three methods of food drying.
- Be prepared to wait. Dehydrating the vegetables takes hours. For the sun drying method, it can take up to four days of constant sun exposure before the proper level of dehydration is achieved. When using an oven, it can take anywhere between six to eighteen hours at low baking temperatures.
- Rotate the food. For even drying, turn over the vegetables so that each size gets proper exposure to heat. Check on the food regularly. It is done when you don’t see any moisture pockets and the food takes on a leathery appearance. It should be hard.
- Store properly. You need to use an airtight container when storing your dried vegetables. Dehydrated food readily absorbs any moisture in the air, so get a good plastic container with an airtight lock. Label the food item along with the date you first stored it. When you are ready to use your vegetables, take out what you need and rehydrate it by soaking it in a little water. If you will use the dried vegetables in soups, toss them directly in the pot.
If you decide you want to dehydrate most of your vegetables, consider investing in an electric food dehydrator. Popular brands are Excalibur, Ronco, L’Equip and Nesco/American Harvest. You may also opt to dehydrate fruits and herbs.
Dried vegetables can be stored up to six months.