This begins a three part series on dehydrating and using dried vegetables.
When someone mentions dehydrating food, most people automatically think of dried fruit. Vegetables, however, add a whole new dimension to the drying adventure. Dried vegetables can be used in casseroles, soups, seasoning mixes, or just eaten "out-of-hand" as a delicious, nutritious snack food.
In general, vegetables have a lower sugar content and are less acidic than fruit. Both the high acidity and sugar content of fruit inhibit certain enzymes that cause loss of flavor and color and decrease storage life.
Many vegetables do not have this built-in protection. For this reason they may require a slightly different handling. Where as some vegetables may be sliced and dried in their natural state, as you would do with fruit, other vegetables may need to be gently blanched. There are no hard and fast rules, no one right technique for preparing food to be dried. How you plan to use the dried product and how long you intend to store it may determine the method of preparation.
In this three part series on drying vegetables we will look at the different methods for preparing vegetables and compare their advantages and disadvantages. We will also explore some of the many delicious ways to use dried vegetables.
Blanching is a method of pretreating fruits and vegetables by heating them in boiling water or steam before drying. Some people believe that almost all vegetables should be blanched before drying. They claim that blanching destroys enzymes that cause dried vegetables to deteriorate when stored.
On the other hand, enzymes are an important element of the nutritional value of food and should be preserved as best as possible. Blanching not only robs food of these enzymes but leeches out many other important vitamins and minerals.
Certainly, blanching has both its advantages and disadvantages. Whether you decide to blanch may depend on several things.
HOW YOU INTEND TO USE THE DRIED PRODUCT
Blanched vegetables rehydrate much faster, are more tender, and since they are already slightly cooked require less cooking time.
This makes it a preferable method when preparing quick-cook meals for activities such as blackpacking or climbing. However, vegetables destined for casseroles that will be baked awhile might become mushy and overcooked if preblanched.
HOW LONG YOU INTEND TO STORE THE DRIED PRODUCT
Compared to fruit, vegetables have a relatively short shelf life. Most vegatables should not be stored longer than 6-8 months. This can be extended considerably longer if the dried vegatables are kept tightly sealed in a cool place (below 60° F.) If you plan to store vegetables more than 5 months, blanching will help prevent them from discoloring or developing an off flavor or strong odor.
THE TYPE OF VEGETABLE
Whether or not you decide to blanch also depends a great deal on the type of vegetable.
Some vegetables dry well, rehydrate easily, and can be stored for long periods of time without being blanched. Others, such as potatoes, however, must be cooked in order to prevent blackening. On the following page is a guide for preparing vegetables.
REMEMBER THAT THERE ARE NO ABSOLUTES IN DEHYDRATION. THE BEST WAY TO FIND OUT WHAT WILL WORK BEST FOR YOU IS TO EXPERIMENT.
MORE ON BLANCHING
NO BLANCHING NEEDED: Cucumbers, mushrooms, onions, peppers, tomatoes.
BLANCHING OPTIONAL: Asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, corn, eggplant, okra, parsnips, peas, rutabagas, squash, turnips, zucchini.
BLANCHING REQUIRED: Potatoes, yams.
There are two methods of blanching. With Water Blanching the vegetables are submerged in boiling water for a set amount of time. In Steam Blanching the vegetables are suspended over the boiling water and steamed for a certain length of time.
IF YOU DECIDE TO BLANCH, WE RECOMMEND USING THE STEAM METHOD AS FEWER WATER SOLUABLE VITAMINS AND MINERALS ARE LOST.
HOW LONG TO STEAM
In most cases, vegetables should be steamed until they are firm yet tender. With the exception of poatatoes and yams, they should not be cooked as long as they would be for eating, rather they should be just barely heated all the way through. The length of time a particular vegetable should be steamed will vary according to the following.
TYPE OF VEGETABLE -- Leafy vegetables will not take as long as root vegetables or those with thick stems or stalks.
SIZE & THICKNESS OF PIECES -- the bigger the pieces the longer it will take.
QUANTITY -- The more you steam at one time, the longer it takes. For best results loosely layer vegetables no more than 2 inches deep.
ALTITUDE -- Above 5,000 feet, increase steaming time by 1-2 minutes. Begin timing from the moment vegetables are placed over steam.
DO NOT OVER-BLANCH -- Remember that vegetables will continue to cook slightly after they have been removed from steam.