You must always chill blanched vegetables before drying them, to be certain the cooking process has stopped. After removing the vegetables from the blancher, immerse the colander or steamer rack full of vegetables in a sink full of ice water or a dishpan full of ice water. The vegetables should be chilled for the same amount of time the recipe gives for blanching in boiling water. Drain well, then blot with paper towels.
Spread the blanched and drained vegetable pieces in a single, even layer on the drying tray. (You can dry more than one vegetable at the same time, but strong-smelling vegetables such as onions, cabbage, and carrots should be dried separately.) Put the trays in the oven or electric dryer, leaving at least one to two inches between the trays for air circulation.
Vegetables must be dried at low, even temperatures — just enough heat to dry the pieces without cooking them. The proper temperature for drying in a conventional oven is 140°F, 1S0°F for convection ovens. Follow the manufacturer's directions for microwave ovens and all other appliances. Maintaining the right temperature steadily, with some air circulation, is the trick to successful drying. Electric dryers and dehydrators automatically maintain the right temperature. For oven drying or when using a homemade box dryer, check your oven thermometer every half hour. (To insure even drying, you must also stir the vegetables every 30 minutes or so, shift the trays from top to bottom, and rotate the trays from front to back.)
Although rapid drying is important, too rapid drying in an oven will result in the outer surface of the food hardening before the moisture inside has evaporated (case hardening). You can prevent case hardening by keeping a constant watch on the oven temperature and doing whatever is needed to maintain the heat at 140°F.
Electric dryers or dehydrators automatically provide proper ventilation. With oven drying or when using a homemade box dryer, you'll need to leave the oven door slightly ajar — and possibly use an electric fan to insure good air circulation.
In addition, the cookie sheets or trays you use for drying should be at least one to two inches smaller all around than the inside of your oven so air can circulate around the front, sides, and back of the trays. There should also be at least three inches of air space at the top of the oven.
In most forms of food preserving, processing times are exact. You know just how long it takes before the food is done. However, the times for drying vary considerably — from four hours to more than 12 — depending on the kind of vegetable, how thinly it's sliced, how much food is on each tray, and how much is being dried in the oven or dryer at one time. The recipes that follow give you the drying time range for each vegetable, but the only way you can be sure the food is sufficiently dry is to test sample pieces.
When you think the vegetables are dry, remove a few pieces from the tray, then return the tray to the oven. Let the sample pieces cool before testing — even food that's perfectly dry will feel soft and moist while still warm. When the pieces are cool, follow the test for doneness given for the vegetable in each recipe. A rule of thumb is that properly dried vegetables are hard and brittle to the touch. Exceptions to the rule are mushrooms, sweet peppers, and squash, which will feel pliable and leathery when dry. Some food experts recommend the hammer test: if sufficiently dry, the vegetable pieces will shatter when struck with a hammer.
Foods don't always dry evenly, nor does each piece or slice dry at exactly the same rate as all the others. To be sure all the food in a single batch is evenly dried, you'll have to condition it. Put the cooled, dried vegetables into a large, deep crock, dishpan, jar, or coffee can; then store it in a warm, dry room for a week to 10 days. Cover the jar or can lightly with cheesecloth to keep out insects, and stir the dried pieces at least once a day so that the moisture from any underdried pieces will be absorbed by the overdried pieces.
After conditioning, give the vegetables one final treatment to get rid of any insects or insect eggs. Either put the dried vegetables in the freezer for a few hours, or heat them on a cookie sheet in a closed oven at 175°F for 15 minutes. Be sure to let the food cool completely again before packaging.
Keeping out air and moisture is the secret to good dried foods. To maintain the quality and safety of your dried vegetables, you'll need to take special care when packaging and storing them.
Even when you're using an oven or an electric dehydrator, you'll have to watch out for the effects of humidity on drying foods. Choose a bright, sunny day for your home drying—that way you'll keep the dried vegetables from picking up moisture from the surrounding air after they leave the oven or dryer.
Dried foods are vulnerable to contamination by insects as soon as they're removed from the oven or electric dryer. To protect them, you must package dried vegetables in airtight, moisture/vaporproof containers just as soon as they're completely dry. Canning jars that have been rinsed out with boiling water and dried, of course, make good containers, as do coffee cans and plastic freezer bags. When using a coffee can, first wrap the vegetable pieces in a plastic bag to keep the metal of the can from affecting the flavor of the food.
Pint-size containers or small plastic bags are best for packaging dried vegetables. Try to pack the food tightly but without crushing it. If you're using plastic bags, force out as much air as possible before closing them. By using small bags, several may be packed into a larger jar or coffee can — that way you can use small portions as needed, without exposing the whole container to possible contamination each time it's opened.
Store your packaged, dried vegetables in a cool, dark, dry place. The cooler the temperature of the storage area, the longer foods will retain their high quality. However, dried foods can't be stored indefinitely, since they do lose vitamins, flavor, color, and aroma during storage. Your pantry or kitchen cupboards may provide good storage, if the area remains cool. A dry basement can also be a good spot. Dried vegetables can be stored in the freezer, too — but why take up valuable freezer space with foods that will keep at cool, room temperature?
Many dried vegetables will keep up to 12 months. If properly stored. Carrots, onions, and cabbage will spoil more quickly, so use them up within six months.
To be on the safe side, check the packages of dried vegetables from time to time. If you find mold, the food is no longer safe and should be discarded immediately. If you find a little moisture, but no spoilage, heat the dried vegetables for 15 minutes in a 175°F oven; then cool and repackage. If you find much moisture, the vegetables must be put through the entire drying process again. Remember, you must always cool dried foods thoroughly before packaging; if packaged while still warm, they'll sweat and may mold.
To use dried vegetables, you have to reverse the drying or dehydration process to rehydrate them. This is accomplished in water or other liquid. If you soak dried vegetables before using them, they'll cook much faster. To rehydrate, add two cups of water for each cup of dried vegetables; boiling water will shorten the soaking time. After soaking, the vegetables should regain nearly the same size as when fresh.
Rehydrated vegetables are best used in soups, stews, salads, casseroles, and other combination dishes. See the recipes that follow for some serving suggestions.
The recipes that follow give you specific directions for drying each vegetable. To prevent problems, keep these basic steps in mind when home drying foods. Remember that only the highest quality vegetables are suitable for drying.
or a microwave or convection oven, follow the manufacturer's directions.
12. For both oven and box drying, check the trays often, and stir the vegetables on the trays, moving the outside pieces to the center. For oven drying, turn the tray from front to back and — if drying more than 1 tray —
change the trays from shelf to shelf for even drying. Check the trays more frequently during the last few hours of drying to prevent ' scorching. For microwave oven drying, follow the manufacturer's directions. Use the lower end of drying times given in the recipes as a guide for doneness when you're using a conventional, microwave, or convection oven. The upper range of drying times is a guide to doneness when you're using an electric dryer or dehydrator.
How to Spnout
Sprouting is one of the easiest ways to grow fresh vegetables for eatings both in and out of season. While mung bean sprouts have long been familiar in Chinese cooking, alfalfa and other sprouts have become equally well-known in recent years. More and more ingenious and health-conscious cooks are adding a variety of sprouts to salads, sandwiches, soups, and other dishes — for both the crunch and the nutrition. Sprouts are bursting with nutrients, and certain vitamins even increase when seeds are sprouted — up to 600 percent.
And sprouts are economical, too — from a single pound of seeds, you can produce from six to eight pounds of sprouts. All you have to do is add a little moisture and a little warmth to the seeds, set them in a dark place, then sit back and watch your garden grow in just a few day's time.
It's fun to have several jars of sprouts going at once, so you'll always have variety as well as a good supply. For example, put a couple of tablespoons of alfalfa seeds in one jar, a cup of wheat or rye berries in another, and a half cup or so of lentils in a third jar. Alfalfa takes about five days to reach just the right stage for eating, but your wheat sprouts will be ready by the end of the second day. It's a fast, easy, and very rewarding way to enjoy vegetables — both the ones you grow yourself and the ones you don't.
All you need to sprout seeds is a jar, some cheesecloth, plastic mesh, or plastic screen to cover the jar, and a rubber band to hold it in place. But you can also sprout seeds on a tray, on damp towels, in a clay flowerpot saucer, or in a thin layer of soil. You may also want to try the ready-made sprouters that are available in large department stores and health food stores. For example, you can buy mesh trays or sprouting lids made of plastic mesh that fit on standard one-quart canning jars. It's a good idea to try various methods to find ones that are most convenient and work best for you.
You can sprout all kinds of seeds, legumes, and grains. Try wheat, rye, alfalfa, mung beans, chick peas, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, or any of the other sprouting seeds, grains, and vegetables suggested in "Directions for Sprouting," later in this chapter. Only one thing is essential — when buying seeds for sprouting, always check to be sure you're getting live, untreated seed. Seeds that are intended to grow crops are specially treated to make them resistant to insects and plant diseases — and you shouldn't eat sprouts started from these chemically treated seeds.
You also can't sprout seeds that have been heat-treated, because even relatively low temperatures kill the seeds, leaving them edible but no longer capable of growth. For this reason, if you're growing beans, peas, or other vegetables for sprouting, be sure to use the drying method recommended for this purpose. Seeds dried by blanching, chilling, and heating will not sprout.
The only other ingredient you'll need for sprouting is water. Some experts recommend that you let city water (which may be high in chlorine) sit for a day or two before you use it, in order to let the chlorine dissipate into the air. When sprouting seeds, use lukewarm or room-temperature water, rather than cold or hot.
Sprouting can be done in a jar, in a tray, on a towel, in a clay saucer, or in a thin layer of soil. Each method works best for certain kinds of seeds, as you'll see from the following descriptions.
Although the basic steps are quite similar from one method to the next, the times and temperatures for sprouting will vary due to temperature and humidity variations in your home. That means you've got to check sprouts frequently. After your first couple of batches, you'll have a good idea how long it takes to produce the flavor you prefer in sprouts. Many sprouters also like to save the water drained from sprouts for use in soups or sauces, or for watering houseplants.
Clay saucer sprouting
Try sprouting just about any seed, grain, or legume for some of the most delicious, nutritious, and economical foods to be found anywhere. Sprouts can be added to many dishes besides salads, soups, and sandwiches. They're delicious baked into whole-grain breads or muffins, blended into juices, or added to granola or yogurt. You can sprinkle them on casseroles and on meat, fish, or fowl dishes of all a kinds. You can even top sprouts with tomato sauce and eat them like spaghetti.
The instructions below will give you some idea of the yield you can expect from sprouting various seeds and grains, but yields can vary considerably, depending on the size of the seeds, the temperature, and the length of the sprouts when you harvest them. Generally, small seeds—like chia — yield about eight times their original bulk in sprouts; large seeds — like corn — yield about three times their original bulk. Experiment with these wonder foods — you'll create some family favorites of your own.
Aduki (azuki) or pichi beans
Use about 1/2 cup seeds in a 1-quart jar, which will yield about2 cups of sprouts. Soak for 12 hours. Rinse 3 to 4 times daily for 3 to 4 days. Harvest when the sprouts are 1/2 to 11/2 inches long. Good in salads or casseroles, or stir-fried.
Use about 21/2 tablespoons seeds in a quart jar, or sprout on trays. This will yield about 1 quart of sprouts. The yield will be 11/2 cups for each 1/4 cup sprouted, and the sprouts will be very short — only about 1/8 inch long. Soak for 8 hours. Rinse 2 to 3 times daily for 4 to 6 days. Move into sunlight to green, then harvest when the sprouts are 11/2 to 2 inches long. Use in salads, sandwiches, omelets, or as garnish. To use in baked goods, harvest sprouts after just 2 days.
Use 1 to 11/2cups seeds in a 1-quart jar, which will yield about 1 quart of sprouts. Soak for 12 hours. Rinse
2 to 3 times daily for 2 to 3 days. The sprouts will be the length of the seed. Use in salads, casseroles, and breads.
Use 3/4 cup mature beans in a 1-quart jar, which will yield about 1 quart of sprouts. Soak for 14 hours. Rinse
3 or 4 times daily for 3 or 4 days. Harvest when sprouts are 1 to 11/2 inches long. Use in casseroles, soups, or dips, or steam them.
Use 1/3 cup in a 1-quart jar, or tray sprout, which will yield abouti cup of sprouts. Soak for16 hours. Rinse 3 to 4 times daily for 3 to 5 days. Harvest when the sprouts are 1 to 3 inches long. Use in oriental dishes, salads, sandwiches, omelets, or stir-fry.
Use 3 tablespoons seeds in a 1-quart jar, which will yield about 1 quart of sprouts. Soak for 10 hours. Rinse 2 to 3 times daily for 3 to 5 days. Move into sunlight to green, then harvest when the sprouts are 1 to 11/2 inches long. Use in salads and sandwiches.
Use 1/4, cup seeds in a clay saucer or tray, which will yield about 2 cups of sprouts. There's no need to soak or rinse and drain; just mist the seeds regularly to keep them moist. After 3 to 5 days, move into sunlight to green. Harvest when the sprouts are 1 to 11/2 inches long. Use in salads, sandwiches, casseroles, and as a garnish.
Use 1 cup in a jar, or tray sprout, which will yield about3 cups of sprouts. Soak for 14 hours. Rinse 3 to 4 times daily for 3 to 4 days. Harvest when sprouts are 1/2 inch long. Use in casseroles, soups, salads, steamed, or as a base for dips.
Use 1 tablespoon seeds in a 1-quart jar, or tray sprout, which will yield about 2 cups of sprouts. Soak for 8 hours. Rinse 2 to 3 times daily for 4 to 5 days. Move into sunlight to green, then harvest when the sprouts are 1 to 11/2 inches long. Use in salads, sandwiches, and juices.
Use 1 cup kernels in a 1-quart jar, or tray sprout, which will yield about 3 cups of sprouts. Soak for 20 hours. Rinse 3 times daily for 2 to 4 days. Harvest when the sprouts are 1/2 inch long. Use in casseroles, soups, and tortillas, or bake, steam, or stir-fry.
Use 1 tablespoon seeds in a 1-quart jar, or tray sprout, which will yield about 2 cups of sprouts. Soak for 8 hours. Rinse 2 to 3 times daily for 4 to 6 days. Move the jar into sunlight to green, then harvest the sprouts when they're 11/2 to 2 inches long. Use in salads, sandwiches, and juices. To use in baked goods, harvest the sprouts after just 2 days.
Use 1 tablespoon of seeds in a clay saucer or tray, which will yield about 11/2 cups of sprouts. There's no need to soak or rinse and drain; just mist with water 3 times daily for 3 to 5 days. Move into sunlight to green, then harvest when the sprouts are 1 to 11/2 inches long. Use as a spice (very peppery flavor), in salads, sandwiches, or baked goods.
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