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Dehydrating Your Own Vegetables to Use in Trail Meals and Long-Term Storage

Living on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, we have growing conditions perfect for some of the best tomatoes, squash, watermelons, cantaloupe, and corn, that are so good other folks in the Mid-Atlantic drive hours to pick up local produce. I used to have a large, time intensive garden, but over the years so many friends and neighbors give away boxes and bags of their garden's bounty that I would find myself swimming in more produce that I could use, let alone can and dehydrate, before the stuff went bad. I gave up the garden years ago to pursue my foraging hobby, but without a loss of those great veggies; just a few days ago, my neighbor brought over another flat of huge, beautiful tomatoes that were going to be ruined with the first frost. Score for Demeter!!

Drying veggies in season is a great way to take advantage of the earth's bounty! Buying or growing in-season local foods are more fresh, and the cost less money than out of season foods, and decrease fossil fuel usage from produce that is transported across the country or world. The benefit of dehydrating produce is that hundreds of pounds of fresh vegetables can be stored in a few dozen mason jars once the water is removed, freeing up lots of freezer space. Dehydrating also makes seasonal produce available year-round for recipes and snacks.

Copyright: <a href=''>subbotina / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Drying Fresh, Seasonal Vegetables is Easy and Saves Money

Preparing Your Veggies

Choose vegetables that are ripe and unblemished. Wash any visible dirt and pat lightly dry. Most vegetables benefit from blanching or steaming. Vegetables contain chemical compounds called enzymes, which cause the food to change colors when cut - like when potatoes turn brown when cut. By heating the vegetables, these enzymes become inactivated, and the veggies retain their color better. Blanching is the term for dipping the vegetables quickly in boiling water.

Just like meats and sauces, not all vegetables dry the same. All veggies can technically be dried with a little preparation, with mixed results. Some starchy vegetables such as carrots, corn, peas, and potatoes, can be dehydrated well when prepared in soups and stews, or chopped very fine, but do not rehydrate well when dried individually for freezer bag meals.

At the bottom of this post I list specific veggies with suggested preparation methods...

Scallions Washed and Sliced, Ready for the Dehydrator

Using Canned Vegetables

Store-bought canned vegetables can also be dried for trail meals right out of the can. Drain off any water the veggies were packed in before drying. Using canned beans is a great way to add legumes to your trail meals without the hassle of soaking and cooking the beans yourself. Canned beans need to be cut or mashed first, otherwise they will not rehydrate well. Mashed garbanzos make a terrific trail hummus, while pinto or kidney beans mashed, dried, and powdered are a fabulous addition to TexMex meals.

Drying Your Bounty

Home dehydrating vegetables is easy with a little practice and a dehydrator or oven. A dehydrator can be purchased inexpensively for as little as $50 for an entry-level model, or even less on eBay or Craigslist. Dehydrators usually come with mesh, screen-like trays, for drying solid food. But be sure to have at least a couple solid sheets as well. These "fruit leather" sheets are necessary for drying purees and sauces. 

An oven can be used for dehydrating, but since most modern electric ovens do not bake below 175°F, the food must be watched closely. The oven door can be left slightly open to decrease the temp enough to prevent the vegetables and fruits to be dried as tough as shoe leather. Sun drying and solar ovens are another option, but I am only covering indoor drying in this post.

Copyright: <a href=''>olenka / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Sliced Roma Tomatoes on Dehydrator Tray
Vegetables should be cut to a uniform thickness and dried in a single layer without overlap. The temperature setting should be about 100°F. The smaller the pieces of food, the less time and energy is needed to dry. Also, smaller pieces will rehydrate much better when needed.

Vegetables can also be blended and dried on fruit leather trays, then ground fine into a veggie powder.

Toss a teaspoon of the powder into soups and stews to add flavor and a nutritious boost to meals.

Vegetable chips are a crunchy, salty alternative to potato chips, but you need to use your imagination a little bit! Use kale and collard green leaves left whole, sprinkle with salt and dehydrate until crisp.

Have fun and experiment with your favorites, although some "experiments" may not work for you: just ask my family about dried pickles and olives :)

Using Your Dried Veggies

Using dried vegetables is super easy. Simply toss a handful of whatever your heart stomach desires into a soup, casserole, or even omelets. Drying can concentrate the taste of some vegetables, like mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions. Be sure to add slightly more water to your dish to compensate for the water the veggies will absorb during cooking.
Dried Veggies Take Much Less Space than Fresh or Frozen

Dries with excellent results:

  • Bean Sprouts 
  • Bell Peppers - roasted, skinned, then chopped 
  • Broccoli - steamed and chopped 
  • Cabbage - shredded 
  • Cauliflower - steamed and mashed or "riced" 
  • Chili Peppers (i.e. Poblano) - roasted, skinned, then pureed 
  • Collard Greens - blanched or raw 
  • Green Onions - raw 
  • Kale - raw 
  • Mushrooms - sliced thin raw 
  • Onions -minced raw 
  • Potatoes - cooked and mashed 
  • Spaghetti sauce - pour onto fruit leather tray 
  • Spinach - raw 
  • Squash - julienned and steamed for "noodles"
  • Sweet Potatoes - cooked and mashed or cubed 
  • Tomatoes - pureed as a "leather" then powdered

Dries okay with differing results 

(sliced thin, diced, or shredded):

  • Asparagus - steamed 
  • Avocado - mashed and mixed with lots of lemon or lime juice 
  • Beets 
  • Bell Peppers 
  • Chili Peppers 
  • Eggplant - steamed 
  • Green Beans - cooked 
  • Potatoes - shredded and blanched 
  • Tomatoes - very thin slices

Veggies you can dry, but better off buying freeze-dried 

(because they don't rehydrate well):

  • Carrots 
  • Celery 
  • Corn 
  • Peas

I have honestly never dried these veggies

(but if you have , I would love to hear it!)

  • Artichokes 
  • Brussel Sprouts 
  • Cucumbers

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