These days I dry as many vegetables as I freeze or can, and then use up every shriveled squash or tomato by winter’s end. Cooking with dehydrated vegetables is an everyday thing at my house, with quite a bit of variation from year to year, depending on what I manage to put by. In a typical summer, I will dry several quarts of tomatoes and summer squash, two pints of peppers, and smaller amounts of celery, kale, mushrooms, leeks, herbs and other random tidbits.
Then what? How to cook with dehydrated vegetables is the first question asked by gardening friends, and it deserves a thoughtful response. Most of us are not accustomed to cooking with dehydrated vegetables, which is easy and fun.
Using Dried Vegetables in Hot Dishes
Sunday night is generally soup night at my house, which a great way to cook dehydrated vegetables. Most vegetables fully rehydrate in 30 minutes, and you can make a fine soup with dried vegetables including tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and summer squash. Brown rice, lentils, and farro also need 40 minutes of cooking time, so they make excellent additions to soups that include dehydrated vegetables.
For fast-cooking pasta dishes, you can speed rehydration by crumbling or cutting dried vegetables into smaller pieces, which naturally absorb water faster. I use scissors or kitchen shears to cut dried summer squash into thin strips, which can be tossed into hot pasta when it’s almost cooked. Drain off most of the water, let the pasta and vegetables sit for ten minutes, and you have the start of warm pasta salad with summer vegetables.
Using Dried Vegetables in Dressings and Condiments
Many people want to make dressings and condiments with dried tomatoes, especially little jars of dried tomatoes with olive oil, garlic and herbs. To do this, start by placing some dried tomato slices in a heat proof bowl, and cover them with boiling water for one minute before draining off the water. In addition to kick-starting the rehydration process, the boiling water disinfects the dried tomatoes, which go into the dehydrator straight from the garden, and thus could harbor pathogens.
You can now pack the tomatoes into clean jars, cutting them into smaller pieces if necessary. Add a few cloves of sliced garlic and a bit of salt, and cover with good quality olive oil. Keep at room temperature for a couple of days, and then store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Simple vinaigrette salad dressings are easily revved up with crushed dried tomatoes, which rehydrate in about 30 minutes in an oil-vinegar mixture. If you prefer a creamy dressing, add yogurt or mayo, and puree the dressing with an immersion blender.
Making Vegetable Powders
Any dried vegetable can be made into a vegetable powder, which can then be added to soups, sauces, baked goods, or smoothies to add flavor and nutrition. Vegetable powders are best made in small batches, because they quickly absorb humidity and become clumpy. Pulverization also changes the nutrient profile of the dried vegetables, with some vitamin losses due to increased light exposure.
Vegetables must be crisp-dry before they will pulverize into a powder, so it’s best to cut the dried vegetables into smaller pieces and re-dry them in a food dehydrator or warm oven until they break like crackers. Pulverize them in a spice grinder or coffee mill, and immediately store the vegetable powder in an airtight container.
On a cold day when your feet won’t get warm, heat a cup of milk (or unsweetened plant milk) to steaming, stir in a tablespoon of pulverized tomato or other vegetable powder, and wait ten minutes. The vegetable bits will plump up and thicken the milk, making instant soup for which you did all the processing, with no packaging to go in the trash. This should make you feel warm all over.