Dehydrate some veggies TODAY for winter stews and smiles.

9 Sep

This draft had been saved in our blog queue from last December.  It’s definitely more relevant or useful as inspiration now, when you have the moment to save those summer flavors.  So I’ll finally publish this reminder of how those little touches of preserved foods from the summer (and fall!) can make a big impact long after the Locavore challenge is over.  –Rachel

[December 2011]:  I had been traveling (not abnormal!) and sick (very abnormal!) and was bound and determined to make last Friday’s dinner-with-special-friend something that would take both our minds off the fact that I was a zombie, unfit for human interaction.  I was not contagious any more, but I felt like I’d been in a fight for the past week…in a way I had, just with some strong virus.  Times like this, I know I must do whatever it takes to return to what is the most comforting to me, and that happens to be a simple, nutritious and flavorful meal.  I used some hearty pinto beans from Cayuga Pure Organics for a stew.  Super helpful hint to cooking dry beans, besides the obvious soak-ahead stuff, is to add a piece of kombu or kelp (I really like these guys for sustainability and East Coast location) in the liquid.  In the interest of taking something off the shelf to make use of my stored foods, as I had committed to doing for Dark Days, I broke off a piece of the tomato sauce/stew base that I had dehydrated for this very purpose and added it into the beans as they finished cooking.  I wasn’t sure if there would be any flavor impact, but BAM there it was.  It tasted like August again–I can’t remember what I had put in the veggie puree before dehydrating it, but I could taste the tomato (obviously), herbs, bell pepper and maybe some celery and carrot?  Wow!  Not about to let beans upstage the veggies, I stewed local kale, Haukeri turnip tops and buttercup squash (definitely on my top 3 favorites list of the ugly squashes with pretty names) till they were soft and unctuous.  Leftover fair-trade quinoa from Thanksgiving also showed up at some point (was frozen in the interim), but really at that point my eyes were already popping out–from the flavor awakening, not the zombie virus symptoms.

Note: there are a lot of Youtube videos and resources for dehydrating foods, particularly tomatoes, out there.  I skew away from chefs and people drying tomatoes on a single sheet pan since that’s not really my experience.  The more serious “survivalist” or “homesteading” youtube videos are actually more credible in my opinion, since they’re not talking about a pretty little jar of partially-dried tomatoes in olive oil.  They’re talking year-long storage of many many tomatoes, no risk of spoilage.  So it’s worth looking around.  Extension websites are helpful too, though they’re going to be to the extreme on food safety (and that’s not a bad thing) and may recommend some things like sulfur dioxide for color/”freshness” retention.  I’ve never bothered with that, I just use my hygienic practices and ensure that my foods past the doneness tests, and I’m doing just fine.  The websites of companies selling dehydrators and homesteading gear are a good place to start for tips, even if you’re not interested in the gear.  For example, I found this on the Excalibur dehydrator website:

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