You can dehydrate vegetables, fruits, meats, herbs and even prepared meals with the instructions in The Beginner’s Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods (Storey Publishing, 2014) by Teresa Marrone. Each section includes food profiles with clear preparation instructions and recipes that feature that particular dried food, allowing the home cook to incorporate local and seasonal foods into a year-round diet. The following excerpt on drying asparagus is from chapter 5, “Vegetables.”
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Vegetables are often the mainstay of the dried-foods pantry because they can be used in so many ways. Rehydrated beets, corn, cauliflower, and winter squash, for example, look just like fresh-cooked vegetables and can be served by themselves to bring the taste of the harvest to any meal, any time of year. Other dried vegetables work best when used in hearty soups, stews, casseroles, or other dishes. Dried vegetables are easy to store and take up less room than canned or frozen vegetables.
This spring vegetable is at its best when locally grown and processed shortly after picking. It’s available in supermarkets throughout the year, however, and it holds up fairly well to shipping (although it gets quite expensive). Asparagus spears snap off easily at ground level when ready to pick. If buying asparagus, look for stalks that are firm, plump, and crisp, with tightly closed tips. If the stalk is beginning to wither, if the tips have started to open, or if the bottom half of the stem is woody, the asparagus is past prime and shouldn’t be used for dehydrating.
Asparagus seems like two different vegetables, especially when it’s been dehydrated. The tips are much more tender than the stalks; they dry more quickly and also rehydrate more quickly. The stalks have tough skins that act as a barrier, hindering both drying and rehydrating; even small asparagus suffers from this effect. The very best way to prepare asparagus for dehydrating is to cut off the tips at the point where the buds end, and then peel the stalks completely or split them vertically before cutting them into shorter lengths. The peeled or split stalks take about the same amount of time to dry, and to rehydrate, as do the tips; they also are a lovely bright green when rehydrated and cooked. If the stalks are dried without peeling or splitting, they take up to twice as long to dry, and they don’t plump up very well during rehydrating; they’re also a drab, dull color when rehydrated and cooked. Peeling or splitting the stalks is extra work and you can skip this step, but your results will be better if you take the time to do it.
Wash and drain the asparagus, then cut or snap off any dried ends. For best results, separate the tips as described above, then peel or split the stalks; for very thin stalks, it’s sufficient to simply peel off a strip on two sides of the stalk. Cut asparagus spears — peeled, split, or unpeeled, as you prefer — into 1- to 2-inch lengths; stalk portions that are thicker than 1/2 inch should be split lengthwise whether they’re peeled or unpeeled. Steam-blanch for 2 to 3 minutes or blanch in boiling water for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. Chill in ice water, then drain and pat dry.
Asparagus tips, and stalks that have been peeled or split before cutting into pieces, generally take 6 to 12 hours at 125 degrees F; stalk pieces that have not been peeled may take up to 18 hours.
Stir pieces several times during drying. At 125 degrees F, asparagus tips, and stalks that have been peeled or split, may take as little as 6 hours to dry, or as long as 18 hours. Stalk pieces that have not been split may take over 24 hours.
Doneness test: Withered, brittle, and stiff; if the asparagus can be bent, it isn’t dry enough.
Yield: 1 pound of fresh asparagus cut into pieces yields about 2/3 cup dried. When rehydrated, 1 cup of dried asparagus pieces yields 1-1/2 to 2 cups.
To rehydrate, hot-soak for 30 minutes to 1 hour, or cold-soak overnight. Add rehydrated asparagus to soups or stews for additional cooking, or simmer in the soaking water until tender for use as a plain vegetable. For additional appeal, serve cooked asparagus in a cheese sauce or cream sauce. Dried asparagus may also be powdered for use in soups or casseroles.
Excerpted from The Beginner’s Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods © Teresa Marrone. Used with permission from Storey Publishing, 2014. Buy this book from our store: The Beginner’s Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods.
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