Use some of your garden bounty to create a dry ‘soup mix’ for winter months. I make a lot of soup during the fall and winter months. Sometimes my crock pot is busy several times a week with vegetarian chili one day and chicken stew another. I prefer not to use commercial dry seasoning mixes or bouillon in my cooking due to their high sodium content, but I don’t want to have a bland or watery-tasting soup either.
To remedy this, I create my own seasoning to add to soups and other dishes by drying vegetables from my garden. I usually use tomatoes, summer squashes, carrots, corn, and onions. Other vegetables will also work: mushrooms add a great flavor to dishes, as do green beans, peas, and celery. Just make sure to place the dehydrator in a well-ventilated garage when drying onions or garlic, or your whole house will smell of these vegetables for many days!
Drying is one of the oldest methods of food preservation. It preserves foods by removing enough moisture to stop spoilage. Drying of vegetables is one of those methods of food preservation where a ‘trial and error’ approach is often needed to find what works best for you. [When drying meat, you should follow recommendations to ensure a safe product.]
Always begin with disease-free vegetables at peak flavor and eating quality. Rinse fresh produce with clean water and dry.
Some vegetables benefit from a quick blanch in boiling water to enhance quality and safety prior to drying. Blanching helps to stop enzyme activity that can cause changes in flavor and texture during drying or storage. Blanching can also speed drying by softening vegetable tissue. When making my ‘soup mix’ I may substitute a cooking step for blanching, using leftover vegetables such as cooked corn or green beans from a family dinner, draining them, and placing on to a waiting dehydrator tray. Even though a blanching step might be recommended for vegetables such as summer squash, onions and peppers, I always just slice or chop these vegetables and place them on the dehydrator tray ‘as is.’ Remember, some trial and error is OK when drying vegetables.
Vegetables are dried until they are crisp or brittle; dry enough so that they would shatter if hit with a hammer. Once dried, package vegetables to ensure that they don’t pick up moisture from the air. I use leftover canning jars and lids. You can store dried vegetables and add them directly to soup, but I like to take a variety of dried vegetables and grind them in a coffee grinder or blender to create a powder. It is this powder that I add to soups or broth.
By not combining some vegetables into a blend, I can have even more products for my kitchen. When I dry tomatoes, I blend some separately into a tomato powder. This powder can be used to season pasta or bread, or it can add depth and some thickness to spaghetti sauce and other tomato-based dishes. Smaller grape tomatoes, dried with skin on and seeds included, work especially well this way. Simply slice in half, place on a dehydrator tray, and dry until brittle. Once dry, grind into a powder.
One other product to consider making is tomato leather. This product is like a tomato paste made from your garden tomatoes, capturing the goodness of summer for use all year long.