Monday, September 13

A Peck of Powder in a Pint - Dehydrated Garden Fresh Tomatoes!

A Peck of Powder in a Pint - Dehydrated Garden Fresh Tomatoes!
Tomato Flakes and Tomato Powder
One of my favorite kitchen appliances is the dehydrator -- I have a Nesco, one of those round ones that will hold up to 12 trays but still takes up little room.  My girls loved to snack on dehydrated vegetables -- they're sweet, crunchy, and the flavor is so good, it's almost beyond description; but, more to the point, they're healthy!  This year's garden was more beauty than produce which meant I would have to supplement my harvest with a trip to the local farmer's market. These two jars came from just one peck of tomatoes -- the jar on the left has tomato flakes for soups and stews needing a burst of color along with taste and the jar on the right has tomato powder for fresh tasting flavorings, pastes, catsups, and sauces. Believe me, the taste result is well worth the effort.

Still a Peck to Go!
I was able to get a half bushel box of mixed varieties because these less-than-perfect tomatoes weren't pretty enough to be displayed for customers for just $14. I didn't care. I was making powder and flakes and this was perfectly good food. As you can see, there's really nothing wrong with these tomatoes. The 'pretty' ones were 99 cents per pound, so I got a great deal. Normally, dense tomatoes make the best powders and flakes. Since I had both dense and really juicy tomatoes in my box, I would have to remove the bitter white sectioning some varieties have before dehydrating.

Tomatoes on Dehydrator Tray
It's not necessary to remove the skin for making the powder, just wash and then remove the core end along with any deep dark channels or dimples. If you slice straight across the top, you can cut the core out of the top piece, using the flesh to make some basic roasted tomato-garlic-onion-pepper mixes. Cut slices a little under 1/8" thick; remove heavy white membranes and juicy seed sections -- not tomato flesh, just the seeds and gelatinous material. If too big, you can cut the slices in half before arranging on the tray. Chop and save the 'tails' for roasting.

Dried Tomatoes in Resealable Bag
FOR SOLAR or CONVENTIONAL OVEN: Preheat oven to 170F - 225F and either use a silmat or parchment paper on the floor of a cookie tray. You'll be cooking your tomatoes for approximately six to eight hours, total, and need to turn the slices over midway through the drying process. Drying in the sun takes at least two to three days, and the taste is fabulous but I'm focusing on mainstream cooks and busy schedules here.  Remove any tomatoes that are dry and crispy and place in a plastic resealable bag until all tomatoes are done. For powders and flakes, I thoroughly dry them out. They won't burn. [NOTE: These dried tomato slices are REALLY good and it's tempting to eat them like potato chips. Just eight luscious slices equals a whole tomato and it's going to expand in your tummy using whatever juices are available. Always have water available when snacking on dehydrated veggies.] 

Large Flakes go Back to Drier
A coffee grinder, food processor, or blender will make a fine powder. Check for tomatoes with large sections of white veining. Remove the veining and seeds from the slices before processing, if possible. (It's easy, they're brittle and break up with little effort.) If not removed, they could make your powder bitter tasting. Grind a small amount at a time. When done, sift the powder through a wire strainer over a bowl to remove any large flakes. If the flakes are pliant, they still hold moisture and need more drying time. If they are not pliant, regrind them. I like to use the larger flakes in soups and stews where I want to see bits of tomato, so what doesn't make a natural powder goes into the flakes jar.  You can keep both the powder and flakes in airtight containers on your shelf for up to 24 months, as long as you don't let any moisture back into the powder. If your powder seems to clump over time, just redry it!

Ways to Use Tomato or Vegetables Powders.
You're not limited to just tomatoes -- almost any vegetable can be dehydrated, flaked, and powdered. Denser vegetables will require either shredding or precooking before dehydrating. Steam or roast for about 30-40 minutes; drain any liquids into a separate pourable container for stocks. Puree veggies in processor and add some of the liquid into the puree to make it smooth-flowing. Pour onto parchment paper, silmat, or, puree trays of dehydrator to a little less than 1/8 of an inch. (I make 'pancakes' that are a little easier to work with when it's time to turn the puree over halfway through the process.) Keep rotating until puree is totally dry, which means it's crispy, will not bend, and will powder. 

Vegetable powders will rehydrate instantly in hot water, but I give them at least 20 to 30 minutes to make sure they've fully returned to their natural size. Increase or decrease the amount of water to get the consistency you want for tomato catsups, pastes, or sauces. They will add zip to any meat mixtures, soups, breads, dips, whatever you can imagine because they're so versatile. Save money by using up vegetable trimmings to make your powders. Mix with cheeses, oils, unsalted butter, sour cream, anything that will enhance the vegetable powder. Sprinkle over pasta and butter. Sprinkle on top of breads, or add into bread dough. (Rosemary Artisan Bread, maybe?) Mix with mayonnaise for fantastic sandwiches. Make a cup of soup for a great lunch! Do a variety of vegetables and then combine your veggie powders into your own special mix.  Add herbs and spices and give this mix along with a mug or bowl as a gift.

The ratio of liquid to powder is: one ounce of tomato powder is approx. four ounces of fresh tomatoes. Tomato paste: mix water and powder 2:1.  Tomato sauce: 4:1.  Catsup: 3:1.  One ounce of tomato powder equals approximately four ounces of fresh tomatoes. But, play with these figures. This is your powder and you're in control!

Best of all, the powders are lightweight and won't stress your shelving. I still have another peck of tomatoes to go through and will then have more than enough of the powder and flakes to get me through to next season's harvest. These jars are perfect for regular use with hand-tightening of the lids. Hope you give vegetable powders a try.  Couldn't resist making just the right amount of sauce from the first batch. I used the 4:1 ration -- 1/2 cup (equals 8 Tablespoons) hot spaghetti water and 2 Tablespoons tomato powder, 1 tsp. olive oil, chopped basil, garlic salt, salt and pepper. This makes a very thick sauce. Yummy!
4:1 Sauce

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