Gardening the Bhutanese Way

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dried Vegetables- Save Money & be Healthy

Dried, packed Spoinach (Left) & Caigua/Ola-choto (Right)

Have you been the one to munch on imported vegetables during the lean season? Well, there is no doubt that the price stands at a comfortable rank compared to our local products. But are we aware of the fact that we are consuming pesticide residue laden products? Anything that fills up your vegetable rack during such season would be imported ones. Have you been one of the agent spiraling the vegetable import rate? Well, why not we opt to at least curtail the rate if not put a halt to it? But how? I will unfurl a very simple answer to it.

Vegetable drying is a very simple process. Nothing new or different from what our forefathers resorted to. Neither would it demand for any sophisticated equipments. If you are in possession of a simple dryer; like the one the National Post Harvest Centre provides on cost-sharing basis, is well & good. But even if you don't, the job can be done. Only the pace at which you achieve your end result would differ to a slight degree. You can always rely on the Mr. Sun to do you a favor as long as he acts gracious enough to emanate his radiance. A brief highlight on the sequential steps to be followed are as follows;

1. Washing
This is the foremost step required to rid your produce of any dirt or filth. Trim all the unwanted parts. A simple rinsing will do as many of your produce will undergo a process called blanching that will cleanse the produce anyways.

2. Chopping/shredding
Chop your bulky vegetable produce into thin shreds of the shape & length of your own choice. Thinner the shreds, faster the drying is. But don't make it too thin that it disappears when dried of strong wind blows it off.

Sliced Broccoli(left) & Tomato(right)

3. Blanching
This involves immersing your chopped vegetable produce in hot boiling water augmented with a pinch of salt or in hot steam for a brisk span of time. It means scalding of the produce with hot boiling water or steam. But the blanching time should be very specific or else your produce will get cooked instead of getting blanched. The blanching time & method may vary with each vegetable as illustrated in the table beneath:

Blanching time(Mins.)
Boiling water
a) Edible pods

b) Green (shelled)
Spinach & other greens
Summer squash

a) Diced/strips

b) Small, whole
Egg plant/brinjal
Stripped/sliced into slender pieces


Caigua/Slipper gourd(Ola-Choto)

Why is blanching recommended or advisable?
This is a prerequisite step for vegetables to be dried & or frozen on account of the following reasons;
It rids the produce of harmful microbes to around 99%.
*    It slows down or inhibits enzymatic activity which otherwise would result in loss of flavor, color & texture.
*      It helps in color retention of dried produce, especially of the greens.
*      It shrivels/wrinkles the vegetables to be dried for the ease of packing.

Blanching of Broccoli ( A pinch of salt added to boiling water)

4. Cooling & Staining
Cool immediately in cool water for the same time used in blanching. Stir the vegetables thoroughly during cooling. Stain or drain out the water properly.

5. a) Packing & Storing
The blanched produce then can be either frozen or dried.  The produce can be packed into containers or freezer bags after pressing out air & sealing tightly. However, this is not so common in our conditions as much as the produce are being dried. This also escalates cost on initial investments.

5. b) Drying  Packing
Spread out your blanched produce onto a tray or woven out bamboo mats. Cover it with a net (I prefer mosquito nets) or a clean transparent cloth to avoid dust & other foreign material from drifting into your produce. Stir occasionally to achieve uniform drying. The produce can be shade dried once it is seemingly free of excess moisture as long duration exposure to sunlight bleaches the produce & results in colour loss. Dry your produce until it is completely rid of moisture. You can also hang the partially dried produce in perforated containers if there is less space for you to spread it. This is a vital step as the shelf life of your dried produce will be determined by the degree of its dryness.

Drying of various vegetables; Products covered with a net (image on the left)

6. Packing
Once you get a signal of the produce being completely dried, pack it in airtight containers. However,dried products remain edible forever when & only when kept dried. So it is crucial to seal it in airtight containers; be it plastics or jars. If not, the hygroscopic nature of the produce will take a toll on your efforts & produce, & the next time you try to cook something out of it, you will be demoralized to find your produce engulfed by fungal hyphae. Make sure that your dried products  gain an entry card into plastic containers or jars & then seal it. If you possess a sealing machine, it is well & good. But you aren't rid of options at any point of time or instance. Lit a candle or a flame & sweep the folded edge of your product-filled plastic over it. This will equally do a magical job of sealing your produce airtight.

Dried cabbage
Dried Red chillies (Left) & Parboiled Shurkam (Right)
Dried shredded Beans (Left) & Onion leaves (Right)
Dried Garlic (Left) & Tomato (Right)

Dried, packed Cauliflower (Left) & Broccoli (Right)
Now, you have the liberty to stack your dried, packed produce on your shelves for use during the lean season or to gift it to your friends & or relatives. Believe me, it is easier & delightfully lighter to carry elsewhere. I am not exaggerating as whatever I have penned down has been a shedding  from my own experience.
There are many advantages associated with vegetable drying. This is not just confined to vegetable drying but any horticultural produce, which are highly perishable in nature.
Ø  Dried products has higher content of vitamin, minerals, protein & fiber content.
Ø  It incurs minimal expenses compared to other preservation techniques such as freezing & canning.
Ø  Reduced import, minimize outflow of Rupee. This might even lift the economy of the country in its own small way.
Ø  A step forward for keeping the  crippling & hazardous  agro-chemical laden imported vegetables at bay.
Ø  A brave step towards Self-sufficiency ( as I would rate myself so in this regard).
Ø  Above all, you can dwindle the outflow of money from your own pocket.

We can dry surplus vegetables when its production phase shoots up. There is no limit to the kind. You can dry anything. You might not have seen dried tomatoes, dried broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage, dried carrot & or garlic, dried onion leaves & the list stretches on an endless knot. Neither to the quantity. Once it has been rid of moisture(dried) & packed properly, these are going to remain on your shelf for years together. There is no fear of your product being succumbed to fungal attack or having to dump it in the waste bins. So try this out & minimize your expenses on the purchase of imported vegetables.