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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dehydrating Tomatoes - And the Infinite Uses for Them

In the previous post I talked about all my heirloom tomatoes, and that I am getting 20 - 30 of them every day.  I have usually canned most of them in years past, supplying the family with delicious spaghetti, lasagna, and other dishes for the whole year, but this year, with so many tomatoes, I thought I would try dehydrating them, and I am glad that I did.

One Day Haul from the Garden

Dehydrating tomatoes is very easy, and there are so many ways to use them.  You can leave the skins on or take them off, the choice is yours.  I do both, depending on the type of tomato and what I want to do with it once it is dried.

The first type of tomato I started to dehydrate is my little Red Egg Tomatoes.  They are an heirloom cherry tomato.  I make these little guys into "sun-dried" tomatoes.  In Michigan, true sun-dried tomatoes are near impossible to make - you need 2 or more weeks of Sunny and 90°F weather, with humidity Below 50% for the duration.  If you are a Michigander, you are laughing at "humidity Below 50%" right now. 

Red Egg Tomatos

So, back to "sun-dried" tomatoes... I like to keep the skins on, and cut them in half horizontally, with the stem at the top.  I then use the little pitter on the end of my tomato peeler to remove the spot where the stem connected to the tomato.  I do prefer to seed the tomato, but again, this is a personal preference.  I think the seeds have a bitter flavor once cooked or dehydrated, and can ruin a good tomato.  Once the tomato is in half and seeded, I sprinkle a very little garlic salt on top and fill the little hollows with pieces of fresh basil.  I then arrange them on the dehydrator.

All Dressed Up

I then dehydrate these for about a day at 135°F, checking on them after about 12-14 hours.  I dehydrate them until they are crisp, which will give them a longer shelf life.  There are recipes for these tomatoes that call for them to be brushed with olive oil and then dehydrated until they are chewy, but the shelf life is very limited.  I prefer to dehydrate completely, leaving my options open to use them in numerous ways.  If I want to have a "sun-dried" tomato for bruschetta or a pizza topping, I just put a few of the dehydrated tomatoes in a bowl and coat them with olive oil and let them set for a few minutes.  They are just as tasty, and you get the advantage of a longer shelf life.

Orange Valencia and Black Prince Tomato Slices

Large tomatoes can also be dehydrated to make tomato flakes, tomato powder, and spices like tomato-basil-garlic salt.  Again, you can keep the skins on, or peel them off, and keep the seeds or remove them. If the skins are split or if they are kind of ugly, I take them off.  If they are perfect, I keep the skins on.  I clean them well and then slice them about 1/4 inch thick, and remove the seeds.  Once they are sliced, I put them on the dehydrator trays and dry them at 135°F for about a day, checking them around 10 hours, until they are crisp.

"Sun-Dried" Red Egg Tomatoes

Dehydrated Tomato Slices

So, now you have lots of dried tomatoes, what do you do with them?  I have found many different ways to use them.  If the slices are chopped and placed in an air tight container, the "flakes" can be added to eggs, omelets, and any dish where small diced tomatoes would be used.  If you want to use the "sun-dried" tomatoes, they can be added to pizzas or used to top all kinds of hor-devours.  Just rehydrate with a brushing of olive oil.  The tomatoes can also be used to make spices.  To make the veggie spice for my zucchini chips I put four of the "sun-dried" tomatoes in the spice grinder, added a few dehydrated garlic chips, and some kosher salt, and grind it all together.  My husband makes an awesome veggie spread by putting chopped up "sun-dried" tomatoes (not rehydrated with oil), chopped dehydrated zucchini chips, a small bit of dehydrated onion, and a sprinkling of tomato powder, in a tub of cream cheese, and let it sit in the fridge for about an hour before serving.  With dehydrated tomatoes, you only limit is your foodie imagination!

There is one last thing I want to suggest for dehydrated tomatoes, and that is to make tomato powder with them.  To do this, the tomatoes really need to be crispy, or they will make nasty clumps instead of a nice powder.  Once you have crisp tomatoes, place them in a zip-close bag, press all the air out, and put them in the freezer for about a half-hour.  This will help the blades in the spice grinder or food processor cut easier.  Place the tomatoes, a little at a time, in a spice grinder and grind on fine.  If you are doing large amounts, you can use a food processor, but mine just puffs powder all over, and I prefer the spice grinder.  The powder should be stored in an air-tight container or bag, and kept in a cool dry place. 

Tomato Powder - A Great Thing

This powder is great because it can be used to spice foods, it can be added to sauces and soups, and if you need a tomato paste, a sauce, or even tomato soup, you just add hot water.  Two parts water to one part powder will get you paste, four parts water to one part powder will get you sauce, and you can adjust the water for soup to your liking, even adding milk or flour to create a more creamy soup.  

If you want to share another awesome recipe using dehydrated tomatoes, please comment, I would love to try it!  And if you want to try zucchini chips, check out my post "Zucchini Chips - Awesomely Delicious!"

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