Don’t try this at home!
I love the crunchy dried green beans you can find in tiny plastic boxes at our natural food store. At nearly $5.00 a pop though, it’s an occasional splurge we like to take on long road trips to balance out the unhealthy snacks found at most roadstops. With this in mind, I was delighted to find several recipes for dehydrated green beans online at the very time I had about a gallon of organic green beans from my garden just waiting to be used,(how fortunate was that?), and so decided to try dehydrating them myself.
Let me just say that not every recipe you see online is a good one, not every glowing review is to be trusted, and not every kitchen adventure is a success. Some recipes should NEVER be shared. If it’s a failure, even the best cook should just admit it and move on. In the spirit of full disclosure then, and because it made me laugh, I have to tell you about this experience… because it was a total DISASTER!
Full of anticipation, I washed and lightly blanched the green beans in boiling water, just as the instructions recommended. Then drained them and blotted them dry with paper towels. I had read that slicing the beans French-style( long ways) helped them dry more evenly, so I did that, too. Seasoning in the online recipes varied, so I just used my favorite: a little lemon juice olive oil and sea salt. It all seemed so simple; what could go wrong? When I put the seasoned green beans in the dehydrator they looked like this… beautiful, right?
I set the dehydrator to 105 degrees in order to maintain the living enzymes in the vegetables and went to bed. Eight hours later, when I checked their progress I saw this:
The bright green beans had turned into brownish leathery strips — not crunchy at all! Hmmm, what to do to salvage these beans? I decided to leave them in the dehydrator for a longer time to see if that would help. Still at 105 degrees, I waited another six hours and checked again. They couldn’t get any worse, could they? Yes!
After a total 14 hours in the dehydrator my final product looked like dried brown shoelaces and tasted about the same. One gallon of fresh beans had turned into two loosely filled pint jars. (To be honest a few of those beans did get crispy, but it would take quite a bit of chewing to gnaw through the rest). I think I will save these beans as a reminder that not every recipe you see online is a good one, not every glowing review is to be trusted, and not every kitchen adventure is a success. I share this only for the humor. I hope you laugh as I did, and please, DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME.
So, it’s August and every gardener has more zucchini than recipes and more cherry tomatoes than any salad can hold. Here is a simple meal that only takes 15 – 20 minutes to prepare using all your garden abundance. Strikingly beautiful on the plate, I served it as a warm salad on a plate of fresh arugala for even more color and vitamins, but I think any dark leafy greens would work as well.
While you are preparing the vegetables, cook 2 cups small pasta according to package directions (shells, elbow macaroni, or spirals work well). Drain well. Add a few drops of olive oil, and toss to keep pasta from sticking together
1 medium size zucchini, cubed
2 cups cherry tomatoes, whole (they will soften as they cook and pop when you chew them — I like that)
2 TBS. Olive oil
1 TBS. Minced garlic (fresh or bottled)
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. dry Italian seasoning
Herbamare (seasoned salt) or Himalayan pink salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 – 5 TBS. Marinara sauce
Feta cheese, or cheese substitute for topping (optional)*
Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and garlic; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Season with Herbamare and pepper. Add red pepper flakes and dry Italian seasoning. When vegetables are tender add the marinara sauce and heat through. Add the cooked pasta to the vegetables in your skillet and mix gently. Serve warm on a bed of greens.
*If desired, top with feta cheese or feta substitute (There is good recipe for vegan feta,”Betta Feta,” in The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook, by Jo Stepaniak; Book Publishing Company, Green Press Initiative, 2003).
We’re still in the throes of winter here in the great northeast. Most years I take advantage of a nice cold garage as bonus storage for onions, squash, and root vegetables during the cold winter months. What a surprise I had yesterday when I went to the garage shelf for an onion and discovered that all the vegetables I had stored there had frozen solid. This is the first time that has ever happened! Well, I just refused to even think about throwing everything away — what a waste that would be! Instead, I decided to make vegetable broth with my rock-hard stash of fresh frozen, vitamin-packed, organic ice-veggies. These are the ones I used. I’ve made vegetable broth before, and like soup, it never comes out the same way twice. The flavor depends on the type of vegetables and seasonings you use. Usually, I make broth when there are more veggies in the fridge than I will be able to use before they die, or when I have collected a varied supply in the freezer from food prep leftovers. This was a rather unusual mixture of flavors, but “waste not want not,” as the saying goes. Some vegetables, namely the cruciferous variety (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower), have a strong flavor and will overpower the broth if you use too much. Fortunately, only the outer inch of the cabbage was frozen, so that and the core are all I used in this broth. I peeled the small pumpkins easily with a regular vegetable peeler, seeded them and cut them into large pieces because I wanted them stay solid, not cook down to a puree. You should keep all the vegetable chunks rather large — at least over one inch.
In a large stockpot, to these vegetables I added 3 stalks of celery, 6 sliced cloves of garlic and these spices: 1 Tbsp. parsley, 1 tsp. thyme, 1 tsp. basil, 1 tsp. Himalayan pink salt, 1/4 tsp. black pepper and one bay leaf. You may use whatever seasonings you prefer and adjust the amount to your liking (this isn’t a precise science), but I have found that you can’t go wrong with these basic seasonings.
Add enough water to cover the vegetables (I used about a gallon), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for one hour. Cool and strain. Discard vegetables. You may freeze the stock in small batches or refrigerate up to one week.
This homemade organic vegetable stock will add delicious flavor to soups, stews, or rice and other grains. If you’ve been buying vegetable broth then you know what a money-saver it is to make your own, and what a wise way to use what otherwise would just be thrown away. Waste not, want not!
This is the coldest winter I can remember. I thought I just felt it more because we’ve relocated farther north (from southern Pennsylvania to northern New Jersey), but the locals tell us that this is the coldest winter on record for these parts. So while the heat runs constantly and everything in the garage freezes solid, I have discovered that keeping the dehydrator running and the kitchen cupboard doors open, our under-the-sink water pipes won’t freeze shut again (as they did a couple of days ago). So, I am dehydrating everything within reach. That appliance is running almost constantly!
Dehydrating is so easy to do. Much more convenient than canning, in my opinion, and if you do it at a low temperature (I usually dehydrate at 105 – 107 degrees) the fruits and vegetables retain all the living enzymes of raw food. This is important if you want to get maximum nutrition for your effort. My Excalibur Dehydrator has a fan in the back that constantly blows warm air over all the trays, so I don’t need to babysit it and shuffle the trays around to get even air distribution as you would with a round stacked dehydrator with the fan at the top or bottom. Many times I load the dehydrator at night and in the morning everything is done to perfection. (I would highly recommend an Excalibur to anyone considering such a purchase). At this low temperature, it takes awhile longer to properly dehydrate, but I like things to be thoroughly dehydrated. When I make chips I want them to be thin and crispy, not tough and chewy like leather. The secret is to slice the fruit and vegetables very thin using a mandolin or a very sharp knife if you have the patience — 1/8 inch thick or less is perfect.
In the photo you can see some of the things I’ve done so far. You can experiment with the seasonings you like, but I will tell you what I used and you can improvise from there. I only use thoroughly washed organic produce because when dehydrating any chemicals in or on the food will be concentrated. Flavor is also concentrated when foods are dehydrated. Notice that I did not use any sugar at all. The natural sweetness of the fruit and vegetables is all you need.
The APPLE CHIPS were easy. Just thinly slice each apple, cut slices in half, remove core parts and any seeds, and lay slices in a single layer on the mesh dehydrator tray. You will get a lot of apple chips from one apple! Some people brush the apple slices with lemon to keep them white, but I don’t think it makes that much difference. Sometimes I sprinkle slices with cinnamon before dehydrating. This time I didn’t.
BANANA CHIPS were peeled, sliced very thin and laid in a single layer on the mesh tray. These I did sprinkle with cinnamon and they tasted great!
RED BEET CHIPS were a first for me. Once again I sliced the beets very thin. I made a marinade of 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar, and 1/2 tsp. Himalayan Pink Sea Salt. In a large bowl I gently tossed the slices in the marinade until they were evenly coated and let them sit for about a half hour, tossing a couple of times just to make sure each slice was flavored. Each beet, single layer not touching, made a full tray of chips!
SWEET POTATO CHIPS…so yummy! I scrubbed, but did not peel, the sweet potatoes. I cut off about 1/2 inch from each end, thinly sliced them, and placed the slices in a large bowl with 2 Tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil and 1 tsp. Himalayan Pink Salt. I gently tossed the slices until each one was coated and placed them in a single layer on a mesh tray.
That’s it. When the dehydrator was full I turned it on at 105 degrees and went to bed. No timer, no turning or repositioning trays, no worries. In the morning everything was dried to a perfect crisp chip. No, the flavors did not transfer, and the house smelled wonderful. We have a supply of healthy chips for snacking, AND with the dehydrator fan blowing 105 degrees all night and the cabinet doors open, our kitchen pipes didn’t freeze!
This is an entrée I love serving to meat-loving friends. It’s fun to watch them try to figure out where the beef is! It tastes like it’s there, but in reality it’s not. Invariably, they have to admit this is a great version of the fat-laden Shepherd’s Pie they’re used to. All the flavor, minus the artery-clogging cholesterol…what’s not to love?
As always, cook once but eat twice. This recipe is easy to throw together if you have leftover Vegetarian Taco “Meat”and cooked brown rice in the freezer.
1 1/2 c. Vegetarian Taco “Meat”
1 1/2 cooked brown rice
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp. dried parsley
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 c. dry bread crumbs
Bottom Layer: Place Taco “Meat” and brown rice in a large bowl. Saute vegetables in oil for 4 – 5 minutes, then add to bowl with Taco “Meat” and rice. Add spices, Dijon mustard, and bread crumbs. Stir with a large spoon to mix ingredients. Season with sea salt and pepper if desired. Spread mixture in an oil-sprayed glass casserole dish.
Top Layer: If you’re smart, you have leftover mashed potatoes on hand to make this recipe as simple as can be. If you don’t have any leftover mashed potatoes, here is a recipe:
4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 qt. water
1/3 c. unsweetened rice, soy, or almond milk
1 – 2 Tbs. organic butter or substitute
salt and pepper to taste
Bring water to a boil and add potatoes. Reduce heat and cook 15 – 20 minutes, until potatoes are fork tender. Drain and place in a mixing bowl. Add seasonings and use an electric mixer or hand masher to mash potatoes. Add milk a little at a time as you mash until potatoes are thick and creamy with no lumps. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Spread thick layer of mashed potatoes on top of the bottom layer of Shepherd’s Pie. Top with vegan parmesan cheese or Gomasio if desired.
Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 30 -45 minutes
Cut into thick slices and serve with vegan gravy.
Chen Vegetarian House, 709 Penn Ave. West Reading, PA 19611- Phone: 610-374-2288 or www.chenvegehouse.com
Chen Vegetarian House is an all vegetarian Asian restaurant with a full menu of vegetarian dishes to choose from…just what the health-minded people of Berks County have been waiting for! Tonight was our first visit there and I was impressed. We will be going back! Although this is a small establishment, probably more geared to take-out than dining-in, our experience was entirely enjoyable.
We entered the newly remodeled restaurant (next to Haute Chocolat) and were promptly seated at one of the two tables by the window. Several other tables were available near the take-out counter. Our server answered all our questions and explained the menu (Yes, EVERYTHING on the menu is vegetarian — even the chicken, the beef, the pork, and the seafood). They do not use MSG in any of their food. We talked and drank green tea until our dinners arrived. The spring rolls were piping hot and very fresh (not frozen and reheated). My Pad Thai was delicious, seasoned perfectly with not too much “chicken” and lots of crunchy bean sprouts. My husband ordered General Tso’s “Chicken” (his favorite) and we were both impressed by the quantity and presentation. Our meals were delicious and the service was efficient and courteous.
Chen Vegetarian House also features something other Asian restaurants don’t offer — fresh vegetable and fruit juices (3.99) and fruit smoothies (4.29). Hallelujah!
The menu states that lunches including white or brown rice, hot & sour soup or spring roll, and entrée are only $5.99. To save time you can pre-order online and pick up at the counter. Business hours are Mon. – Thurs.: 11 am – 10 pm, Fri. and Sat.: 11 am – 10:30 pm, and Sun.: 12 pm – 9:30 pm. Visa, Mastercard, and Discover are accepted. Now until 1/31/2014 is their Grand Opening and you get 10% off a minimum $20 order!
If you want a healthy and delicious meal for not a lot of money, then I would highly recommend Chen Vegetarian House.
This is the easiest way I have found to preserve your abundant tomato harvest. Only two ingredients besides the tomatoes, and so simple!
The first thing you will do is thinly slice the tomatoes — not more than 1/4 inch thick. Spread the slices in a single layer on the dehydrator mesh tray making sure the slices are not touching each other. There is no need to line the tray with a teflex sheet or parchment paper.
Lightly sprinkle each slice with a little Herbamare (or any sea salt and herb seasoning you desire). Then top with some nutritional yeast. Dehydrate for 6 – 8 hours or overnight. Store in a tightly covered glass jar in the pantry, and they’ll stay crisp all winter.
Bet you can’t eat just one!