Being single, it’s sometimes hard to determine how many fresh groceries items I’m going to use in a week. Yes, I make a meal plan and, yes, I make a grocery list…but things change. I’m a nanny and my work schedule totally depends on the parent’s work schedule, which is never set in stone. Sometimes my at-home meals don’t always become a reality.
Many fresh grocery items, such as cheese and some other milk items, have a decent shelf life. Meats and poultry can be tossed into the freezer. But what about produce?
Yes, some produce items have a longer shelf life. Winter squash, potatoes, onions, apples and garlic are good examples but others only have a few days before they begin to lose their freshness. Then there are the items that I might use just a little of but are difficult to buy in smaller quantities (celery comes to mind here!)
Now you might ask yourself, “Why not just go to the store when you need something?” Because I only have so much time.
I live in a rural area and a trip to the grocery store is an hour-long trip, at best. I have local farms and a farm-to-table store, as well as a weekly farmers market, that are on my way home from work but the selection there is subject to growing seasons, which are short here in New Hampshire.
One day, I unexpectedly ran across some freeze-dried mixed vegetables and a thought began to form. What would happen if I tried using dehydrated vegetables in my everyday meal plan?
What Is Dehydrated Food?
Dried or dehydrated foods are simply fresh items that have gone through a drying process that removes the moisture, leaving a product that is easy to store and has a very long shelf life. These foods can be eaten as is (such as we do with raisins) or rehydrated to be used in meal preparation.
Dehydrating is one the oldest food preservation techniques known to man. The method of sun drying foods goes back to prehistoric people. Later, the heat and smoke from a fire were used to expedite the process.
Freeze drying was invented in 1906. The method became widely implemented during World War II as a way to preserve and transport blood serum as well as food for the troops.
Many people use the words freeze dry and dehydrate interchangeably and, certainly, the results of the processes are very similar. The process of freeze-drying, however, is able to remove more water from the food, giving it a longer shelf life, sometimes as long as 25 years. Because of the time and equipment required to freeze dry foods, they tend to be more expensive than dehydrated. Dehydrated foods contain more water, which shortens their shelf life to 1 – 2 years.
Using Dehydrated Vegetables
In the past, whenever I’ve ever thought of freeze-dried or dehydrated food, I’ve thought about “Prepper Supplies”. I have nothing against preppers and there’s nothing wrong with preparing for the unexpected but I don’t have the room nor the desire to lay in 25 lb barrels of powdered eggs. But what about getting a few to use in my everyday cooking? Would that work?
The first time I used dehydrated vegetables was in Chinese Chicken Asian Soup. I added ⅓ cup of the carrots and ¼ cup of the celery as well as 2 extra cups of water to compensate for the hydration of the vegetables. They added a wonderful flavor to the soup, much the same as fresh vegetables would.
I also made a stewed beef recipe (again increasing the liquid by one cup) as well as veggie bagels and vegetable rice, all of which were very tasty. I have to say I was feeling pleased with my innovative spirit but I had to wonder how the nutritional value of these vegetables matched up to fresh.
Dehydrated Food Nutrition Facts
I did a little research and was pleasantly surprised to find that dried veggies lose very little of their nutritional value when they go through the dehydration process. They retain most of the vitamins, minerals and fiber they start with, the only exception being the loss of vitamin C to varying degrees (depending, it seems, on which vegetable is being dried). The conclusion is that dried vegetables can be considered to be a suitable source of nutrition.
The same is true of dried fruit with the exception, again, of some water-soluble vitamins.
There are a couple of caveats to keep in mind, though. When eating dehydrated produce in its dried state, it’s easy to overdo in regard to the number of calories and sugar being consumed. This is especially true of dried fruits. It’s also important to check out the nutrition facts and ingredients to make sure no extra salt or sugar has been added.
Where to Buy Dehydrated Vegetables
When making the choice to order these dehydrated goodies, I went a couple of different routes to see which one or which company worked best for me.
Roland sun-dried tomatoes were fresh and full-flavored. The bag they come in now appears to be resealable, which was not the case when I bought them so that’s certainly a plus.
I was then off to the Mother Earth website to see what they had to offer. I purchased dried carrots and dried celery and was happy with both. I liked the containers as well. They have a rectangle shape which makes them fit snugly next to each other and can be stacked upright or on their sides.
Harmony House Is a particular favorite of mine because they have a wide selection of variety packs in a variety of package sizes, so you can decide if you want to stock up or just try a few to see if you like them! .They have a very large selection of dried foods including protein choices and bulk purchases. I decided to go with the 16 piece quart-sized pantry stuffer!
Would I recommend dehydrated vegetables for my everyday cooking? Yes! They are convenient, tasty and nutritious. They take the worry out of whether I have all the ingredients for a dish or if fresh ingredients will go bad before I have a chance to use them.
Will dehydrated vegetables take the place of fresh vegetables in my life? No. I very much enjoy fresh veggies and nothing can replace them in my salad or side dish. The dehydrated ones will simply make my life a little bit easier!
Do you or have you used dehydrated products? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!
In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, water, cornstarch, and salt. Add the egg white and whisk until frothy. Cut the chicken breasts crosswise into thin strips. Stir in the chicken the egg mixture and stir to coat. Cover and set aside to marinate for 30 minutes. The chicken can be refrigerated for up to 1 day before continuing.
Heat sesame oil over medium heat in a stockpot. Add ginger, garlic and chilis. Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add chicken broth, carrots, celery, soy sauce, rice vinegar and cilantro. Bring to boil over high heat. Lower to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, fill a medium saucepan two-thirds full with water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and stir to separate the pieces. Boil for 1 minute. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water. Transfer the chicken to a bowl and set aside.
When broth is done simmering, add hoisin sauce, water chestnuts, cabbage and chicken. Cook until chicken is no longer pink, about 3 minutes.
Add rice or noodles if desired. Serve hot.
*To make hoisin sauce mix together ¼ cup barbecue sauce, 1 tbsp. Molasses, 1 tsp soy sauce, ½ tsp Chinese five-spice powder or garam masala
6 servings, `196 calories per serving excluding rice or noodles
Hack: Soup can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen in serving-sized portions for up to 3 months.
Hack: If adding rice or noodles, Cook and store them separately from the soup. This will keep them from getting soggy.
Coat a baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Place cut side down in the pan. Roast in the oven until tender, 30-45 minutes.
Remove from the oven and leave it until it’s cool enough to handle. Scoop squash from skins into a large bowl.
Place squash and chicken broth in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Set aside.
Heat oil in a pan over medium-low heat. Add onions and saute until translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add squash, red pepper flakes, nutmeg, sage, pepper and salt. Heat to simmer. Add Parmesan and heat until cheese is melted and well incorporated into the sauce. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
Cook linguine according to package directions. Serve with squash sauce and garnish with additional Parmesan and chives, if desired.
6 servings, 310 calories per serving
Hack: Frozen butternut squash can be used in this recipe.
Hack: Leftover sauce and linguine can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. They can also be stored in air-tight containers in the freezer for up to 2 months. For better quality, sauce and linguine should be stored separately.
Coat a 15”x10” baking sheet with cooking spray and press dough into the bottom of the pan. Alternately, you can use one large or several smaller round pizza pans. It can also be adjusted according to how thick or thin you prefer your pizza.
Cover the dough and let it rest for 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 500℉.
Bake the crust for 5 minutes and remove it from the oven.
Top with pizza sauce, cheddar cheese and pepperoni.
Bake for an additional 8 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the toppings are bubbly. Allow to cool slightly before cutting.
8 servings, 380 calories per serving
Hack: Cooked pizza slices can be wrapped and frozen for up to 3 months.
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Wash and peel the potato. Using a mandoline, spiralizer or knife, cut the potato into thin shreds, 2”-3” inches long. Cover in cold water and soak for 3 minutes. Rinse thoroughly to remove starch.
Heat oil and chili peppers (if desired) over high heat. When the oil is hot, remove chilis and add potatoes, vinegar and salt. Saute for 5 minutes and add green onions.
Serve hot or cold. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
3 servings, 180 calories per serving
Hack: Chop leftover green onions and freeze in a sealable freezer bag or container for future use. While they won’t retain the crispness that would make them suitable for salads or garnish, they will be fine for cooking.