We’re celebrating all the ways to hold on to summer’s bounty this week, so we called upon our pal and food preservation guru Sherri Brooks Vinton for some wisdom on drying seasonal foods.
When I say the words “food preservation” I can often see listeners’ eyes widen and their head start to shake “no, no, no” at what they think is a daunting, all-day, steamy kitchen affair. “Oh, I don’t have time for that,” they’ll say. But home food preservation doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming. As a matter of fact, some recipes, like the one after the jump for making chile ristras, take no more than 10 minutes from start to finish. With that amount of time and a length of string, you can turn a bowl of destined-for-the-compost-because-I-couldn’t-make-that-much-salsa-if-I-had-all-day chilies into a year’s supply of clip-and-use dried peppers. You can use the same method for all manner of herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano and lavender.
Here are five easy tips for making and using dried chilies and herbs:
• Select items for drying that have a good length of stem or stalk to them, so you have something substantial to tie on to.
• Choose chilies and herbs for drying that are fresh and lively. Small spots of rot or decay can grow before the items have a chance to dry.
• A warm spot with good air circulation is key to effective drying but avoid hanging your food directly in a window where strong sunlight can “cook” your goods during the process and may bleach already dried items.
• The dried bunches look great in the kitchen and it’s fine to hang them there, once they’ve dried, for easy access. Just snip off a chili or pinch off some dried herbs and toss them into your stew, soup or chili pot as you need them.
• Another way to use the dried lovelies is to remove their stems and use a coffee grinder to whir them into a powder for easier storage and versatility in the kitchen. Make your own flavor blends by combining the powders–in any combination that appeals–with a little salt and use as an instant taste booster. Try a dash of serrano chili powder mixed with ground oregano on popcorn or eggs or combine thyme, rosemary and lavender, then sprinkle the mixture on chicken or potatoes before roasting.
Ristras, which are strands of dried chilies, are often used as decorations, but they’re also a practical way to use up an abundant pepper harvest and have a little heat on hand. The traditional method calls for braiding the chilies, but I’ve had great success with this simpler method. You can a similar method for drying bunches of herbs—just grab them up by the stems, wrap the twine around, and hang upside down to dry.
Upholstery thread or fishing line
Any quantity thin-skinned chilies, such as Anaheim, Serrano, pequin, or arbol
Thread the needle. Wearing gloves so that the heat of the chilies doesn’t scorch your hands, run the needle through the stem of a chili and knot the thread around the stem. This is the bottom chili. Continue to string chilies by running the needle through the bottom of the stems, stacking the chilies as you go and leaving a length of string at the end to hang the ristra. Tie the string to an attic eave or in some other well-ventilated spot. Let chilies dry until they’re shriveled and brittle, 1 to 2 weeks.
From “Put ‘em Up!,” Sherri Brooks Vinton, Storey Publishing 2010. Read more about Sherri Brooks Vinton »