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The April showers have begun in Bengaluru but there is no dearth of sharp sun during the first half of the day. I find myself repeatedly thankful for these sunny mornings and afternoons. In the covid-19 times we are living in, we try to sanitize our packages and parcels by leaving them out in the sun for a few hours. Even the newspapers are spread out in the sun before we read them. The clothes drying rack is set in the sunniest spot and the laundry is all dry in just a couple of hours. Something about the gloominess and uncertainty of the present days makes me feel very grateful about little things like these.

I would have thought that with so much work to attend to along with the mental burden of this pandemic, I would not want to take on one extra bit of work. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. I am cooking more elaborate meals with whatever is in my fridge and garden. I seem to be cleaning up more than is required. I don’t want to let one thing from my kitchen go waste so I am in this full-utilization and preservation mode. This feels like going back to my great-grandmother and grandma’s way of life, also making me feel more connected to them.

The privilege of well-stocked supermarkets and online deliveries with access to 24x7 shopping has ended abruptly. Supplies of produce and groceries have been erratic. You may have a glut of tomatoes at your neighbourhood vendor one week and then nothing the following week. I haven’t seen coriander or any leafy vegetables for the last two weeks. This has definitely made us more careful about how we use our food supplies. We realize the value of every little food item that comes our way and want to use it to its limit.

After using up 8-10 large limes to make lemonade, I did not have the heart to discard the thick peels. I covered them with a generous amount of salt and left them out in the sun every day. In under a week, I have this intensely citrusy and salty preserved lemon peel that I can’t help taking a bite of every now and then. Having bought a few extra bitter gourds, I took my neighbour Anupama’s tip to slice them thin and sun-dry. This makes the tastiest salty, zero-oil bitter-gourd chips. You could deep-fry them for an even more addictive snack or add it to one of the kuzhambu recipes (a Tamil-style tamarind-based saucy dish had with rice).

Vadams and vathals are two of the sun-dried goodies that used to be made regularly in many south Indian homes and kept in large containers for the whole year. While many of these vadams use rice or sago as the base, some incorporate ingredients like white pumpkin and black-eyed peas, such as karuvadam. Vegetables like cluster beans and green chillies are also sun-dried for use in dishes.

Pickling is one way to preserve seasonal foods for an year or more. Given that produce has been available year-round, we see these pickles and preserves more as condiments and added flavours to our main meal rather than a backup for when we run out of food.

But many Indian pickles can stay on a cool dry kitchen shelf all year without getting spoilt. One such Andhra-style tomato pickle that I learnt from Revathy Shanmugam’s YouTube channel is a great way to save seasonal full-of-flavour tomatoes. She puts together chopped tomatoes, tamarind and rock salt in a jar for one-two days and then squeezes out the tomatoes to sun-dry them in clusters. The sun-dried tomatoes are used as the base for this tomato pickle.

Amla (Indian gooseberry) is our own local superfood and if you find it, preserve it and eat a bit of it every day. Pressure-cook whole amlas briefly in water with salt and turmeric. Amla will stay in this brine solution in a sealed glass bottle for a few months in the refrigerator. Vadu manga is an example of preserving baby mangoes in brine with the addition of chilli powder, turmeric and mustard seeds.

SUN-DRIED KARELA CHIPS

Makes over a cup

Ingredients

3 medium-sized karelas (bitter gourd)

1/2 tsp salt

Method

Slice off the top and tail of the bitter gourds. Slice thinly using a sharp knife or a mandoline slicer. Arrange in a single layer on a baking tray/plate and sprinkle salt uniformly over the slices.

Keep in the sun and bring indoors after sunset—cover the trays/plates with a muslin cloth or kitchen napkin at night.

Return them to the sun for two-three days until the slices are fully dried and crisp. Save in an airtight glass jar.

These can be munched on as is or deep-fried to make karela chips. Crisp bitter-gourd slices make an interesting addition to salads and raita.

Sun-dried tomatoes
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Sun-dried tomatoes (Photo: Nandita Iyer)

SUN-DRIED TOMATOES

Makes around 2 cups

Ingredients

500g cherry tomatoes

1 tsp salt

Method

Wash, dry and halve the cherry tomatoes. Arrange in a single layer on plates or baking trays, cut side up. Sprinkle salt uniformly over the tomatoes.

Follow the same process as for the bitter-gourd chips. Depending on the size and the water content in the tomatoes, these may take three-five days to be fully dried. Save in an airtight glass jar as is.

Sun-dried tomatoes can be used as toppings for focaccia, pizza, sandwiches and added to salads too. Soften in some extra virgin olive oil before adding to salads.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.

Twitter - @saffrontrail

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