Thursday, March 1, 2007

Sun-Dried Tomatoes

You'd think this would be a no-brainer. It is, as long as you take your climate into account. In Thailand our climate is hot and dry about three months of the year, so we've been buying a bagful of tomatoes every Monday at our weekly market (10 ฿ a kilo, or about 30¢) and setting them on their way to deliciousness while our window of opportunity is still open. We use romas. Any plum tomato will do, so will grape or cherry tomatoes. If you try anything bigger, be sure to cut them into small enough sections. If you have an over abundance of a large variety of tomato in your garden, it might be better to can them, or make tomato sauce.

  • as many ripe tomatoes as you can economically muster or have room for
  • 1/2 cup (or more) 1 to 1 water and vinegar solution
  • nonreactive trays, either plastic or fabric
  • a bowl
  • a knife
  • a cutting board
  • a few pieces of loosely woven cloth, either muslin or cheesecloth
1. Wash and quarter your tomatoes. Traditionally they should be halved, but this increases your drying time, which increases the likelihood of something going wrong. This is especially true if you have to dry them from the third and fourth floor balconies of your rundown rental townhouse. Some people cut out the seeds at this point, I say why waste sugars that could otherwise go into the final product. You can also slice them into sections as long as you don't mind paper-thin tomato chips instead of plump and yummy sun-dried tomatoes.
2. Dip your tomatoes in the vinegar solution. Most recipes I researched called for this. My guess is that the extra acidity discourages bacteria, while the sun discourages mold.
3. Place your tomato quarters on a nonreactive tray that will allow air to pass through it. A plastic mesh like the one in the picture is ideal. Don't use metal. It will react with the acids in the tomatoes and you'll end up in oxidation town.
4. Place the trays outside in the sun.
5. If flying insects will be a problem line the trays with a loosely woven fabric like muslin or cheesecloth and cover them with the same, or use a screen, or a fancy little mesh umbrella thingy for cakes. If your situation is like ours, and you can count seven species of ants just by walking across your bedroom, then you might try balancing the trays on top of bowls or cups sitting in a saucer of water. Use your common sense.
6. Bring the trays in at sunset, and don't take them out again until the dew has begun to evaporate.
7. The tomatoes are done when they are dark and dry, but not brittle. There shouldn't be any squishy-juicy pockets left. This should take a week or two. After you bring them in you might leave them exposed to the air for a few more days to allow the moisture content to even out. You don't want one moist tomato to spoil the bunch.
8. Store them in a sealed container in a cool, dark place. A glass jar might be a good idea since not all plastics are nonreactive to acid. Try to use them all before the next tomato season--about 6-9 months.
9. Reconstitute before using by soaking for 30 minutes in warm water, wine, or diluted vinegar.

Options: If you live in a cool or humid climate you can use a food dehydrator. Yes there is something mythical-magical about letting Helios do the job, but the real joy of sun-dried tomatoes is the meaty flesh full of concentrated sugars. A dehydrator will do the job perfectly well. There are lose parameters for a passive-solar convection dehydrator on our other blog. If we decide to preserve any of our tomatoes in oil we'll post the recipe here as well.

A tomato is a berry.

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