Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: December, Week 3

The speeding train of Christmas is barreling down the tracks, headed in my direction, and I feel it coming faster than I want. Even with saying "no" to an excess of holiday baking this year, I still feel somewhat unprepared for the season.

I've been able to pace my baking well, and I even finished the baklava baking as well as a first round of julekage last night. But the month seems to be spinning out of control in different directions, as my time at work before the holiday break plods along and my time outside of work seems to vanish as soon as I get hold of it.

I'm still in a sort of cooking slump, and I need help.

How appropriate, then, that I planned this week's Preserving post to feature not only a way to use some of my dried vegetables and herbs but also a way to prepare the basis for relatively quick meals to throw into the slow cooker.

The more I read about dried foods this past year, the more I came across the suggestions to take the home-dried produce and make mixes from them. There's a lot of sense in that: instead of buying soup mixes and such at the grocery store, reconstituting them with hot water, and ingesting all sorts of oversalted food bits, why not make your own?

You've probably seen recipes for bean soup in a jar, where you layer beans of various sorts, spices, dried vegetables, and so on -- so why not make your own? For you? And if you enjoy hiking or camping, you can come up with good nutritious dishes from your home-dried produce that will keep your energy up on the trail.

I admit, I've never tried this before, so I'm not going to include any recipes here (at least not until I taste the results). But with all that dried food in my pantry, how could I pass up the opportunity to experiment? (You can find recipes for dried vegetable soup mixes and other things online; just search and try something that sounds good to you.)

For savory dishes, it's wise to start with a well-seasoned broth or stock. So I found a recipe for a broth mix that sounded like a good alternative to bouillon.

For a broth to have good flavor, you'll need not only a variety of herbs (sage, thyme, basil, dill, oregano, and parsley are shown here) but a few aromatic vegetables like onions, garlic, and celery.

I ran the ingredients through the mini food processor, and while it didn't get everything finely chopped, I think this will work for a trial run. This is a very small batch, less than 1/2 cup total, but it's enough to get me started.

From there, I decided to try a seasoned rice mix, using brown basmati rice, some of the vegetable broth mix, and a mixture of dried vegetables (carrots, peppers, onions). Once I'm ready for this, all I'll have to do is boil and then simmer it in water, just as I would plain rice.

I had hoped to prepare a soup mix in time for this post, but I ran out of "oomph" last night as I was pulling mixes together. Instead, I decided to fill a jar with the bulk of ingredients -- not all -- needed for one of my favorite cold-weather dishes.

I started with adding some dal lentils to the jar, then topping them with layers of dried carrots, dried potatoes, dried red peppers, dried cabbage, and some Indian seasonings. When I'm ready to make the dal, I can start by sautéing one of my onion "pucks" with more spices, adding a jar of canned tomatoes (or sauce), rinsing the jar with water and adding that, then pouring in this mixture, letting it all simmer for a couple of hours. With any luck, that will turn out well for an easy evening or weekend meal!

As I said, I haven't done this before, so I'll have to report back on the results when I get around to enjoying them. But don't let me stop you from seeking out recipes to try on your own! Maybe you'll hit on something you really like and can make for Christmas gifts next year.

And speaking of Christmas, it's back to the final rush for me... more next week!

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At 12/18/2008 8:28 AM, Blogger Tara said...

Let us know how this turns out. I could see a shelf of these coming in very handy next winter...
Good luck on the Christmas projects.

At 12/28/2008 7:49 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Thanks, Tara! So far, the broth works well. Will let you know more as I try them.


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