Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Dehydrating your own "Instant" food
A lot of people are familiar with "Minute Rice", which only takes 'a minute' to cook. Minute rice is just pre-cooked rice that has been dehydrated. They may use a freeze-dry process or they may just dehydrate it. But it's easily made at home.
Have you ever left a plate on the counter with a few bits of rice on it, and the next morning it was hard and dry? You've just made Minute rice by way of not doing your dishes before you went to bed! Or those dried grains of rice on the inside of a pan...more Minute rice.
That's not the way I recommend you make it though. I cook a pan of rice until it's nearly done, making sure it's not too chewy and hard, but not cooked into a clumped mass of almost-pudding.
Then I drain it if necessary and spread it on screens or dryer racks. After a few hours of drying I use my fingers to stir up any clumps, and I might do that again a time or two, just to separate all the grains of rice. I don't worry too much about small clumps when the rice is freshly cooked. It's easy to break them up as they dry. Any clump bigger than a large pea, I try to break up and spread out. But even bigger clumps can be broke up a couple hours into the drying process.
Rice dries quickly. Depending on how you're drying it, it can be as fast as a few hours or as long as overnight. An electric dehydrator is the fastest. I've dried rice on cookie sheets in the oven with the pilot light for heat, and on shelves above our woodstove. If you live in an area with very low humidity it would dry just fine sitting on the kitchen counter.
Store the instant rice in an air-tight container, preferably glass or metal. The cooler and darker you store it, the longer it will taste fresh when you use it. It will always be safe to eat, but the flavor will eventually fade or flatten.
To cook the rice, use equal parts of water and rice. I've put the rice right in the water at the start, and I've also waited until the water boiled before adding the rice, and I haven't noticed any difference.
I dried pinto beans so that I would have "instant" beans that I could use on short notice. I usually Can dry beans for 'Instant" beans but I wanted something that didn't use up my canning jars. In the winter when our woodstove is going to be hot anyway, I cook up pots of beans with the 'free' heat. Some are still canned, but in the last few years I've started drying a lot of them.
Cook the beans until they are completely cooked and soft, but not falling apart into mush. Then spread them on screens or racks to dry, just like the rice. They dry a little slower than the rice but a lot faster than I expected. Store in an airtight container.
To use the beans, soak in water for 15-minutes to half an hour. Then use as you would freshly cooked beans. At this point I often mash them and make refried beans, adding a bit of onion and garlic. I also make bean soup by adding onion and chopped, cooked bacon. Use them in whatever favorite recipes you have for beans.
This works with all dry beans, as well as with lentils and split peas. It's a good way to have an assortment of ready-to-use beans, lentils, and split peas on hand, ready to use.
I tried an experiment with boxed macaroni and cheese. I know it doesn't take long to make boxed macaroni and cheese, but I wanted something we could heat quickly while camping, and not use up much stove fuel.
The first batch I did, I cooked the macaroni until it was done, drained it, and spread it to dry. When I went to use the "instant macaroni and cheese", the macaroni turned to mush in the pan and stuck together in a huge clump.
The second time, I cooked the noodles until they were somewhat soft but still chewable. I drained and dried them, and then when I added them to boiling water, they finished cooking in about a minute. I mixed the milk, butter, and cheese packet into the noodles, and the finished meal was undistinguishable from freshly-made macaroni and cheese.
I store the cheese powder packet in the jar with the noodles so they're handy to prepare.
Did I save anything by doing this? Not really. It still took fuel to cook the noodles, whether I pre-cooked and dried them, or just prepared them at the time the were to be eaten. The only advantage I can see is for using it as camp food, or in a bug-out bag. In a bug-out situation, if you even have a small stove of some sort, you'll definitely want to conserve fuel. And if you have children and have to bug-out, it's a nice comfort food for them. Be sure to include powdered milk and possibly powdered butter, and maybe some salt. I haven't put this in my bug-out bag yet, but if I do, I'll mix the powdered milk, powdered butter, and salt in a small ziplock bag and put a rubber band around it and the jar, or use masking tape to attach it.
It could also be used during a time of power outage or any other interruption to your source of energy for cooking. If you don't have a back-up way to heat food, it's a good time to do research on it. There are old posts near the beginning of this blog with some good ideas.
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Susan and the Poverty Prepping team.