10 Recipes for DIY Dried Foods, From Kale Chips to Rose Hips

hands cut green banana into slices to oven dry and eat as chip

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

Dried food is so right on and righteous. What could be better? Drying food doesn’t necessarily require intensive energy use, it provides a simple way to preserve local produce for the months when the fields are stark, and it concentrates flavors with a chewy succulence unlike anything else. Drying in the sun leaves the least-detectable carbon footprint of the three basic methods you can employ.

But dependable solar dehydration often requires 3 to 5 consecutive days of 95-degree weather and low humidity. So for the rest of us not living in hot, arid climes, we are left with our ovens turned low and dehydrators. But not to worry, even these methods are conservative with energy use.

For more detailed information, see TLC's tutorial on drying food. The possibilities for all the lovely things awaiting transformation are seemingly endless, here are some favorites. For the Apricot Fruit Leather pictured above (an image that wafts of fruit, summer, and the feeling of sticky fingers), visit These Days in French Life.

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Kale Chips

person pulls cookie sheet of dried kale chips from oven

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I am very, very pro-kale. This doesn't always make me the most popular cook on the block, but it makes be very, very happy. Here's one of the things I have learned about the super-nutrient-wonderful-delicious-powerfood: Even those who shudder at the site of the vegetable often fall for kale chips. It's the gateway dish to kale addiction. You can buy kale chips at the store, but they are precious. In gourmet stores they often ring in at $8 for a handful's worth. Pshaw. DIY or bust. In the simplest preparation, all you need to do is remove the stems, rinse and dry the leaves, spread them on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and bake at a low temperature until they're crispy and melt in your mouth. Or, get fancy: Original “Sour Cream” and Onion Kale Chips Recipe from Vegan Chef Douglas McNish Oh She Glows' Sundried Tomato and Cheezy Kale Chips

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Citrus Zest

microplane zester grates fresh lemon zest from whole lemons

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The wide array of uses for the dried zest of lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits may not be readily apparent upon first consideration. But if you think of the rinds that end up as waste after juicing and squeezing, and then realize that -- in addition for use in general baking and cooking -- things like citrus powder, citrus extract, citrus sugar, citrus-infused oil, and lemon pepper can all be created from dried zest, then maybe it makes more sense. If you don’t have a microplane or zester, you can also use the small side of a box grater. Try to scrape just the outer layer, the white layer of pith is bitter. To dry, spread the zest on a towel and leave in a warm, low-moisture area until thoroughly dried. Store in a clean jar.

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Edible Seeds

dried fennel seeds spilling out of glass jar container

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Dried seeds from things you've grown in the garden are a thing of wonder. Coriander, cumin, caraway, sesame, poppy, fennel, mustard, celery -- they all make delicious seeds. And the true beauty of it is this: A regular-size jar of store-bought seeds will generally far outlast the recommended herb-spice shelf life of one year. When you harvest your own seeds, you can do so in smaller batches, letting the rest sow themselves or save them for planting the following year. This one's easy: Collect the seed heads, hang them upside down in a cool, dry area either with a bag loosely secured over them or with a container beneath to catch them as they fall. Once they are completely dry, store in jars.

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Banana Chips

hand reaches for slice of dried banana chip on plate

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What's your first defense against the bunch of bananas just about to become a bunch of brown fleshy fingers poised to feed a flock of fruit flies? Banana bread? Check. Frozen bananas for smoothies? Yes. But how about banana chips? Yum. Here's how: Peel and slice bananas, then dip the slices into the lemon juice. Arrange on a lightly oiled baking sheet in a single layer. Dry in the oven at 175° F for 2 - 3 hours until entirely dried -- crisp and golden. Cool completely, store in airtight containers. In case your bananas have passed their prime prior to drying them, salvation awaits you here: From Shoe Shining to Skin Smoothing: 7 Uses for Overripe Bananas.

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Rose Hips

red rose hips grow on bush after flower has faded can be dried and eaten

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Rose hips, the cherry-sized fruit of the rose bush, left behind after the flower has faded, can be dried and eaten straight as a snack, like dried berries, or used to make tea. They are super high in vitamin C, and have a spicy, nutty, sweet floral taste that is pretty much divine. Food fit for gods and goddesses. First collect the hips after the blooms have died and wash the fruit gently.

Cut the fruit in half and scrape out the hairy seeds. Then simply dry the rose hips on a baking sheet in the oven set at the lowest temperature, checking and stirring often so that they don't burn. You can also string them on a thread with a needle into a garland of sorts and dry them in a cool, dry place. Leave room between the hips so they can dry thoroughly, which should take a few days. Store them in an airtight container, and when ready for some rose hip tea, seep the hips in hot water and voila. You can also add other dried bits to your tea mix, like the blend pictured above which includes rose hips with hibiscus blossoms, dried apple pieces, elderberries, and orange peel. Another way to dry rose hips is to make a puree from them and then make fruit leather. Yes, rose hip fruit leather. Heaven.

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oven-dried roasted red cherry tomatoes fresh out of oven

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Tomatoes adore being dried, they just must. It would have been too clumsy of an evolutionary path for them to be so exceedingly delicious when dried if it didn't serve their species in some way. But wacky biological imperative theories aside... Expensive sun-dried tomatoes imported from Italy made a big splash on the culinary scene in the early 80s, but expensive sun-dried tomatoes from Italy are...expensive and from Italy, which means not the best choice for many of us. But that's okay, because tomato season is here and we can make our own! Little expense and no Italy required. See What to Do With a Glut of Cherry Tomatoes for the how-to.

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wire rack and parchment paper with oven dried strawberries and bananas

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Drying your own berries can be startling: 4 cups of fresh fruit reduces to about 1 -- but even with the diminishing returns, volume-wise, the bonus of getting to use local, organic produce more than makes up for it. The Seattle Times recommends the dipping method -- here's the process: For strawberries, hull 4 cups and cut each berry lengthwise into thirds. For blueberries, blanch them briefly in boiling for about 30 seconds to tenderize the tough skins. Pat dry, then dip. Honey dip: Combine 1-1⁄2 cups water with 1⁄2 cup sugar in a medium pan on medium-low heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then boil for about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the stove and and stir in 1⁄2 cup honey, and allow to cool. Dip the berries a few at a time in honey mix and remove with a slotted spoon to a cookie sheet lined with a dishtowel to soak up the syrup. (Try not to eat all of the fruit at this point.) Pectin dip: Mix 1 box of powdered pectin and 1 cup of water in a pan, and bring to a boil, stirring, until boiling. Add 1⁄2 cup sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove from the stove and stir in cold water so that the mix equals about 2 cups. Cool a bit, dip fruit in and remove, then spread on a baking sheet lined with a dishtowel to finish draining. Set the oven to 150 degrees and cover baking sheets with cheesecloth -- don't allow any cheesecloth to hang over -- lay fruit on the cheescloth and place them in the oven, leaving the door slightly open and place a fan nearby to keep the air circulating. Bake until dry. (Depending on the weather and humidity, this can take up to 6 to 8 hours -- a dehydrator would come in handy here, too.)

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Herbs and Edible Flowers

mint and other herbs tied and ready for drying to become tea

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Whether wild mint is taking over your garden or the buxom bunch of sage from which you only needed one leaf is expiring in the crisper -- drying herbs is a fabulous skill to have. OK, so maybe "skill" is a bit of an exaggeration. Nevertheless, drying herbs is a great trick to know and will guarantee that you never throw out a bunch of withering oregano again. And the same can be said for edible flowers, a sprinkling of dried rosemary blossoms or slivers of rose petals can finish off savory or sweet dishes like few other garnishes. First, select your herbs or edible flowers (42 Flowers You Can Eat). If you live in a hot, dry climate -- after washing, you can simply lay them out in a single layer, loosely, in wide bowls, as pictured above, gently turning them from time to time. The other way to dry them is to tie the stem end of a bunch and hang them upside-down in a dry room. You can loosely secure a paper bag around them to catch falling bits, alternatively, you can place a container underneath. When they're completely dried, remove the stems and gather the leaves into airtight containers. Label and date them. Use them up!

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dried mushrooms fill up a glass jar to the very top

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The beauties of drying mushrooms are many. Saving them from the unglamorous decline to slimy, molded organisms that befall too many a fungus is reason enough. But on top of that, drying them concentrates their flavor to the point of magic, adding a potent punch of umami to whatever dish they're incorporated in. As well, dried mushrooms can be stored for years, and require only a simple reconstitution with boiling water or stock to bring them back. There are two popular ways to do it, one uses a house fan and the other uses the oven. eHow has a good description of the fan-drying technique, and theKitchn has a nice tutorial on the oven-drying method. For the diehard DIY-er: Become a bushroom hunter, or grow your own.