Dehydrating for Fun And Profit: Capsicums

Dehydrating Capsicum

On Sunday I had a spur-of-the-moment desire to get the hell out of the house for a while. So Chipmunk and I went to the Farmer’s Markets at the Adelaide Showgrounds.

We had gluten free donuts and quandong flavoured ice cream. They were amazing.

GF donuts and quandong ice cream
Above: donuts that taste BETTER than store bought, gluten-filled donuts.

Then we went and got fruit and vegetables. Among our finds was a stall selling 5kg bags of seconds capsicums for $8. So naturally I grabbed a bag.

Which meant Monday found me in the kitchen for a few hours, chopping and dehydrating capsicums. And since I’m such a forward thinker (OK, the idea only hit me part-way through chopping), I thought I’d do a photo tutorial on it. 

Dehydrating, for the most part, is really simple. Chop your produce into same-size pieces, place on drying trays, turn on machine, wait. There is, however, a trick to doing so efficiently (read: the fastest way possible with the least amount of mess and double-handling). Below is the fastest, easiest way I’ve found to chop a lot of capsicums in the shortest time possible.

Note that if you don’t have a dehydrator, or don’t want to dry all of them,  capsicums freeze really well. Just replace the drying trays with a ziplock bag or freezer container, and get to it.

Chopping and Drying Capsicum: A Photo Tutorial

First, get your bench space set up.

My setup for processing capsicums through the deydrator.
My setup for processing capsicums through the deydrator.

I’m right handed, so this is the set-up that works for me:

  • Scrap bucket in the top left corner.
  • Below that, unchopped capsicum.
  • Water next to the scrap bucket. Stay hydrated, people – you might be here for a while.
  • Top right, the dehydrator tray I’m currently filling with produce.
  • Below that, the cutting board. You can just see the knives next to it. I use a chef’s knife and a paring knife.
  • Underneath my feet is the cushiest floor mat I own. One day I’ll remember to buy an anti-fatigue mat for these sessions…

Next we have my preferred chopping technique. Start by placing your capsicum stalk end down on the chopping board.

They won't always sit this nicely.
One capsicum, ready for the chop.

 

Take your chef’s knife and cut the fruit in half. You won’t get all the way through because of the stalk; that’s OK. I’m just above the stalk plug in this picture.

It's really hard to take photos on a camera phone with your off-hand.
A good chef’s knife makes this part easy. A mediocre one makes it tolerable.

 

Take the knife out and pull the two halves away from each other. Admire the baby capsicums growing inside this one.

It reminds me of Day of the Triffids. Or Little Shop of Horrors.

 

Most of the time you’ll have one half with the stalk plug and one half without. On the smaller ones, you might end up with the stalk pulling in half too.

IMG_20140825_133352

 

Pick up your chef’s knife and whack off the bottom of the capsicum, just above the folds. If I’m doing some frozen as well as drying them, I’ll throw the bottom ends into a freezer bag.

IMG_20140825_133413

 

Next we slice the top bit into strips. Try to work around any squishy bits in the capsicum. At this point you can cut the bad bits out – I find it’s much quicker to do it this way instead of cutting out the bad bits first. I find the paring knife is useful for getting rid of the white pith that runs along some of the strips.

Use the paring knife to remove the white pith from the strips, and cut out any bad spots.

 

Then change back to the chef’s knife and cut the strips into squares. I aim for squares about half an inch/1.5cm across. Of course if you prefer strips, you can leave them like that too. They’ll just take a bit longer to dry.

I missed some pith. Whoops.
One half capsicum, ready for the drying tray.

 

The other half of the capsicum still has the stalk plug on it. Take up thy paring knife, brave soul, and cut the stalk out. Now repeat the strips/squares procedure.

Paring knives are awesome. Using the wrong light setting on your photos, not so much.
Sometimes it’s easier to take the pith off while the capsicum is still in one half-piece.

 

And then dump the pieces on the drying tray. You want them in a single layer. It’s OK if they start out touching each other, as they’ll shrink considerably while drying.

No, I didn't clean the tray between uses. A bit of celery leaf won't hurt anything.
My trays have very large holes in the screen, so I have to use the teflex mats.

 

I like to dehydrate at pretty low temperatures. This both preserves the enzymes in the food, and helps to prevent case hardening. This batch I put in at 105°F (40°C), though I usually go for 110°F (43°C). After 24 hours it’s only about half done. I’ll bump the temp to 110°F for another 12 hours or so, and check again. I’m looking for a completely dry product, with no sign of moisture anywhere. Moisture = mould in storage.

See what I mean about shrinkage?

 

Capsicum is a bit tricky, as the edges curl significantly when drying. You have to check it thoroughly for done-ness. Here’s a close-up of the semi-dried pieces to show you what I mean.

It's normal for foods to darken somewhat when they dry.
It’s normal for foods to darken somewhat as they dry. Commercially dried foods have sulphur or other things added to stop that.

By the time they’re completely dry, all the pieces will look like the one in the top right corner.

Hopefully this tutorial has shown you how easy it is to process your own capsicum for drying or freezing. As I dry more things, I’ll put up more tutorials.