Sunday, May 19, 2013

Herb drying

Recently, "dried oregano" showed up on our grocery list. This is a spice we don't go through very quickly, and in fact, I couldn't really remember the last time we'd bought it. We do have a fresh oregano plant outside in our rather makeshift herb garden, which could probably supply more than enough to season our pizza sauce—but we also use oregano in our homemade chili powder, and for that it has to be dried so that you can pulverize it. Still, it seemed like a shame to buy dried oregano when we already had plenty of nice fresh oregano right outside our door, so I started wondering whether we could just pick some and dry it.

My first thought was to hang the branches up to dry, as we'd done earlier in the spring, when we trimmed back our overgrown sage plant. We tied the trimmings up in a bunch with an old bit of clothesline and hung it up in our shed, and after a couple of weeks it was dry enough to crumble by hand, yielding a nice jarful of dried sage. But the other day I came across an old ConsumerSearch blog entry of mine on unusual ways to use your microwave, and I was reminded that I'd read about a method of microwave-drying herbs in a matter of minutes. So I figured this was a good opportunity to put this technique to the test.

First, I picked a nice bunch of fresh oregano. I didn't have any idea how much I'd need, so I just broke off stems until I had a good handful.

Then, following the procedure on TheKitchn.com, I pulled the leaves off several of the stems and arranged them on a plate. They took up a lot more room this way, so I was only to use two or three of the stems I'd picked. The article said to put them on a paper towel to absorb moisture, but I don't keep paper towels in the house, so I used a paper napkin I'd saved from a takeout meal. If I hadn't had that either, I might have ventured to try it with a cloth instead, but for my first attempt, I figured I'd stick as close to the recipe as possible.

I zapped the plate for 30 seconds at a time, examining the leaves after each round. After just one zap, they'd shriveled to a fraction of their former size but still felt limp to the touch. After the second, they were mostly desiccated, but a couple of the leaves didn't feel completely stiff. I gave them 15 more seconds and they crumbled right in my hands.

As you can see, they shrunk considerably in the process, and crushing them reduced their volume still more. What I finally ended up with was no more than a tablespoon or two of dried oregano.

So while this process is indeed faster than air-drying, it has a very small yield. But since it only takes about ten minutes total, we can always use it again if we ever actually run out of oregano—or we could just pick a bigger bunch and dry it the old-fashioned way.
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