cut and dried: vegetable salts

I’ve been, as you may know, experimenting like a crazy mofo with dried foods this year.  I’m not going to beat around the bush: my interest is perverse.  There’s something untoward about taking fresh, plump, in-season fruits, vegetables and meats and desiccating them into shriveled chips.  I won’t go so far as to say it’s an ode to the death drive, but if you argued for a campfire tale of mummies and their long afterlives, I wouldn’t say no.

But enough of that nonsense.  One of the nicest dried up ideas I’ve had is to make vegetable salts out of ground veggie chips.  They add a blast of subtle flavor to soups and sprinkles, and look pretty, too, if you use colored vegetables.  Plus, they cut your sodium count if you use them properly.  I’ve never been a fan of low-salt herb blends (because if I want herbs, I’ll just add herbs) or fake salt (because it tastes weird).  Vegetable salts provide an alternative to these products, and you can make them at home and therefore control what goes in them and where you got it.  Root vegetables, especially, have subtle and characteristic tastes that are underused in the American kitchen, and they’re fun to play with.

I thought, therefore, my vegetable salts might be a good addition to Michelle’s Heart of the Matter recipe contest this month.  She’s asking us to provide recipes that preserve the harvest.  I have made several low-sugar jams and fruit concoctions this year, but I thought this might be an unusual addition to a preservation bonanza.

The original inspiration for celery salt was taken from Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating, where it is served with hard-boiled eggs.  I grated some fresh celeriac, soon to be in season, left it in the refrigerator with salt for a couple of days, and then dried it and blended it.  You can see some great preparation pictures at this blog, an individual who is taking on the cookbook page by page, a là Julie and Julia.

I really like to add a small pinch of vegetable salts to slices of vegetables I’m drying.  You can see some tomatoes here; the dried celeriac tastes particularly lovely on dried tomatoes.  I like the carrot salt on zucchini, because it is a pretty orange color that contrasts with the slices and adds an unusual sweetness.  A few more ideas:

  • Beet salt would be nice on roasted carrots;
  • Rutabagas, with their pretty yellow color, would make a great sprinkle on mashed potatoes;
  • Dried chanterelle mushroom salt sprinkled on tofu adds a nice umami (meaty taste);
  • Parsley root salt on roasts.

The specs?  Well, you’ll need a dehydrator, or an oven that can go very, very low.  Vegetables dehydrate typically around 125 degrees, and can take overnight or a few hours, depending on the strength of your dehydrator.  Grate your root vegetables, add salt and grated vegetable to a ziploc bag and keep in refrigerator for two days.  Spread out on dehydrator tray that has been lined with either heavy duty cling wrap or a fruit leather sheet (to prevent a salty mess from dropping through the mesh) and dry until brittle.  Whirl in food processor until powdered.  If you decide to do mushrooms, skip the pre-salting and refrigerator step, and just whirl together dried mushrooms with salt (adding some chipotle powder is delicious, by the way).

I think I used four cups celeriac to one cup kosher flake salt the first time I made celery salt, but it’s best to weigh out each and follow this simple rule:  same weight for each (e.g., 400 grams grated celeriac, 400 grams salt).  Salt is much heavier, so it will be less volume.

Garlic and shallot salts are also possible with this method.  I haven’t tried shallots, but I found the garlic took a very long time to dry and stayed moist in the salt, making it less like salt than a clump of garlic mortar.  The taste is good, though, like roasted garlic.  I wonder if using older garlic is the key — I used the freshest new garlic of the season, which is perhaps more moist.  ETA:  Aha.  Deanna Delong’s How to Dry Foods tells me that I pulsed the salt too long, which made it too fine and liable to cake.  So don’t be like me; hold back with the pulsation.

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10 thoughts on “cut and dried: vegetable salts

  1. Veronica 21 September 2008 / 1:03 pm

    I would like to buy a food dehydrator but there are so many to choose from, and I don’t have a clue what to look for. Do you have any recommendations?

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  2. Veronica 21 September 2008 / 1:06 pm

    By the way, I had no idea this is how you make vegetable salts. Just one more way to preserve some of those wonderful CSA veggies. Thanks!

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  3. Eugenia 21 September 2008 / 6:24 pm

    You’re welcome! :) The dehydrator issue is a tough one. Buy one that has at least four trays, and not the Ronco ones (or so they tell me). The big decision is whether to get a rectangular one or a circular one, and there are benefits of each. The circular ones are cheaper and more widely available. They have the motor on the bottom of the unit, which means liquid from the trays can drip down on it. You can keep adding trays to these, so it has expansion potential.

    The rectangular ones are a bit easier to handle, and you can also make yogurt in them because you can remove all the trays and still have a heatable box. But, the box means you can’t add any more trays. Also, the motor is on the back, so no problem with drips.

    I’m planning to buy an Excalibur, one of the rectangular ones, because I don’t dry that much at one time. The new Nesco round ones are nice, though — they have timers and the fan is up on top, but I still think the back-mounted motor makes for more even drying.

    How’s that for a wishywashy recommendation?

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  4. Veronica 21 September 2008 / 7:27 pm

    Thanks, that was very helpful! I’ll be getting one in the next couple of days.

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  5. glutenfreeforgood 5 October 2008 / 4:25 am

    Eugenia — I found your blog via Michelle’s HotM event. Oh, I’m so glad you participated as it’s never entered my mind to make my own veggie salts. What a great idea. I did lots of dehydrating this summer because my son and I did a long (very long) backpacking trip and I don’t eat gluten, so I made my own backpacking foods. I also wanted healthy fare for my long days of lugging a heavy pack in the mountains, so I bought a dehydrator and went to work figuring this out. But shallot salt? Wow, that sounds wonderful. I have a bunch of cilantro, parsley, dill, and rosemary so I think I’ll try some herb salts and some veggie salts. I’m also getting a weekly delivery of CSA veggies, so finding you is perfect timing. Wish I could take your preserving foods class. You’ve got me motivated to find a MFP class around here. I’m in Golden, CO in case you know of anything.
    Thanks so much for the information. I’m bookmarking your blog right now and I’ll be back for more. Great find! Not only do you have good information, you blog is well-written too! In this saturated world of food blogs, it’s always nice to run across a high-quality version! Nice job.
    In good health,
    Melissa

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  6. sustainableeats 30 December 2009 / 7:32 pm

    CE this rocks. Thanks for linking to this post!

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  7. Marco 1 May 2011 / 9:25 am

    Wow, I have been looking all over for salts made from vegetables. Might be a lot healthier and safer than using traditional table salt all the time and increase the chance of getting high blood pressure, and more. There’s definitely a market for this.

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