|Dried watermelon slices|
I hope you've been following along these past nine months. If not, here's how it works: Caroline over at Grow It Cook It Can It challenges us to make a pantry staple each month and then showcase the final product and how we used it in a recipe, if appropriate. So far, we have already tackled pasta, bread, butter, cheese, lactofermented veg, jam and canned fruit and pickling.
This month's challenge was to dry fruit.
This is right up my alley as I am the proud owner of an Excalibur food dehydrator -- what I like to call the Ferrari of dehydrators.
You don't have to own a dehydrator to dry fruits, veggies, meats and more; you can dry most of those things in the oven at very low temps (if your oven will go that low) for a very long time. But, if you're paying through the nose per gallon for propane to fire your oven as I do, a dehydrator may make a lot more sense ... and cents (the Excalibur folks claim it costs about as much to burn a light bulb as it does to run the dehydrator).
And there are many entry-level models that won't cost you an arm and a leg, either, if you want a low-cost way to give dehydrating a try.
There's great variety in what you can whip up with the dehydrator, some of which I've even posted about on this blog:
- Chicken jerky (people love it but dogs go bat-shit crazy for it!)
- Veggie chips
- Fruit leathers
- Fruit chips
- "Sun-dried" tomatoes
But to stay on topic, our challenge this month was to dry fruit. I thought about some of the usual yummy suspects -- apricots, peaches, apples -- but then I remembered something.
Last year, I tried dehydrating watermelon (mainly because Mr. Ninj said it couldn't be done, that watermelon had too high a water content). And what remained of that experiment was in short supply.
Now, shamefacedly, I admit that watermelon isn't quite in season anymore in the fall -- so forgive me if this isn't the most seasonal recipe. But you will not be sorry you bought a melon from Florida or somewhere if you give this a try.
You see, dried watermelon tastes like freakin' candy.
Not kidding. All on its own. No added sugar or anything.
For some, it may be a little too sweet (and, of course, the level of sweetness will vary, depending on the sweetness of the original melon) but I really dig it, especially during the winter when there's not a lot of sweet fresh fruit available.
I think kids would go crazy for these watermelon strips!
For this challenge, I also added a little twist: since Mr. Ninj grew up salting his watermelon (is this a Southern thing?), I added some coarse salt to about half the batch of melon before drying it.
Wow. Probably even more delicious than the plain version, it has that unique blend of salty and sweet that I love (yeah, you just knew that would be an invitation to link to the crack cookies, didn't you?).
There's not much of a recipe here. Just slice the watermelon (seedless is best) uniformly (I tried to keep my slices at about 1/4 inch), lay the slices on the dehydrator trays (sprinkle very lightly with kosher salt if you want to go that route) and dry at 135 degrees until leathery but not completely brittle. Be prepared: this will take a long time, given the high water content. My batch took 17 hours.
Stored in an airtight container (such as a canning jar with two-piece lid), the watermelon will last for many months. But I doubt you'll be able to keep it around that long.
And here's an extra Ninja tip for you: I run my dehydrator in the bathroom, so that a) it doesn't take up any kitchen counter space and b) I can run the exhaust fan during the drying cycle so the whole house doesn't smell of whatever I'm drying. Works like a charm!
Have I inspired you to take the plunge and buy a dehydrator? I really hope so.
Do you already own a dehydrator? What's your favorite thing to dry? The Ninj wants to know.