Every once in a while I have a thought or idea to share that I talk myself out of; it seems like such a simple, “everyone knows this” thing that I’m afraid it would be an insult to make into a whole post!
But then I remember the comments I’ve read on FPIES message boards that say things like “Help! I now have to make everything from scratch for my baby to eat and I seriously have trouble boiling water!”
So maybe the simple things aren’t a waste of time to share.
Maybe they’re actually really helpful for people very new to the world of real food and cooking.
At least, that’s what I hope.
Because today’s Practical Preserving tip is insanely simple: how to dehydrate basil.
Of course, you have to start with basil. My basil plants have produced enough for us to last a whole year, so I strongly recommend growing basil.
You can buy fresh basil, though, so if you’ve got some fresh basil about to go bad in your fridge, don’t let it spoil! Save it by drying it.
If you’re growing it, go harvest it.
As for harvesting, some places recommend just plucking off leaves as you need it. That’s great for just dressing up a single meal, but what I’ve always done is clip stems. This nets us maximum basil yield and encourages the plant to grow bigger.
If you look at a basil plant, it grows by making a stalk with a pair of leaves on either side at regular intervals.
Simply snip the stalk right ABOVE a pair of leaves. Each of those leaves will turn into a new stalk with leaves growing on it.
It kind of reminds me of a family tree diagram, actually. It just keeps going like that until the season ends and the plant bolts and goes to seed.
So, you’ve got the basil. Now go rinse it (to get any bugs or dirt off it) in the sink, and pluck the leaves off the stem.
You really don’t want stems in your dried basil; they’ll make it taste bitter.
Lay those lovely, washed leaves out on a dehydrator tray.
Single layer is best, but if you also have basil plants that are going nutso in your garden, you can double layer it and it will work just fine.
Toss them in the dehydrator and set the temp for 95 degrees. Turn it on, and 8-16 hours later (depending on how many layers you had to do and the humidity in the air) you’ll have dried basil leaves!
At that point, I just grab all the leaves and toss them in a ziploc bag. When I have enough dried basil, I squish the bag around with my hands to start breaking up the leaves some, and use my vacuum sealer to store them for long term storage.
When I’m ready to actually use the basil, I either continue to break them up with my hands, or, if they’re being stubborn, use a mortar and pestle or a clean coffee grinder to make it look like the store-bought dried basil.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, you could simply hang your basil upside down to dry it. I’ve never done that (only because I have a dehydrator and – until last year – always had cats that would have used the drying herbs as a play toy) but in everything I’ve read it works just fine. It’ll simply take a lot longer to dry out completely.
If you hang your basil to dry, don’t pluck the leaves off first. Just hang the whole stem and pick the leaves off when they actually dry out.
So there you have it: how to dry basil. It’s easy, it’s quick, and it’s terribly satisfying to use your own garden basil year-round!