Wild Food Lab Projects:
Salted Fish in a Day
Wild Food Lab
Making Dehydrated Soup Cubes.
I'm sure you can do a better job at making nice little bricks and there is a wide variety of soups that can be made using this method. In this step by step tutorial I will be making some stinging nettle soup. It's a very straightforward traditional recipe from rural Belgium.
Stinging nettle is a wonderful wild edible plant you find in many countries. It appears in early spring. It's plant that's very rich in vitamin A and C. In the old days people even used to make nettle beer to get a kick of vitamins C after a long winter eating preserved food which may have lacked vitamins. I usually use the very young plants or the leaves in the older plants (the stem becomes too fibrous to eat). As the name says, the plant has sharp little needles that will sting you if you don't use gloves when foraging but a simple blanching (or dehydrating) removes it. There is MUCH more to know about nettles but this is a tutorial about making soup stock so let's move on...
The traditional nettle soup recipe I'm following is VERY simple. You just need nettles, onions, garlic, potatoes, spice, salt and pepper, Some add bacon as well but we're making a vegetarian soup. Usually I use 2-3 compacted cups of nettles (leaves or young nettles), 2 medium size onions, 2 potatoes and around 6 cloves of garlic. Add spices to taste. It's not a set recipe, the more nettle the better it is in my opinion.
So what do we need to do for making the soup cubes? Simply use the same dehydrated ingredients.
After a thorough washing of the nettles (in this case young nettles so I didn't remove the stems which are still tender), I place the nettles in my dehydrator. I want to make a powdered substance out of it so I want them dry. Usually around 2-3 hrs at 120 degrees does the job. Note that you DON"T have to waste energy doing so. Dehydrating the nettle indoor or outdoor for day or two depending on the weather is an appropriate method as well. Note that in the dehydrator I also have onions, garlic and potatoes on the top trays.
You end up with very dry nettles which I crumble in a powdery substance with my hands. I could make the nettle a very fine powder but I like a bit of texture/bits of leaves in my soup.
Here are the onions dehydrated. Notice that I don't care much about chopping it into specific size, I'm just going to make powder out of it.
You can make vegetable powders using various methods. If I want to do it off the grid, I use my molcajete to crush the dried up vegetables and make powder out of it. It takes time but it's a good arm workout. It works very well too.
If' I don't feel like having an arm workout I use my trusted coffee grinder. It's extremely fast and on the expresso setting you get a very fine powder. A hand cranked coffee grinder works very well too. I would strongly advice to crush the potatoes and garlic in small bits before using an electric coffee grinder. Dehydrated garlic/potatoes can be really hard. I usually break up the garlic/potatoes in tiny pieces with my molcajete then place them in the electric coffee grinder.
After grinding all the plants/vegetables, you end up with this. Powdered garlic, onions, potatoes, nettles and spices (Italian or French spices mix works wonderful). Note that you can purchase all these ingredients as is at your local grocery store (not the nettles though). But the powdered garlic or onions can not compare to the ones you dehydrate at home in terms of taste.
I place all the powdered ingredients in a plate. My basic recipe is 1/3 cup nettle powder, 2 teaspoon of onions and also 2 for potatoes, 1 teaspoon of garlic and spices. 1/4 teaspoon of salt and same for pepper.
If I wanted to make a simple vegetarian soup, I probably would mix carrots, celery and onions in equal parts (like 1/2 cup of each), maybe some potatoes too, 2 teaspoons of garlic, 2 teaspoons of spices and one teaspoon of salt and pepper.
How complex is that? Just add water. Just make sure you don't pour too much, you want to achieve the same consistency as a bread dough. Too much water and you won't be able to shape the vegetable dough into cubes.
I used a fork to mix all the powdered vegetables into a nice dough with the perfect consistency. Not too hard and perfect for shaping it into cubes later on.
When dealing with food and preservation, hygiene is extremely important so clean your hands before the next step. At least 20 seconds with soap.
Next step, you shape the vegetable dough into a big ball and let it rest a bit, I usually let it rest for 30 minutes. I believe doing this gives time for the various flavors to interact and blend with each others but you can skip the resting step if you want.
Next, with my clean hands (if you let the dough rest for 30 minutes, clean your hands again), I made a bunch of little balls, a bit more than one inch wide.
Using my fingers I then shape the vegetable dough into cubes. I guess you could dehydrate the small dough balls but a square shape is much better for storing and faster for dehydrating (more surface for evaporation).
And that's what I end up with, a bunch of vegetable soup bricks.
Next step is dehydrating the cubes. This take a while in a conventional dehydrator so it's not energy saving. We're talking around 10 hrs at 130 degrees but if you're using your dehydrator to warm up your house during the winter, it's a good option. You can also dehydrate them outside if you live like me in Southern California or it is summer where you live. In a day or two, the cubes will be dehydrated. Make sure they are before storing them in a container. I usually press the center to check if they're still moist. I like my wild food soup cubes/bricks to be really hard and dry so I can preserve them safely for a long period.
I usually place one cube in a medium size cup but you can use two if you want. The most yummy part usually stay at the bottom of the cup so it's not a perfect process but it's very tasty. To make the soup, I place the cube(s) in water, bring the water to a boil and let it simmer for around 10-15 minutes. Use a spoon to help dissolve the cube(s) during the process. Another alternative using less energy is to place the cube(s) in cold water until they dissolve then bring to a boil. Never did it that way so I don't know how long it would take in cold water. Have fun!
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Looking for some tasty food during some of my wilderness trips, a couple of years ago I came up with the idea of making dehydrated soup cubes. It's a neat way to preserve food and doesn't take much room in your backpack. Being able drink some tasty and organic soup after a long day exploring the outdoor induces a wonderful comforting feeling. I use a lot of wild edibles when making my soup but the explanations on how to make the soup cubes below are applicable to any kind of traditional soups. It's really easy to make and truly a nice addition to a pantry. I preserve my soup cubes in a closed jar and they last a long time (after a year, still tasted great).