Authentic sun dried tomatoes

Sep 9, 2013

Everyone loves the wonderful taste of sun dried tomatoes. When you pick a small jar of them in the super market it is hard to imagine just how many ripe tomatoes needed to dry out, in order to fill this small jar. Tomatoes are more than 90% water by weight. The prospect of reducing them is one of the reasons why some people seem to find store bought ones easier to use although the truth is that homemade sun dried tomatoes are tastier by far.

At the end of August till late September we usually harvest many ripe tomatoes. They are at the peak of their season and although we use them in salads and give them away to friends, they are always too many to consume while perfect and ripe. This year we made ketchup, sauce for pasta and, of course, our favorite meze: sun dried tomatoes. The weather was hot (33 C) with low moisture so it only took 2 days for the tomato fillets to dry out. We only had the classic round tomatoes to work with so we cut four fillets from each tomato (you need skin-on slices). If you are not lucky enough to grow your own tomatoes, you can find wonderful tomatoes at the farmers’ markets at this time of the year at very reasonable prices. Even if the weather is not that hot in your country you can always make your own ‘’sun dried’’ style tomatoes in the oven. You can even choose how dry you prefer your tomatoes, but keep in mind that the less you dry them the faster you should consume them. 

Sun dried tomatoes (the sun method)

Coarse sea salt
Olive oil, or vegetable oil or a mix of both

As you can see there are no numbers about ingredients, because proportion are not specific and they don’t really matter; the procedure itself will guide you to do what you need to do according to common sense. Don’t worry; it’s more fun and simpler than it appears to be the first time around.

Wash the tomatoes and cut out the stem and the hard part lying under it. If you use small or plum tomatoes just cut them in two pieces lengthwise.
If you use big round tomatoes cut four skin on, ‘’fillets’’ from each tomato, as shown in the picture and use the rest of the tomato for salads or sauces.
Score the flesh of each fillet with a knife, careful not to tear the skin, and press gently to open the scores and expose the flesh (see picture). You don’t have to remove seeds they look nice and don’t affect the taste.
Transfer and place the tomato pieces cut side up, on wooden, plastic or stainless steel racks; this lets the hot air circulate around the tomato pieces. Sprinkle with salt, as much salt as you would normally use to season them. Cover with a protective netting or a cheesecloth. 
Place the racks, raised from the ground, in direct sunlight.
Two to four days are usually enough to dry your tomatoes. If the weather is not very hot you should finish the process in the oven. Tomatoes exposed  to the air for more than four days might turn sour and not be edible. 
Place the racks indoors after sunset or if the weather is bad.
The tomatoes are done when they are dry but still pliable - with a leathery feeling when you touch them.

Arrange the dried tomatoes in a jar, sprinkle them with dry oregano and place a small garlic clove in the jar as well. Then pour enough oil to totally cover them. They can be stored like that in a cool and dry place for several months, up to to a year.
When we open the jars for use, we sometimes put them in a blender with the oil and make a paste that is easy to use in sauces or just spread on toasted bread.

The oven method: 
Prepare the tomatoes as above (cut, season with salt and score the flesh) . Place them on metal racks (not aluminum) in oven trays and bake them for about 5 hours for a ‘’light’’ drying result, to 10 hours for a total dehydration, at 80 C . This is not as economical and sunlight! I suggest you use this technique only as a finishing method when the weather is bad or if your tomatoes are almost dehydrated under the sun, but still need some more.
 Keep in mind that tomatoes don’t all dry at the same rate since they don’t all contain exactly the same amount of moisture.