Sundrying: An Age-Old Practice For Food Preservation

The practice of drying things in the sun dates back to 4,000 B.C. in both Egypt and Mesopotamia. People in India have been sun drying fruits and vegetables for decades, preserving them for the winter months by doing so in areas with high levels of sunshine and low levels of humidity. Even in modern times, with the arrival of summer, terraces and balconies in smaller cities are frequently adorned with trays and thalis of vegetables and spices that are being dried in the sun. 

This sun-drying process requires hot, clear, dry, windy weather. In addition to drying out food, it inhibits the growth of harmful microbes like yeasts and moulds and slows down the deterioration process—all without totally inactivating enzymes. 

Initially, the fruits and vegetables are washed and pitted before being considered fresh, ripe, and clean. Because the sizes of the fruits are typically consistent, they dry out at a rate that is comparable to one another. When it comes to veggies, it is beneficial to slice them extremely thinly so that they may dry out more rapidly. In order to properly prepare some fruits and vegetables, it is necessary to apply salt or lemon juice beforehand. Once a day, the fruits and vegetables that have been chopped and prepared are arranged in a single layer to be turned over. In order for the fruits and vegetables to completely dry out, the minimum amount of time required is between three days and one week. After the material has been dried, it is placed in a container that is both dry and sealed. 

Although modern technology has made dehydration much faster, nothing beats the flavour that can be extracted from food by sun drying, even if it is a long process. 

Sun drying Across India  

Sun drying is a summertime staple in every region of India. So, when summer veggies were in season, people would prepare them ahead of time by peeling, chopping, and sun-drying them. Then, they could utilise them all winter long. A variety of foods can be dried, including tomatoes, brinjals, turnips, apricots, water chestnuts, Kashmiri green apples, or even fish. 

Soaking and washing sundried veggies is the first step in cooking them. After that, you may cook them alone or mix them with other ingredients like paneer, dal, or meat. Like fresh chokh wangun or khatte baingan, dried brinjals follow the same recipe. Swapping out the deep fryer for a pan roast in oil can do the trick.  There would be a noticeable change in flavour and texture to the dried version, making it meatier and tastier. Tiki masala, also known as ver masala, is a traditional Kashmiri spice blend that is prepared by blending several dried spices such as sund (saunth), saunf, jeera, red chilli powder, fresh mountain garlic, and mountain onions (called pran) with mustard oil. This tikka is full of flavour and would be perfect with rice or to elevate any dish with just a tablespoon in mustard oil. 

In Rajasthan, sun-dried foods like as papads, ker, kachri, and chilies are utilised all year round. The Assamese also have their own special style of using dried veggies in cooking. Making khar with kola khar—the sun-dried, ash-like peels of a banana tree—is a great way to cleanse your stomach and tongue. For a one-of-a-kind taste, raw papaya, pulses, or any other item can be filtered in water with the dried ash of a banana.   

As a method of preserving meat and fish, sun drying is just as prevalent as it is for fruits and vegetables. When making pork sausages in Goa, the casings are filled with raw meat and then left to dry in the sun for a few days. 

Ngari is a type of fish dish popular in Manipur. It consists of coating the fish with salt and then drying it in the sun. The process begins with coating the inside of an earthen pot with mustard oil. After that, the fish is added, and the pot is closed. This side dish pairs well with rice and keeps for four to six months when kept at room temperature. It has a shelf life of approximately one year.