This is the last post in my backcountry meal series. I’ve talked about hot dinners to make with a dehydrator, but I recognize not everyone has the time or money for dehydrating. Fortunately, there are lots of options for hot, lightweight meals that you can get directly from your local grocery store. You can also try freeze-dried meals from any outdoor store, but these run up to $15 a serving. My first dehydrator was only $75 (and is still available for ~$100) and worked great for 4 years, so I’ve never been able to justify the cost of freeze-dried meals. But we’re not here to talk about dehydrating today, so here’s some of my favourite cheap and easy meals:
Ramen is a classic for a reason. There are so many options on the market – personally I stick with the classic 99cent noodles packets, but there are lots of other yummy just-add-water options available at Superstore and Costco, just browse the International aisle and pick your favourite. For protein, I’ll add an egg, pepperoni sticks, dehydrated soy (available at most outdoor stores) or Korean BBQ pork (from Costco).
You could build an entire backpacking menu around Knorr Sidekicks. They’re ~$1.50 a packet from any supermarket and I find them to be the perfect size for backpacking. There are so many pasta and rice options that I alternate back and forth between. The trick is that a lot of them call for milk. You can easily substitute water and not worry about it, but if you still want to capture the creamy taste of a fettucine alfredo, then buy a bag of powdered milk and just bring as much as you need for the meal. That way you still only need to add water, but it’ll be much tastier! Same as above, add egg (or powdered egg), pepperoni, soy, or jerky for protein, plus I will often pick up some dehydrated veggies from Bulk Barn to add to the mix.
3. Thanksgiving in a bowl
This is another recipe that I got from Fresh of the Grid that mostly involves grocery store staples. Instant mashed potatoes, stovetop stuffing, and gravy sauce powder can all be easily purchased, the only challenge is the freeze dried chicken. I’ve never been able to find it anywhere in Canada, so I’d recommend substituting soy or jerky for your protein. Alternatively, you could bring a small can of chicken or spam if you don’t mind carrying it!
4. Soup and Salad
This one will vary depending where you’re from, but if you’ve ever been to a farmer’s market, odds are there’s been someone there selling soup and salad mixes. I’ve seen a ton of different brands and they’re so popular in Vancouver I regularly see them at grocery stores or specialty stores as well. The ideas is that all the dry ingredients and spices are all consolidated and you just need to cook them and maybe add a few other ingredients. Some of them are easier than others and just require water and maybe a few other dry ingredients like craisins or nuts. So just check the back before purchasing to see how adaptable to the backcountry it is. This are naturally more expensive than options 1-3, but at least they go back to the local economy (and are still cheaper than freeze dried). The only thing is they are often meant to serve up to 4 people and require some soaking for the beans, so just plan ahead when you get to camp and immediately start soaking the mix so that it has time to soften before you cook. Here are a few of the companies I’m aware of: SimplyDelish, Mitchell’s Soup Company, Soup Girl.
Continuing the trend from my cold soak post, I want to share some of my favourite hot meals for dinner! I’ve decided to do a 2-part post, focusing first on hot meals I make with my dehydrator, and second on simple meals that you can easily pull together with grocery store ingredients (no dehydration required). I’d say that the at-home dehydrated meals are tastier, but require a lot more effort, so sometimes it’s nice to just run to the store and be good to go. Here’s a few of my favourites:
1. Curry and Rice
Curry and rice is really a staple backpacking food for me. It can be kind of tricky to get right though because a lot of curries are oily or have chicken in them, neither of which dehydrate well. Since Emily is vegan and Carolyn avoids dairy, I found that a vegetarian coconut curry is a great compromise on all fronts. There are lots of recipes for vegetable curries that use coconut milk for the base and chickpeas for protein. I like to use butternut squash, yam, and carrot in mine because the squash boils down into a thick sauce and it dehydrates really well. My recipe is an adaptation of these two recipes from Trail Recipes and Fresh off the Grid. Once I’m finished making the curry, I dehydrate it for 8 hours and then add rice when I cook it at camp.
Another option is to just buy a curry from your local Indian restaurant and pop it in the dehydrator, but like I said, it can be hard to avoid oils this way. I was successful once by mixing a vegetable curry with the rice (to absorb some of the oil) and then putting the whole thing in the dehydrator. But I still had to let it sit on paper towel for a day to absorb the residual oil and I stored it in the freezer until my trip.
2. Macaroni and Chili
In my opinion, this is as easy as it gets when it comes to dehydrating. You can make your own chili from scratch and then pop it in the dehydrator for 8 hours, but 90% of the time I just run by the grocery store and pick up my favourite canned chili and pop it straight in the dehydrator. Most chili is made with ground beef or beans, so it dehydrates really well. Once at camp, I rehydrate and heat with dry macaroni noodles until the whole thing is cooked.
3. Stew/Soup of your choice
What’s your favourite soup to eat at home? Mine are minestrone and peanut stew, so whenever I make one, I always set aside a serving or two to run through the dehydrator. I’m all about turning my day to day meals into backpacking meals rather than looking for new recipes. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can check out my next post about easy grocery store meals, otherwise my recommendation is to focus on dehydrating meals as a whole rather than piecemeal. I think a lot of people focus on dehydrating each component separately and then putting it all together, but I’ve found that to be a lot more work. If you don’t have go-to soup recipe, try picking up your favourite canned soup from the store and see how it dehydrates.
4. Pasta of your choice
I’m sorry if you came to this post looking for actual recipes, but I’m not a chef and there are tons of resources out there already, so this is meant to be more about meal ideas than concrete recipes (although it probably tells you a lot about the slapdash way that I usually cook). I’m always adapting recipes to make them vegan or vegetarian, so I see them more as a guideline anyways. But if you don’t know where to start, check out Fresh off the Grid, which is one of my favourite resources for backcountry cooking. Like with the soup, pick your favourite pasta recipe and pop it in the dehydrator. For me, it’s a penne bolognese that has a tomato and soymeat base, with lots of veggies added to it. But there are other options out there, like pasta primavera, penne alfredo, or even a peanut butter based pasta like I shared in my cold soak post. The key is to use smaller pasta noodles that dehydrate easier, although I’ve never actually tried dehydrating a spaghetti and I’m sure it is possible.
5. Mexican or Fried Rice
This is another recipe that I shared in my cold soak post, but which works great for a hot supper. For Mexican Rice, I fry up onion and pepper with salsa and taco seasoning and then add tomato, corn, carrot, black beans and sometimes spinach. For my fried rice, I rely more on vegetable stock and traditional spices for the flavour. I usually add lentils for protein and I might throw some powdered egg into the final dry mix. But if you have another favourite rice dish, give it a try in the dehydrator! Dehydrating is all about experimenting!
Continuing my backcountry meal series, I want to talk about lunch. For the most part, I don’t need to bother with the dehydrator for breakfast, but I find it lightens my pack so much to use it on my lunches and suppers. I’ve developed a two-part post for both of these meals. This week I’m talking exclusively about lunches that require a dehydrator, but next week I’ll cover lunch ideas that don’t need one! If you’re new to dehydrating, see my introduction post.
Cold soaking is a bit of a new trend in backpacking, so for those who have never heard of it, it’s basically choosing meals that can be re-hydrated over the span of a few hours with just cold water, no cooking involved. While cold soaking requires the same amount of work as hot meals when it comes to the prep, the practice of cold soaking is something that has completely changed my backpacking experience.
I’ve never done hot meals for lunch. I don’t like the extra time and fuel required to cook a meal in the middle of the day and hate being stuck with dirty dishes, so before I discovered cold soaking, I always brought ready to eat items for lunch. While this makes for an easy lunch, it’s a lot heavier to carry a salami stick for multiple days and food safety can get dicey when it’s hot.
Any dehydrated food can be made edible again by soaking it for a few hours in cold water, though many are not as tasty to eat cold as they are hot. By focusing on foods that are still yummy cold, you can add water to your sealable lunch container at breakfast and by lunchtime, all you have to do is take out your fork and start eating. All my cold soak lunches involve dehydrating, but are built around things I don’t mind eating cold. Here’s some of my favourites:
1. Pasta and Soybean Salad
Lots of salads are meant to be eaten cold, so that’s a great place to start. I originally found this recipe in a Betty Crocker cookbook and made it regularly for BBQ’s. Turns out, if you leave the dressing off, it works great for cold soaking! I don’t have a specific recipe, but google any pasta salad that sounds good to you and leave off the dressing. In mine, I use macaroni and then add diced bell pepper, grated carrot, and diced tomato, but you could add any vegetable you like (avoid lettuce). Then I add chickpeas and edamame for protein. Once done, I pop the entire thing in the dehydrator for 8 hours and once I’ve re-hydrate it in the field, I add freeze dried cheese (such as whisps) and a little bit of salad dressing (zesty italian is my preference). It’s a bit annoying to carry the salad dressing, but the rest of the meal is so light.
2. Taco Salad
Taco Salad is a newer recipe for me, but I think it’s my favourite cold soak lunch to date. Most of my hiking companions are vegetarian or have dairy sensitivities, so all of my meals are vegetarian (and often vegan) except for this one (though you can easily sub soymeat!). Similar to the pasta salad, I don’t have a specific recipe, I just cook some ground beef (lean) in taco seasoning and add whatever I want to it. Usually that includes diced onion, tomato, and pepper, as well as salsa, corn, grated carrot and sometimes spinach. My only tips are to skip avocado (too fatty to dehydrate) and use grated carrot instead of diced as it re-hydrates much easier! Once satisfied, I pop the whole thing in my dehydrator for 8 hours and then after I re-hydrate it, I add crunched up tortilla chips. Carolyn actually brings full taco shells with her, but I like the chips because it doesn’t matter if they get smashed in your bag.
3. Peanut Butter Pasta Salad or Coleslaw
Since most of my recipes are vegetarian, finding a good source of protein is always important, as well as something that dehydrates well (if you’re new to dehydrating, avoid chicken). I started following HealthyGirlKitchen on instagram and she shares a lot of recipes for healthy salads and pastas. She shared a few that are made with a soy peanut butter dressing that translate great to the backcountry! A lot of dressings involve oil, which doesn’t dehydrate, so I decided to try out the PB dressing, and it dehydrates really well. I ended up making one PB pasta using macaroni, with soybean and chickpeas for protein, and then a coleslaw using a pre-shredded cabbage mix (make sure no lettuce). Both are a variation on this rainbow pasta recipe, where I add the veggies I like. The coleslaw isn’t as filling as the pasta, so you could also add some rice to it. Once you’re happy with the taste, throw the whole thing in the dehydrator for 8 hours! My only recommendation is that the peanut butter flavour isn’t as strong once dehydrated, so I also add some PB2 powder to the dried mix for extra flavour.
4. Mexican Rice
To be honest, this is pretty similar to my taco salad recipe, with rice instead of tortilla chips, but the end result seems different somehow. The key change is that I use black beans instead of ground beef, otherwise I use all the same veggies and a salsa or tomato sauce for the base. If you want to save some time dehydrating, you can just fry all the veggies to make the sauce and leave the rice out. Instant rice will re-hydrate with cold water, so it’s not necessary to cook it and then dehydrate it again, though this is my preference because then the rice imbibes the flavour better. Note that only instant rice can be rehydrated with cold water – normal rice will need to be cooked with hot water and can’t be used for cold soaking. Either way, dehydrate with or without cooked rice for 8 hours. I usually add whisps cheese to this one in the field. It’s also great heated for supper, but I don’t mind eating it cold for lunch.
5. Quinoa Salad
There are lots of quinoa and couscous salad recipes that also translate well to dehydrating. One that I’ve adapted is a Mediterranean salad – I use chickpeas for my protein and then add a bunch of veggies (bell pepper, tomato, red onion, tomato, carrot, olives, cucumber, etc). Here’s a recipe you can use as a base – again, most of these recipes call for olive oil, but this one has a lemon oregano base, so I add both of those ingredients to the salad and leave out the olive oil. It’s a bit drier than I’d like at home, but it hits the spot well enough in the backcountry, though it’s not a big deal to bring a small thing of oil if you really want it! Sometimes I’ll add a bit of maple syrup to give it some extra flavour, and take craisins and nuts/seeds with me to add to the final product (don’t dehydrate or soak the craisins and nuts, just add right before you eat).
6. Pasta Bolognese
This recipe is basically your classic tomato based spaghetti, but with a smaller pasta like macaroni or penne, which is easier to dehydrate. I like to use soymeat as the protein for this meal, but you could also use ground beef or beans. I fry up the soymeat with tomato sauce and add onion, pepper, and grated carrot. If you want to cold soak it, you have to also cook and dehydrate the pasta, but if you plan to eat it hot, you could just dehydrate the sauce and cook the pasta at camp. I like to add cheese whisps to this one for more flavour!