5 Dehydrated Backcountry Dinners

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:

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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!

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The Secret to Easy Dehydrated Meals

Figuring out what to eat in the backcountry is one of the more intimidating parts of backpacking when you first start. Pre-packaged dehydrated meals are expensive and still quite bulky, so it can be a little overwhelming to figure out what to eat. I assumed dehydrators were really expensive, and some of them are, but there are a lot of cheaper ones on the market and my life got so much easier when I finally bought one! I currently use one of these “cheaper” dehydrators, from Hamilton Beach. It has increased in price since I bought it, but it is still relatively affordable and often goes on sale, so I’ve found it to work great for the price, especially if you’re just starting out and aren’t sure you’ll use it much.

Unfortunately, purchasing a dehydrator was only have the battle and I still found it a little bit overwhelming finding good recipes after I got it. There are lots of resources out there, but they are often still a lot of work – involving either specialty items or a lot of steps. I toyed around with lot of different recipes and tried creating some of my own, but I have one big secret when it comes to easy dehydrated meals. Here’s what I think most people miss out on when dehydrating:

Stop trying to reinvent the wheel and start dehydrating all your favourite every day dishes.

Instead of dehydrating all your veggie and protein sources separately and then combining ingredients and spices, just make your favourite chili or rice dish and pop the entire thing in the dehydrator. Making a stew or pasta? Have leftovers from your favourite mexican or curry restaurant? Just put the whole thing in the dehydrator. You don’t even have to pack the pasta or rice separate, just dehydrate the sauce and pasta together and then you don’t even have to mess around with cooking 2 separate ingredients at camp!

Once I figured this out, I stopped using recipes for dehydrated meals altogether. Instead, I look for easy to cook meals that I like to eat at home and then just dehydrate those. You just need to try and stick to one-pot type meals and things that will dehydrate well. For me, that mostly means avoiding things with a lot of oil (as this won’t dehydrate) and good protein sources (you can dehydrate chicken, but it’s tricky and ground meats and beans will dehydrate better). When I find a good dish, my practice is to cook a double batch, share it with Seth for dinner and then dehydrate the rest. That way I know if it tastes good and I can piggyback off a meal I’m already cooking anyways.

The benefit to dehydrating the rice or pasta along with the dish is that it will save you time and fuel later. Pretty much any dehydrated meal will rehydrate with cold water. So if you let it soak for a few hours, the entire meal will be edible already and only require re-heating rather than cooking. This means you don’t have to boil your pasta for 10 minutes or cook your chili – as long as you soak, you can just quickly heat it and eat it right away. Plus then you don’t need to bring a second pot to cook the rice or pasta separately! It’s also great for quick lunches. I will often add a bit of cold water to my lunch at breakfast, let it soak while I hike, and then eat it cold for lunch (as long it’s a meal you don’t mind eating cold, like a pasta or quinoa salad). It involves no cooking or prep, but tastes a lot better then sliced salami on tortilla.

I’ve been experimenting with hydrated meals a lot this year and plan to share some of my recipes (or links to favourite recipes) as a series later in the year, but for now I just wanted to talk about how one-pot meals made dehydrating so much easier for me. It removed a lot of the stress about serving sizes and taste because I could eat some first and then dehydrate the same amount, rather than having to worry about dehydrating everything separately, assembling, and then hoping I got the level of spices right. So if you backpack a lot, I think getting a dehydrator is a great alterative to the expensive freeze dried meals and it didn’t take me too long to see a lot of value from my dehydrator. Plus I love how lightweight my food bag is as a result.

Bon Appetit!