Backpacking meals are like anything else in backpacking: a series of tradeoffs between weight and indulgence. Which come to think of it is how we eat anyway! The big difference for backpacking meals is the weight is the actual weight of the food, not the weight of the food after you eat it. One of the real perks of extended backpacking is that you can pretty much eat anything you want and still struggle to keep on pounds, the downside is that many days it’s hard to think about eating much of anything.
It helps if your food is very tasty.
I make a lot of my own backpacking foods. I’ve joined a local CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) group here in Phoenix, Momma’s Organic Market CSA so I have been getting a lot of fresh veggies each week. Usually more veggies that I can eat so at the end of the week all leftover veggies at the go into a thick, stew-like version of “stone soup.”
The basic recipe goes like this:
-in a 12″ fry pan or shallow braiser melt butter on high heat with a bit of olive oil, add thinly sliced onion and sprinkle with sugar, turn the heat up high and let the onions carmelize.
Poke through the fridge and pull out any of the veggies that were in the CSA box last week. This has been an assortment of leeks, kale, spinach, carrots, beets, celery root, tomatos, peppers, onions, zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, fennel, mushrooms…and more.
I decide on a flavor-type such as mexican, or indian, or curry etc and pull the right spices down.
I usually add some additional liquid to the braise so for curries I use coconut milk, and for everything else I use home-made vegetable stock. I am a bit leery of using chicken or meat stock when I know this will not be refrigerated. More of a safe than sorry kind of thing.
To thicken and add flavor I add lentils or beans. The lentils I add from dry. Red lentils soften quickly and are more like a thickening agent. The green ones along with black beans, I precook and keep frozen for easy use.
I chop the veggies in different size chunks so the braise will have an interesting texture. I know I will be eating this meal for several days and I want to be sure I won’t get bored.
Once the onions have carmelized, I turn down the burner to med-high and add the veggies. I add the ones that need more cooking first and the delicate ones last. I like to let the liquid from the veggies cook down before I add the fluid. The veggies usually carmelize a bit which adds both texture and taste.
Lastly, I add the liquid, spices and a bit of garlic along with any lentils or beans. I turn the heat down to medium and let the braise bubble away until it has cooked down to a stew-like consistency and the beans and lentils are soft. It must be able to be held by a sheet of parchment paper in the dehydrator.
I have a few bites (or more) for Q.C. then ladle the rest into my trusty Excalibur dryer on top of parchment sheets, click it on and a few (8-12) hours later, et voila! fresh, dried backpacking stew!
So far, I have made a Curry Pepper Pot, a Zucchini and Spaghetti Squash Goulash, Mexican Black beans and mixed peppers. I make individual meal packs with mashed potatos or some Knorr side dish, and vacuum seal with any added spices I want.
All are quite tasty and rehydrate in about 20 minutes when soaked in hot water. This is key because I rehydrate these meals in ZipLoc Twist n’ Loc Containers that I put in another Ziploc bag and then in the top compartment of my pack for about an hour before I plan to eat. I usually eat dinner in the mid-afternoon which is a good way to ensure that dinner is warm and eaten away from where I will sleep to avoid the interest of hungry critters.