Weight: an important word in thru-hiking. We need less of it when carrying food, yet more of it on our bodies to carry on along the trail. With the body moving at a steady pace all day, you really begin to notice the quality of the sustenance you’re scarfing.
Admittedly, you can eat what you want in the backcountry, going hog wild on greasy goods to keep plowing on. However, you can feel the lumpy gunk sitting heavy in your stomach and hindering each step.
We just finished a month of hiking across the Alps, and we’d opted to carry our own dehydrated meals. Since the drying process removes over 98 percent of the water, making your food lighter, but still packs all the nutrition you need, you can cater to personal dietary requirements, take your pack weight down a notch and save dollars. Including the purchase of the dehydrator and a vacuum packer, our meals worked out at around $2 a pop.
You can either dehydrate the individual items separately and recreate a feast on the trail, or cook up a big ol’ batch of a chosen dinner and dehydrate the meal in one go. At the end of an exhausting day, you can just throw a dehydrated meal in a pot and almost instantly gobble some gourmet goodness.
Here’s our chickpea, spinach and tomato curry with brown rice being transformed into trail food.
You’ll need a dehydrator, nutritious food (we loaded our curry with fresh turmeric and ginger, as the wild alpine passes aren’t renowned for bountiful amounts of spices) and parchment paper.
Cook up your batch of curry and the brown rice, and let both cool thoroughly.
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 big piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 big piece of fresh turmeric, peeled and minced
6 teaspoons garam masala
3 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more or less to taste)
6 cups cooked chickpeas (or 3 14.5-ounce cans, drained)
1 bag of red lentils
3 14.5-ounce cans of chopped tomatoes (about 42 ounces total)
6 big fresh tomatoes, chopped
Pinch of sugar (optional, to cut through the acidity of the tomatoes)
1 big bag of fresh baby spinach
Squeeze of fresh lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat olive oil in a large lidded pan.
2. Add the onions and fry on low heat for 10 minutes until super soft.
3. Add the garlic, ginger and turmeric and cook for a couple of minutes more, stirring frequently.
4. Add the garam masala, cumin and cayenne pepper. Give everything a good swirl around the pan, covering the onions and toasting the spices for just a few minutes.
5. Add all the tomatoes, chickpeas, sugar, lentils and a splash of extra water, stir it up, cover and simmer for 20 minutes on medium-low heat until lentils are cooked.
6. Add the spinach in batches and stir until wilted.
7. Remove from heat and add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper as desired.
Once the curry has cooled completely, trim a piece of parchment paper to fit each dehydrator tray. Ideally, grab the bowls that you’ll be using on the trip — they make for a good estimate of portion size — and fill one with the curry and rice. Pop a bowlful onto a tray, then spread the mix out evenly with a spoon, smearing it out to the edges of the paper.
Aim for a sparse spreading technique rather than letting the food dry in large chunks to help improve the drying process. Load all the trays and then set your timer; we found between 18 and 22 hours was a good time, but you’ll need to experiment with your unique setup.
When dehydrating, remember to switch the trays around to allow for even drying, as the bottom trays tend to dry more quickly than the top.
Once you’re happy with the dryness, and there are no taffy-like pieces left, you’re ready to pack. Take a tray of dried food and crumble the mix into a vacuum bag. Vacuum packing the food keeps any moisture, and hence bacteria, out. We opted for two trays (two portions) to each bag, if you’re travelling as a twosome.
Pop a date and label on (they can all start to look pretty similar) and vacuum seal up the portions.
When you’re ready to eat on the trail, boil up some water, then take the pan off the boil and pour in your dehydrated meal. Let it sit and rehydrate for five to 10 minutes, then pop it back on the burner for a few minutes to make it piping hot. Best enjoyed in the midst of the mountains.
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