Moving beyond “Backpack cooking”

I’ve taught a couple of classes now about backpack food planning and preparation, and the most common question I get is about recipes for tasty, varied and interesting backpack meals.  Yes, there are a lot of recipe books and websites out there, but they all seem to set dehydrated trail food recipes out apart as something requiring a special, narrow set of ingredients and recipes unique to the backpacking scenario.  Now, I like quinoa, couscous and dried fruit as much as the next person.  However the idea I’d like to seed in your minds is that you can adapt most, of your favorite every-day dinner recipes for the dehydrator, thereby introducing the same variety and flavor to your trail menus that you enjoy at home.  And you can do it even on a busy schedule, because nearly any recipe you cook for a meal at home can be doubled and the leftovers dehydrated for the trail.

The key steps are fairly straightforward.

* Choose recipes with thick flavorful sauces (curries, tomato sauces, meat sauces, stews, strongly flavored casseroles, moles, etc.), and give the sauce a bit of an extra ‘boost’ – cook it down a little longer, add a bit more of the normal spices and flavorings than you normally would.  You can go vegetarian or not (but watch out for tofu – it doesn’t rehydrate well!)

* Chop the ingredients to a uniform small size before cooking, or take the leftovers and run them through the food processor (an inexpensive food chopper or blender works just as well) to generate small uniform chunks (no more than a quarter inch across)

* Purchase a dehydrator with temperature settings and both mesh and solid plastic trays (they can be purchased for under $60 – the unit I have is a Nesco, http://www.amazon.com/Nesco-FD-75PR-700-Watt-Food-Dehydrator/dp/B000FFVJ3C/ref=pd_sim_k_1)

* Spread the pureed mixture onto the trays in a layer no more than about 1/2 inch thick.  If it’s fairly liquid-y, put it onto the solid plastic trays.  If it’s fairly dry and unlikely to drip through, put it on the mesh trays.  I assume about 2C of the food before drying is a backpack serving.  If you’re a big person you might want to assume 3C, a lighter eater 1.5C.

Typically I take the leftovers after dinner, prep them and get them into the dehydrator before bed, then by morning they’re ready to be checked.  Peel up the material from the edge;  if it’s totally dry, turn the tray over onto a chopping block and break it into small pieces which can then go into a zip-loc bag and into the freezer.  If it still has damp sections, peel it off the solid plastic tray, break it up and put it on the mesh tray to finish drying.  You can put it back into the dehydrator and go to work;  won’t hurt it to dry longer.  It will certainly be done by the time you get home. Once dry, a few pulses in the food processor will ‘powderize’ the sauce components and make for faster rehydrating with fewer lumps.

In future posts I will share several more favorite recipes and hope that all of you will do the same.    Use your imagination!    You can apply these same ideas to many different home recipes, but also to favorite frozen casseroles from the grocery store, or favorite entrees from the deli counter.    Experiment – not every ingredient or combination will be successful but many will and you’ll develop an eye for what will adapt easily.  Bottom line:  you can eat just as heartily, with the same range of flavor and ingredients, on the trail as you do at home, without the cost, packaging and sodium associated with the ready-made backpack meals.      Plus the advantage that you don’t have to cook at camp – just bring a pot of water to a near-boil and add it to your dehydrated food.    5-15 minutes later and you have your recipe rehydrated and ready to eat, and no pot-scrubbing!  To find links to all my trail tested recipes, go to https://happytramper.wordpress.com/backpacking-skills-planning-and-food-prep/whats-for-dinner-tried-and-true-comfort-foods-for-the-trail/.

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