Camp cooking

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I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of us put little effort into thinking about food when we go backpacking and wild camping.  High on our list of priorities are the route, the gear we’re taking and the logistics of getting from A to B.  Food comes way down the list and tends to grabbed during a supermarket trolley dash for packets of easy-cook meals that simply fulfill a functional need for calories.

A quick scour of the hillwalking forums suggests that most people take this ‘convenience’ food route.  Either they buy expensive ready-made main meals from the likes of Wayfarer or Mountain House or go for bog-standard packet food such macaroni cheese or fried rice.  It’s tasteless, bland stuff that barely fills the stomach of an active hillwalker.

But why should we put up with eating dross just because we’re camping out in a tent ?  It’s not that we don’t know what good food tastes like: it’s simply a failure of imagination.

What about weight, I hear you say ?  Tinned food, sauces and other ingredients weigh much more than a freeze-dried packet.  However, this needn’t be the case, particularly if you’re eating lightweight, high-calorie staples such as couscous and pasta and adding some really flavoursome ingredients to spice things up.  Anyway, isn’t a little extra weight worth it to give a healthy, satisfying meal rather than serve a functional need ?

I’ve been on a quest to find some ‘real food’ backpacking recipes.  I’ve chosen ten main course meals that are guaranteed to give a boost at the end of a long day’s hilllwalking.  I’d be keen to hear any other suggestions you may have.

All of my recipes can be easily made when out in the great outdoors, carried in a rucsac.  No need to buy a home dehydrator and then reconstitute meals with water a couple of hours before meal time.  No need to source those hard-go-buy ingredients often included in common US recipes (beef jerky anyone ?!).  And no need to build a campfire, BBQ pit or any of the other complications that many car-camping or glamping sites will recommend.  No, these recipes are just simple, tasty and filling.

But why should we put up with eating dross just because we’re camping out in a tent ?  It’s not that we don’t know what good food tastes like: it’s simply a failure of imagination.

The best backpacking recipes are quick, high in calories and lightweight.  They also need to have bags of flavour.  Having got bored of bland packets I want a meal that I can look forward to, not something I’m going to dread after the second night.  So many of these recipes rely on ingredients with strong flavours such as chorizo, anchovies, chilli flakes and sundried tomato paste.

All recipes are for one person but quantities can of course be varied according to appetite and taste.  It’s a good idea to test out the meals at home first if they’re not something you’re familiar with cooking.  I’ve tried to avoid using tins wherever possible since they’re difficult to carry out from the hill, but would suggest that the contents of a tin be transferred to plastic containers or zip-lock bags.  Substitute tinned tomatoes for passata in a soft tetrapack that can be squashed down after use.  Another tip is to pre-prepare vegetables and mix these in olive oil at home; when you’ve pitched up, all you need to do is empty out the contents of your sealed zip-lock bag.  All of the recipes can be cooked in one pot but most do require the first cooked set of ingredients to be set aside then added later – so make sure you have a plate or container handy.

Anyone getting hungry yet ?  Here are the recipes.

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Chorizo and parmesan pasta

The chorizo really gives bags of flavour to this simple, tasty meal.  The ingredients will last a few days out of the fridge and don’t require any pre-preparation at home.

Ingredients:

  • Packet of passata (or tin of tomatoes)
  • Chorizo sausage (sliced)
  • 1⁄2 a courgette
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Fry the sliced chorizo in its own oil (which should come out after a few minutes) until it becomes crispy. Meanwhile, slice the courgette and a garlic clove and fry these for 5 minutes before adding a packet of passata and heating through.
  2. Cook your pasta, then drain and mix with the sauce. You could add some grated parmesan if you have a knife or other ingenious implement.

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Pea & Mint Risotto 

Guaranteed to provide a tasty, filling meal with the fresh mint and parmesan really enhancing the taste.  It’s important to avoid burning the risotto – keep stirring ! – particularly if you’re using a lightweight titanium pot which doesn’t transfer heat as well as an aluminium one.

Ingredients:

  • Risotto rice
  • One onion, finely chopped
  • Chicken or vegetable stock
  • Olive oil
  • Peas
  • Freshly chopped mint
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. At home, finely chop the onion and store in a zip-lock back with a tablespoon of olive oil.  Store some frozen peas, grated parmesan and a few fresh mint leaves in a small plastic container.
  2. At your campsite, boil enough water to cook your risotto, dilute the stock pot and set aside
  3. Fry the onions in their oil on a low heat for 5-6 minutes until soft but don’t let them brown
  4. Add the risotto rice and cook, stirring continuously until it becomes translucent and softer
  5. Add the stock, a little at a time, until the rice absorbs the liquid.  (Make sure the rice doesn’t dry out).  After about 15 minutes the rice should be almost ready – taste to check.
  6. Add your pre-cooked peas for a minute or two to warm through, then melt in the parmesan and finally add the fresh mint.
  7. On this occasion, cooked in a campervan – with green beans added

 

Pasta Puttanesca

A favourite of ours at home and easily transferred to the great outdoors.

Ingredients:

  • Pasta
  • Black olives
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Teaspoon of capers
  • Dried chilli flakes
  • Packet of passata
  • Tin of tuna (sealed in a plastic container)

Directions:

  1. At home, put some black olives, two cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of capers and dried chilli flakes to taste into a small freezer bag.
  2. At your campsite, mix the contents of the freezer bag with a packet of passata then add the drained contents of a tin of tuna and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Put to one side and keep warm while you boil your pasta.  Mix then eat !

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Sicilian sardine spaghetti

A simplified recipe using tinned sardines in tomato sauce rather than fresh sardines – but with loads of flavour.

Ingredients:

  • Spaghetti (or pasta)
  • 120g tin (or 2 if you’re hungry) of sardines in tomato sauce
  • Fennel seeds
  • Dried chilli flakes

Directions:

  1. Cook your spaghetti (or pasta if you prefer)
  2. Add one 120g tin of sardines in tomato sauce.  Hungry hikers may want to use two tins.
  3. Add fennel seeds and chilli flakes to taste then enjoy.  [Note: sardines are very smelly so make sure you take away your waste in a sealed container !].

 

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Fragrant Thai broth

For something a bit different, this recipe packs a big punch.  Using fresh spices will really ‘lift’ the taste.  I advise taking small quantities of dried chilli flakes, fish sauce and lime juice ready mixed from home – you might want to pre-cook the ingredients at step 3 in advance just for 5 minutes and take in a plastic container.  It’s a good idea to try this recipe at home first to get the right proportions of your sweet, salty, spicy and sour ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick of lemon grass (fresh if you can get it)
  • A thumb-sized piece of root ginger
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 Knorr chicken stock pot
  • Sachet of sugar
  • Tablespoon of fish sauce
  • Dried chilli flakes
  • Tablespoon of lime juice
  • Half a red pepper
  • Half a courgette
  • Green beans
  • Fine or medium egg noodles

Directions:

  1. Using a handy stone, bash together a stick of lemon grass, a thumb-sized piece of ginger and 2 kaffir lime leaves.
  2. Place in your pot with one chicken stock pot and the desired amount of water for your broth.
  3. While simmering, add a sugar sachet, dried chilli flakes, a tablespoon full of fish sauce and a similar amount of lime juice (these could be mixed at home and taken in a small plastic container).  What you’re trying to achieve is a flavour which is simultaneously sweet, salty and sour.
  4. After 10 minutes simmering to let the flavours out,  add your chosen vegetables – I suggest a mix of finely sliced red pepper, courgette or green beans.
  5. Finally, add some fine or medium egg noodles to cook for the last 3-4 minutes before eating.

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Black Bean Chilli

A filling bean and vegetable curry.  This recipe requires a little preparation at home and ideally needs two pots for the cooking process.

Ingredients:

  • olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of chilli flakes, cumin and oregano
  • 1 Knorr chicken stock pot
  • 1 Knorr vegetable stock pot
  • 1 packet of passata
  • 1 tin of black beans
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. At home: Chop the onion, carrot, pepper and a garlic clove, and store these in a zip-lock bag with a tablespoon of olive oil. Keep the seasoning in a separate bag too.
  2. At your campsite: Fry the vegetables in their oil until the onions have softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the seasoning, passata, vegetable stock and black beans, and cover and simmer until the carrots are tender (perhaps 15 minutes).  If you have a pot cosy (and two pots), keep this pot hot while you go to the next step
  4. If you have a separate pot with a lid, boil a little water and add one Knorr chicken stock pot. Measure out some couscous into a bowl with a lid and just cover the couscous with the water.  Put the lid on for 5 minutes until the stock has been absorbed.
  5. Add the black bean chilli to your couscous and eat while hot.

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Sausage gnocchi with fine green beans

This is a good recipe for your first evening meal since it contains sausages, which should be fine if taken from a fridge that morning.  One packet of gnocchi will serve 2 or even 3 hungry hikers to it’s advisable to take only part of the packet, depending on your appetite and size of your pot.  The combination of the sausages and fresh herbs, pre-prepared at home, give a great taste.

Ingredients:

  • 1 packet of dried gnocchi (or part of a packet)
  • 4 spicy thick sausages (good quality)
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 1 packet of passata
  • fine green beans
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of maple syrup or honey

Directions:

  1. At home, store the olive oil, maple syrup (or honey), fennel seeds and fresh rosemary into a sealed zip-lock bag or small plastic container.
  2. At your campsite, squeeze the sausage meat out of the skins into your pot (discard the sausage skins).  Break the meat apart, add the contents of your zip-lock bag or container and cook, stirring regularly until until the sausages are golden brown.  Remove from the heat and set aside.
  3. Boil some water and then add the dried gnocchi and cook until they rise to the surface.  Also add the fine green beans on top of the gnocchi – they should both take about the same amount of time to cook, roughly 3-4 minutes.
  4. Drain the gnocchi but remove the beans separately and set aside.
  5. Add your sausage mixture to the gnocchi then add the passata and heat through until piping hot. Add your beans on the side and enjoy !

 

On this occasion, cooked in a campervan

 

 

Stir fry rice

This is another meal for your first day’s walking if you’re planning on including bacon lardons; otherwise omit the bacon and the ingredients will last several days.  It’s a little cheeky to include a packet of egg-fried rice in this recipe but it does provide the most convenient solution out in the wilds.

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • packet of bacon lardons
  • mushrooms, chopped
  • olive oil
  • packet of egg fried rice (or alternative flavour)
  • sachet of hoi sin sauce
  • fine green beans

Directions:

  1. At home, chop up an onion and some mushrooms and store in a zip-lock bag or small plastic container together with a tablespoon of olive oil
  2. At your campsite, fry the onion, mushrooms and bacon lardons in the olive oil then set aside
  3. Cook the packet rice in water following the instructions, then add the beans for the last few minutes until cooked.  Put the beans to one side and keep warm.
  4. Mix the rice and fried ingredients and add the hoi sin sauce, stirring until piping hot.
  5. Serve with the beans on the side.

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Haggis and tatties:

With apologies for anyone outwith Scotland, who will struggle to find haggis in their local supermarket, this is real Scottish convenience food !  A haggis should keep out of the fridge for a day or two.  Why not go the whole hog and catch a haggis while out in the hills ?  I’m told they’re much tastier fresh rather than pre-cooked and packed 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 1 small MacSweens haggis (not too large since it will require too much cooking !)
  • 1 packet of instant mashed potatoes (smash)

Directions:

  1. At home, wrap the haggis in tin foil (still inside its skin)
  2. Boil a pan full of water and then put in the haggis to heat up.  Since the haggis is already pre-cooked you’re really just reheating it.  However, it will need to be simmered for good 20 – 30 minutes.  Make sure you don’t boil it hard since the skin may burst.  If you have a pot cosy, you could simmer the haggis for 10-15 minutes then keep it warm for the remainder of the time.
  3. While the haggis is keeping warm, follow the instructions by adding the required amount of water to the instant mashed potatoes.
  4. Remove the haggis from the pot, scoop it out from its skins and serve with the mash.  Wash down with whisky.

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Porcini mushroom risotto

Dried porcini mushrooms are incredibly lightweight and a tasty addition to a risotto, but do need rehydrating for 20 minutes before you’re ready to cook.

Ingredients:

  • Packet of dried porcini mushrooms (available from most larger supermarkets)
  • Risotto rice
  • One onion, finely chopped
  • 2 vegetable stock pots
  • Olive oil
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. At home, finely chop the onion and store in a zip-lock back with a tablespoon of olive oil.  Add grated parmesan to a separate zip-lock bag
  2. At your campsite, first boil a pot of water, add the dried mushrooms then soak for 20 minutes.  Drain the mushrooms, discarding the liquid. Crumble the stock cube into the mushroom liquid, then squeeze the mushrooms gently to remove any liquid. Chop the mushrooms.
  3. Boil another pot of water to cook your risotto, add a vegetable stock put then set aside
  4. Fry the onions in their oil on a low heat for 5-6 minutes until soft but don’t let them brown
  5. Add the mushrooms and fry until they have also softened
  6. Add the risotto rice and cook, stirring continuously until it becomes translucent and softer
  7. Add the stock, a little at a time, until the rice absorbs the liquid.  (Make sure the rice doesn’t dry out).  After about 15 minutes the rice should be almost ready – taste to check.
  8. Melt in the parmesan and serve.

Have you got any good suggestions for delicious, ‘real food’ camping recipes to eat out in the wilds ?  I’d love to hear them.

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15 Comments on “10 Delicious ‘Real food’ Backpacking Recipes

  1. Knorr do a great all round seasoning called Aromat. Sprinkled into the rice, pasta, couscous adds a bit more kick

    • Great, I’m glad you like the sound of them. Next time I go away backpacking I’ll be looking at this post too !

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  3. Some great recipe ideas here – thanks for sharing them. I’ve a feeling one or two may be making an appearance on the next sea-kayak trip!

    PS – Particularly fine choice of accompanying beverage in one of the images :o)

    Kind Regards

    • Thanks! I don’t normally carry beer because of the weight but made an exception that last time I was out. I can highly recommend Cairngorm Brewery’s Black and Gold. Whatever you eat with it with out in the wilds it goes down well !

  4. Pingback: 10 More Delicious ‘Real Food’ Backpacking Recipes | Wild about Scotland

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    • Thanks – I agree it’s worth making an effort to cook after a day’s adventuring. Tasty food definitely gives you something to look forward to. I hope you enjoy some of my recipes. I’m going to have to try your campsite carbonara and the lentil curry for sure!

  8. Thanks for this – a great site with some British (sort of!) meals – we’re off on our first camping trip in a few weeks and I was worried about weight etc but this has given me some great ideas, thanks.

    • Thanks. With a bit of preparation in advance you can make some really tasty meals. I haven’t used a dehydrator but that’s another option, particularly if you happen to be going on a longish walk.

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