Camp Cuisine - five energy packed dinners for better-fed backpacking
Too many people who eat hills for breakfast don't pay much attention to what they eat for dinner afterwards. Although the campsite meals of pasta-pesto or instant noodles are quick, light and have carbohydrate aplenty for glycogen replacement, getting the protein you need for overnight muscle recovery is probably going to be difficult. You might also struggle to replace the sheer number of calories burned on the hill, even if you're snaffling tortellini like a truffle-pig.
It's nice to have some veg after a day of eating Snickers!
Of course, lightweight dehydrated stuff is always going to be a staple for backpacking and mountaineering. Yet if we whittled our camping food down to nutrient value for transport weight alone, Huel would be swigged ubiquitously at every trig-point, and then again in every torchlit tent. But as anyone who's ever taken a sip of that stuff knows, food is much more than fuel: it's an invitation to socialise, explore other cultures, share stories, and take pleasure in preparing and consuming. Just because you're on the hill with a single ring gas stove and a small pot doesn't mean you have to give any those elements up. It's perfectly possible to make fabulous hill food without too much faff. Adding a few fresh ingredients can make a big difference to both enjoyment and nutrition.
The key to good hill food is prep, so the following recipes are going to be written as I'd prepare them for my pack to assemble at camp, as opposed to traditional recipe formats which assume you're in a kitchen. These meals mostly serve two people but I'm also not giving exact quantities because everyone needs a different amount of food. You can scale things as you see fit. When in doubt for calories, add more butter, sausage, cheese or olive oil. Or have a Creme Egg.
The following recipes are:
- Cheaper than MREs/dehydrated meals
- Nutritious & Filling
- Easy to cook in one pan with a spork
- Light on the gas
- Reasonably portable (carrying a teeny bit extra and knowing you're going to cook up something nutritious and delicious should often outweigh saving less than half a kilo if you went with dehydrated foods.)
- Designed for UK climates (cured meats + cheese tend to be ok in your pack for a day most of the year. Use your judgement if it's warmer.)
- Adaptable to most tastes/dietary requirements - think of them as a guide rather than a manual
- Bloody delicious
Pimp My Pesto: Lemon, Broccoli & Mackerel Pasta
Makes as much as you like. Excellent for fast summer food, and if you're not a mackerel fan then any oily tinned fish will work.
Food: pasta, 1-2 tins of mackerel (the ones in olive or sunflower oil), green veg, big lemon wedge, pesto, stock cube.
Equipment: spork, pot, stove, tupperware, sandwich bag/foil
Prep: Put dried pasta & mackerel tins in a tupperware (doubles as a bowl) or sandwich bag, then tuck into it a foil package containing a lemon wedge, broccoli florets, green beans, sugar snap peas or anything else greenish you want. It's nice to have some veg after a day of eating Snickers. I often pack little foil sachets of pepper and dried herbs too but that's optional. A veg stock cube is a faffless way to replace lost salts though, so stick one of those in for sure. Put your pesto somewhere safe (not the glovebox).
Just because you're on the hill with a single ring gas stove and a small pot doesn't mean you have to give up the pleasure of cooking and eating
Assembly: Boil your pasta with the stock cube. 5 minutes before it's done, remove the lemon from the bag of veg and empty everything else in with the pasta so it cooks lightly. Prepare your mackerel by opening up the tins and breaking up the fish with a spork. Don't lose the oil: that's precious, delicious kcals. When the veg and pasta are cooked, drain the water (I pour it in my Nalgene and shove it up my belay jacket as a hot water bottle) and then immediately add both the fish and pesto to the pan, giving it a big stir to incorporate everything. Squeeze in the lemon juice - it makes all the difference - and sprinkle any other seasoning you like before tucking in.
If you're not into pesto, a package of Boursin does an excellent job here - just keep it on the heat a little longer so it melts better. Likewise, if you prefer tuna or sardines, be my guest, but make sure you choose ones in sunflower oil rather than brine.
Dense Frittata Scromlette
Very filling and still surprisingly portable, this scromlette is entirely customisable to your tastes. Serves 2 for dinner, or half it and have some for lunch the next day. Scromlette, by the way, is a coinage of scrambled egg and omelette.
Food: eggs, chorizo/feta (v), courgette, red pepper, oil/butter
Equipment: frying pan, stove, sandwich bag, knife, hope
Prep: Crack 8-10 eggs into a small leak-proof tupperware and add a good grinding of black pepper, some salt, some paprika and any other herbs you like. Give that a mix and seal, wrapping in a sandwich bag if you're paranoid. Very finely chop up half a red onion, then chop 2 bell peppers and a small courgettes into 1cm chunks. Put this all in another sandwich bag, along with a wrapped pat of butter if you know it's going to be cold, or a little bottle of olive oil if it's going to be warm. Stick into that bag half a chorizo sausage and/or a pack of feta. You can chop those when you get to camp.
Assembly: Chop up the chorizo into rounds, and then into quarters. The more surface area, the better. Fry that in your butter/oil until it's starting to render, then add the veg. If you're not using the chorizo, just add the veg in after the oil's nice and hot. If you have a lid, put it on now to get everything cooked faster, so as not to waste gas. Shake the pan occasionally. When the veg is looking softer, pour in your eggs. Sprinkle in the feta. Put the lid back on and cook until the middle is just set. If you want to flip it and have the means to, go ahead - I'll be mightily impressed. For carbs, this goes well wedged in wholemeal pitta, or you could just demolish a bag of jelly babies for afters. Putting any leftover frittata in a wrap is a great idea for the next day. If you're car camping, nestle slices in a demi baguette with some chilli sauce and rocket. Bonus if you can find wild garlic for this.
Smoky Mexican Cultural Appropriation Bean Pot
Serves two hungry people very quickly - good fast winter food if you're out and about in the cold.
Food: 1 large sachet taco/fajita seasoning mix (find in Mexican bit of supermarket), 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, 1 tin of mixed beans in water, 1 packet of diced pancetta/bacon lardons (optional), pack of grated cheese. Stock cube (beef or veg). Bag of tortilla chips (yum), or wraps (meh).
Equipment: pot, stove, spork,
Prep before: Not much. Make sure you're hungry.
Assembly: Cook the bacon or pancetta if you're using it, and then splop in the tin of tomatoes and crumble in the stock cube over the top. Stir in the taco seasoning, drain the beans and add them in. Boil it, letting any excess water evaporate off so it's a bit thicker. If you want to add a sachet of cooked rice or lentils here, please do so. Turn off the heat and add in a fistful or three of grated cheese, and stir it lightly around so it's just beginning to melt. Either scoop this into wraps and eat before they disintegrate, or scoop everything into your mouth with endless tortilla chips (if you can get your hands on a certain brand which uses a hint of lime flavour, they're really good with this), admiring the stringiness of the melted cheese as you do so.
Halloumi & Veg Cous-Cous Hash (v)
Serves two lightly. Add in smoked diced sausage or chorizo if you're a diehard carnivore, and add more olive oil if you're worried about cals. Chickpeas are fab in this if you're not walking in with it.
Food: 1 block of halloumi, 1-2 packets of instant tomato couscous depending on hunger, 2 bell peppers, handful of mushrooms, 1 small courgette, olive oil, harissa paste (optional), ras el hanout or similar spice mix
Equipment: Frying pan, tupperware, spork, stove, large camping mug with lid
Prep: Chop the peppers, mushrooms and courgette into 1 inch chunks. Put into a sandwich bag with a good shake of ras el hanout, or similar morrocan inspired spices.
Assembly: Empty your couscous into the camping mug and pour over 200ml of boiling water. Put the lid on and forget about it for a minute. Fry the halloumi in slices. When brown on both sides, remove from the pan and put aside. You'll use them in just a tick. Add lots of olive oil to the pan and fry off your veg, adding in the harissa paste if you're using it. Add the halloumi back in along with your couscous, and give everything a giant stir, adding a splash of water if need be. Serve before it gets cold.
This is the perfect way to end a day's hiking. It's the most portable of all the options here but probably the most expensive - yet it's a foolproof recipe all the same.
Food: Classics such as pie and mash all the way through to gastro-fluff like pan seared seabass with buttered samphire. Make sure there are pints either way. Pints are an essential post-hillwalking rehydration solution - choose Guinness for the most cals for your cash.
Equipment: You'll need a jacket for sitting outside if it's still a bit Covidy.
Prep: Brilliantly, this one requires little prep - but if you know it's going to be busy, or we're still in the vice-like grips of a global pandemic, it's essential to book ahead.
Assembly: Collect some friends from the nearest Munro and suggest that the last one down buys the first round. Beyond that, the assembly is rather straightforward: order, laugh, eat, pay and stumble headfirst into your sleeping bag several hours later.
- See more from Fliss Freeborn in her foodie blog, StudentCuisineForTheGloomyTeen