You’ve been hiking since 5:30 this morning and still have two miles to go.
You know you’re on the homestretch but you’re tired, your feet hurt, you’re covered in dirt, and the only dangling carrot that is keeping you in a forward motion is the knowledge that you are going to destroy some delicious dinner as soon as you get to camp. You fantasize about how it will feel when the carbs hit your bloodstream. You dream about how, regardless of the meal, you’re going to drown it in Sriracha. You need the morale boost that only a great meal can provide because you have agreed to wake up and hike just as far tomorrow.
But then, something terrible happens. When you get to camp and sit down to eat, you are handed a bag of steaming gruel you are informed is “beef stew.” It does not resemble any beef stew you have ever seen. It does not resemble any kind of food for that matter. Templeton, the rat, would not eat this. You take a bite because you are starving and there is nothing else. It tastes bland and extremely salty at the same time. How? You peruse the label and learn that you are about to consume about three times your daily requirement for sodium. This is what dejection feels like, and guess what is on the menu for tomorrow?
No, it doesn’t have to be this way. Your adventures are epic and your food should be, too.
While freeze-dried meals have come a long way and are lightweight, convenient and fast, and while some exist that actually taste like recognizable food, they usually pale in comparison to a freshly prepared meal. But, preparing fresh meals while camping can seem a daunting task.
Here are FIVE recipes for fast, easy, and delicious meals you can make using a camp stove. They also include adaptations for car camping and backcountry camping, with the added bonus that they can be easily altered to fit dietary needs and preferences.
Camp stove safe cooking pot (I use a 1.5 liter Jet Boil cooking pot)
Camp stove (I use Jet Boil but also like MSR)
Something to stir with (a Light My Fire titanium spork is awesome because you don’t have to worry about melting it)
Plastic travel cutting board
Bowls and utensils
Some extra tupperware
Something to drain fluids into (a dishwashing tub or even a Nalgene ) so that they can be safely disposed of
This recipe is easy, fast, extremely filling, and gluten and dairy free.
Rice Noodles (Thai Kitchen stir-fry rice noodles)
Pad Thai Sauce (Thai Kitchen brand 8 oz jar)
1 can bean sprouts (La Choy)
¼ cup crushed peanuts (one of those 50 cent bags from a gas station)
Optional protein (I usually use a 12.5 ounce can of chicken but you could use thawed, peeled shrimp, extra firm tofu, or even fresh chicken breast if you want to do the extra work and have to worry about raw chicken in your cooler)
Sriracha sauce or cayenne pepper if you want to kick it up a notch (you do)
- First, spray cooking pot with cooking spray or add a little oil and scramble the eggs. I just crack them right in the pot and stir them until they are fully cooked. Once you’ve done that, remove them from the pot and put them on a plate or bowl. They’ll be added back in later.
- Fill your camp stove about half full of water and bring to a boil. The beauty of camp stoves is that water boils in about 2 minutes.
- Add the rice noodles to the water and turn the flame to medium. If you are cooking for only 2 people, you can use half of the amount of noodles in the package and seal the rest up in a zip lock bag. Most of the time I make all of them because Pad Thai is good even when cold and makes a delicious next day lunch. With the amounts listed in this recipe, my husband and I actually got about 3 meals each out of it.
- Once noodles are cooked according to the package (about 10 minutes) drain them very carefully. Open your bean sprouts and chicken or tofu and drain them as well.
- Turn stove flame to low and add Pad Thai sauce, bean sprouts, peanuts, canned chicken or tofu and cook until heated through. Since you’re cooking on a camp stove, stir constantly so that it heats evenly.
- Dish onto plates or bowls. Sprinkle with chopped up green onions and enjoy.
- To make this dish backpacking friendly, leave the eggs and green onions out of the recipe and used canned chicken or non-perishable tofu. Make sure you have a Nalgene handy to drain water into.
Chicken Tortilla Soup
This requires nothing more than adding ingredients together and heating it up. It is fast and delicious. You can make this in less than 10 minutes, even huddled under your tent’s vestibule in a downpour.
This recipe is gluten-free as long as you use corn tortilla chips and double check that your broth does not contain gluten.
1 bag of frozen corn (will thaw in your cooler)
1 can of black beans
1 cup of salsa (about half a jar, I like Newman’s Own)
1 32 oz box of low sodium chicken broth (Pacific foods Free Range broth)
2 cans of chicken breast
1-2 tsp cumin
1-2 tsp chili powder
Salt to taste
Optional Toppings: Tortilla chips, shredded cheese, sour cream, diced avocado
- Drain chicken, corn and beans and discard liquids appropriately.
- Add broth, chicken, corn, beans, salsa and seasonings to pot and heat to desired temperature. Remember to stir continuously when using a camp stove to avoid hot spots.
- If desired, crumble tortilla chips and place into bowls. Scoop soup on top of chips and top with shredded cheese and sour cream.
* For backcountry camping, simply forgo the cheese and sour cream and use canned corn instead of frozen. To cut weight, use chicken bouillon cubes to make the chicken broth instead of hauling a 32oz box around. If you use bouillon cubes, you will not need to add very much salt, if any.
Chicken Mulligatawny Stew
This recipe requires a little more prep work than the previous two recipes but the effort is worth it. This recipe is gluten and dairy-free.
1 package of Uncle Ben’s Basmati Ready Rice.
32 oz box of low sodium chicken broth
1 lb ground turkey
1 bag of frozen mixed vegetables-carrots, peas, beans (bonus: they add coldness to your cooler)
½ small onion, diced.
1 small granny smith apple, peeled and diced
1 small potato, peeled and diced
4-5 tsp Curry Powder
2 tsp Cumin
Optional: ½ a can of coconut milk will make this creamy (save the other half for overnight oats)
- Spray pot with cooking spray and sauté onions until soft. Add ground turkey and cook until browned. Drain liquids appropriately and set turkey aside.
- Add chicken broth to pot. Put turkey back into pot
- Add curry powder and cumin to broth.
- Add diced potato and apple into broth. Simmer at medium-high until potatoes are cooked through.
- Add the bag of vegetables. Remember to stir constantly.
- Knead the rice package to break up clumps and add rice to the soup.
- Add coconut milk if using and stir until soup is heated to the desired temperature. Ladle into bowls and enjoy.
* To make this backcountry friendly requires some creativity. Use bouillon cubes instead of broth. Use canned chicken instead of ground turkey and forgo the coconut milk. Use canned, mixed vegetables or canned vegetables of your choice since canned carrots taste weird, in my opinion. If you’re really ambitious, dice up baby carrots, which are nice to have as hiking snacks throughout the day. They’ll take about as long to cook as the potatoes.
Creamy Sundried Tomato Pasta and Veggies
If you are craving fresh vegetables, this is an excellent option. It is easy to prepare and it cooks very quickly.
1 Zucchini, cut into rounds, then halved
1 Yellow squash, cut into rounds, then halved
1 cup of mushrooms, chopped, stems removed
1 bell pepper, diced
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ package sundried tomatoes, sliced into thin strips
Optional protein: can use drained, canned chicken, thawed and peeled shrimp, or cubed extra firm tofu.
Salt and pepper to taste
½ tsp garlic powder
½ cup sour cream (or Tofutti Better than Sour Cream)
1 box of bowtie pasta (or GF option)
Water for boiling pasta
Optional: halved cherry tomatoes and shredded Parmesan cheese for topping.
- Fill cook pot about half full of water. Bring to boil and add pasta. Cook pasta according to directions on box and drain water appropriately.
- Add chicken broth, veggies, sundried tomatoes, chicken/shrimp/tofu, and seasonings. Simmer on med-low until vegetables are cooked through.
- Add sour cream and stir. Add additional salt and pepper as needed.
- Serve on plates or bowls and enjoy. Top with halved cherry tomatoes and shredded Parmesan if desired.
- If modifying this for backcountry camping, use bouillon for broth, use canned chicken, and forgo the sour cream. Hard cheese like Parmesan actually travels well and can go without refrigeration so you can keep that. Make sure to pack the veggies in a way that prevents them from getting squished. I’d put them in a mesh bag and attach them to the outside of your pack or put them in a Tupperware container if you have room).
Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce
This is great meal if you are looking for something light and fresh, or if it is really hot outside. It also works as an amazing appetizer.
2 Tbsp Peanut Butter
1 Tbsp Sriracha
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
Juice from half a lime
Salt and pepper to taste
Spring Roll Skin/Rice Paper (3-4 each if main meal)
Protein of choice: Imitation crabmeat, peeled thawed shrimp, tofu.
Avocado, cut into thin slices
Broccoli slaw mix with carrots
- To make the sauce, mix the ingredients together and add seasoning as needed.
- For the spring rolls, heat about an inch of water in cook pot until just warm.
- Take one sheet of rice paper and place in water, keeping flat. Let soak for 15-20 seconds and carefully remove. Lay flat on cutting board.
- Fill with avocado, broccoli slaw and meat or tofu.
- Fold up bottom. Fold down top. Pull right side across and then roll over left side, making a small burrito. Repeat to make as many rolls as needed.
- Serve by dipping in peanut sauce.
- I don’t recommend this for backcountry camping simply because it is very lean and won’t resupply the carbohydrates your body needs. If you want to make it as an appetizer, I’d leave the meat out unless you want to use canned crab or shrimp. I also recommend that you make the sauce ahead of time and take it with you in a small Tupperware container.
Michela Ferree is a seasoned road warrior and self-proclaimed camp chef. She loves to hike, kayak, snow machine, snowboard, sing, read, and cook. She started her own summer nature camp in Fairbanks, Alaska, she’s slept in snow caves, and she’s worked at a zoo. She met her husband at Boy Scout Camp.