Previously I shared my opinions on backcountry meal planning and some ideas for meals that can be made without using a dehydrator. While you can make perfectly delicious backcountry food with nothing more than the ingredients from the grocery shelf and some plastic ziploc bags, having a dehydrator lets you make almost anything you want. It does take more time at home than just picking up some packages of dehydrated food but it is generally cheaper, tastes better and you can adjust the portion sizes to match what your preferences.
Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks and Other Stuff
I never use my dehydrator for breakfast – but you could make your own dried fruit or fruit leather to add to you breakfast. Same for lunch – I might dehydrate something else but usually my main meal is some sort of bread and spread. For snacks you can make your own delicious beef jerky and fruit leathers. Beef jerky is one of my favourites – I buy beef roasts when I find them on sale (usually around $10) and keep them in the freezer until I’m ready to make them into jerky. The process takes a couple of days but is much cheaper than buying jerky.
Ah, dinner. This is where the dehydrator shines! There are tons of recipes out on the internet and in backcountry cookbooks. I like the recipes in the Lip Smackin’ cookbooks (which also have some ideas for non-dehydrator foods) but you can also use regular cookbook recipes and adjust them for dehydrating. Here are a few of my favourite dehydrator meals – these are always in the rotation when I’m planning my backpacking season.
There are lots of versions of this out there, but this is our favourite. It is a one pot meal and very filling. One batch makes enough for two very hungry backpackers or three backpackers if you have a soup as a warm up.
1 large tomato, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 tbsp butter
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
pinch of hot chillie pepper flakes
1 x 398 mL can crushed tomatos
1 cup grated cheese
1 x 398 mL can black beans
1.5 cups instant rice
Saute all vegetables except beans in the butter until tender. Add the can of crushed tomatoes and the pepper flakes, remove from heat. Stir in the cheese. Spread the sauce onto parchment lined dehydrator trays and then dehydrate 16-24 hours. The sauce is done when it has the texture of leather.
At the same time the sauce is dehydrating, dehydrate the beans. Rinse the canned beans and then spread on a dehydrator tray (line with parchment paper if the holes in the tray are larger). The beans are done when they have cracked open and are dry – this usually takes less time than the sauce.
When dry, pack the sauce in a small ziploc bag, the dried black beans in another bag and 1 1/2 cups instant rice in a third bag. Label each bag with the contents and the amount of water required to rehydrate (sauce – enough to cover, beans – 0.5 cups, rice – 1.5 cups). Place the small bags into a larger ziploc and write the instructions for preparing in camp on the bag.
Reahydrate by soaking sauce in a rehydrating container or pot with just enough water to cover. It should soak for at least 1/2 hour but if you have a rehydrating container then start it to soak when you get into camp. When you’re ready to eat, place the sauce and any remaining water into a pot (if you using a rehydrating container) then add an additional 2.5 cups water (for the beans and rice and a little extra) and the dried beans. Bring to a boil and simmer approximately 3 minutes or until the sauce is saucy and the beans have rehydrated. Remove from heat and stir in the instant rice. Cover and let sit approximately 5 minutes before serving.
1 large piece of cooked lasagna for each person you plan to feed (keep in mind that rehydrated food never quite reaches the original volume)
You can either make your favorite lasagna recipe for dinner and put a few pieces aside for your trip, or buy a frozen lasagna, reheat and then cut into pieces. Take each piece of lasagna and use a fork into break into smaller pieces – spread the pieces and any sauce onto a lined dehydrator tray. Dehyrate for about 10 hours or until dry. Package each piece into a ziploc bag and label.
Place the servings of lasagna into a pot or rehydrating container. Cover with water to just cover the pieces. Let rehydrate for a couple of hours (if you are rushed, use warm water to help speed it up). When you are ready to eat, pour the lasagna and remaining water into a pot. Heat, adding extra water as needed, to warm/finish rehydrating the lasagna. Stir while you are reheating so that the lasagna doesn’t stick to the pot. Serve.
Stew with Dumplings (Another Version)
I shared how you could make this without a dehydrator, but I love the dehydrated version the best. This recipe makes enough for two meals – plan to eat it twice in one backpacking season and save yourself some prep time. Each meal feeds two hungry backpackers or three regular appetites.
1 can (680 ml) tomato sauce
2 large onions, slivered
2 carrots, thinly sliced
3 or 4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
12 to 14 mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 small zucchini, sliced
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
½ cup potato flakes, commercially dried
1 tsp each of oregano, dry mustard, pepper and salt
2 tsp chili powder
1 bay leaf
1 tsp garlic powder
2 cups Bisquick
Prepare the soup base by dehydrating the tomato sauce (spread on a lined dehydrator tray) – measure the sauce before you dehydrate and spead half on one tray and half on another to help with dividing the recipe. Divide the veggies into two portations and spread each half on a lined dehydrator tray to dry. If you are rushed for time, I’ve found that a package of Europe’s Best Frozen Veggie Blend is about the same as the vegetables called for in this recipe.
When dry, divide the spices in half and mix with your two portions of tomato sauce. Package each into a small ziploc bag and label as “Soup A”. Package the two portions of vegetables into ziploc bags and label as “Soup B”. Package two 1/4 cup portions of potato flakes into small ziploc bags and label as “Soup C”. Finally, package two 1 cup portions of bisquick into ziploc bags and label as “Soup D”. Place one of each soup portion (A, B, C and D) into a larger ziploc bag and copy the in camp directions onto the bags. You now have two meals of soup.
Rehydrate the dried vegetables, potato flakes and tomato/herb mix in four cups of water. Let this sit for at least 30 minutes (the longer it sits, the less time you will need to cook it for). About 20 minutes before you are ready to eat, bring the soup to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. During this time, add approximately 1/4 cup of water to the bisquick in the bag and knead to mix. Drop spoonfuls of the bisquick into the boiling soup, cover, turn the stove to simmer (as low as a camp stove goes) and let cook (without lifting the lid) for about 10 minutes. Give it a quick stir if you are worried about burning and then cover and simmer again until the dumplings are done and the soup is thick. Serve.
Some Dehydrator Tips
I have two different dehydrators (both bought second hand). I love the my rectangular, oven style one the best but I have a circular “tower style” that works just as well. Just make sure you choose one with a fan.
- cut all vegetables and meat into the same sized pieces so that they dehydrate/rehydrate at the same rate. Smaller pieces will dehydrate/rehydrate faster
- line dehydrator trays with parchment paper if you are dehydrating small pieces or liquids (like sauces) – parchment paper will still allow the air to move through unlike plastic wrap
- dehydrate food with similar tastes together – if you dehydrate pasta sauce at the same time you are dehydrating apple rings the apples will have faintly saucey taste.
- Shuffle the dehydrator trays partway through – food closer to the heater and fan will dry faster
Next time I plan to share what’s in my camp kitchens (yes, I have different versions) that makes it easy to go from baggies of dried vegetables to yummy dinners. And finally I’ve got some really delicious new recipes that we tested on our canoe trip that I think you should try.