How many of us avoid cooking like the plague? Even in home kitchens, the number of people that would prefer prepackaged and instant foods or go out to eat regularly goes up. While chefs in recent years have become glorified, I feel like the once basic life skill of cooking has slowly diminished. I imagine if you fall into this category of people, your camp cooking game probably isn’t that strong either.
Cooking doesn’t need to require much effort, time, fancy equipment or many ingredients to make a decent feed for yourself. As long as the flavour is there and the belly is full, we might as well try to enjoy the process that we undertake a few times a day.
While these recipes are more or less a rendition of what I made on a road trip along the Carretera Austral in Chile, they ultimately can apply anywhere. Another point to keep in mind is that much, if not all of Patagonia and many national parks are campfire free. That said, these recipes are based around cooking on a portable gas burner opposed to grilling with live fire. Also, I didn’t have a cooler with a constant supply of ice, so steaks and pork chops weren’t on the menu. That will be covered in a separate post.
The Bare Necessities
For me, camp cooking has become almost second nature. Just like everybody, I’ve cooked for a few buddies drunk around a campfire, but as my career became that of a travelling chef, I’ve up’d my game a bit. I’ve fed wildlife expeditions in the far reaches of the Arctic to camping/road trips and planned back country treks. Most recently, I spent the summer cooking over live fire for 80 people daily at Canada’s #1 farm to fork restaurant. Not only has this made me truly appreciate the simple comfort foods while out in the elements, but it has taught me to be a minimalist when necessary. Tricks and hacks rest up everyone’s sleeves and food is very subjective, but here is a few of my simple and versatile go to ‘recipes’ that require little effort and produce great meals on the road and in camp.
~Of all the cooking I do, camp cooking is by far the best. The senses stimulated in the elements with a visceral connection to the food ways of the past~
The trip and method of travel will directly influence the equipment you carry as well as the amount of food bought at one time. It will vary greatly from back country trekking to backpacking in hostels to camping and road trips. This gear list will be what I had for a one month road/camping trip.
- 2 pots – 1sm./1lrg. + lids (1 easy to remove handle fitting to both pots. Fits inside each other for convenient storage)
- 1 ‘omellette’ pan – cooking for 2 people this pan was more than sufficient
- 1 paring knife
- 2 utensils, each (fork/knife/spoon)
- 2 plastic plates/bowls
- 1 sm. cutting board, plastic
- 1 camp style french press (optional – for coffee aficionados)
- 2 dish towels
- 1 travel shampoo, emptied and filled with dish soap
- 1-2 sponge/scrubby
- 1 Swiss army knife, primarily for corkscrew (can’t just look at the wine)
- 2 Pocket Rockets (lightweight stoves)
- *Many people get the JetBoil. In my opinion, this would be more for backcountry trekking. Unless surviving solely off dehydrated meals, I wouldn’t bother with the investment as it is strictly for boiling water making is much less versatile. It does save fuel consumption if this is all you will be doing, but I found using the pocket rockets still to be very fast and effective, while providing other uses as well.
- Canister fuel as needed (isobutane/propane blend)
For starters, just like at home, having a pantry of staples is key. On the road, a large Ziploc will do the trick.
- A handful of your favourite spices and herbs can add an easy boost to any dish and are relatively cheap, light and compact.
- A small bottle of soy sauce perhaps or condiments you can’t live without at home, ex. Sriracha for myself.
- A cooking medium is a necessity. Whatever kind of oil you prefer and don’t forget salt and pepper. Season your food!!
Road trips definitely provide a little more luxury when it comes to storage. We always had fruit on hand, small quantities of vegetables, simple sandwich supplies, a carton of eggs, coffee/milk powder. With planning it should be easy to find space for things like pasta, rice, split peas, lentils, canned tuna, small packets of tomato sauce, stir fry sauces, olives etc.
I would cook the same when living in hostels in Australia, but with more frequent trips to the grocery store. Options are limited to your creativity and with that, here are a few simple recipes as well as some ‘guidelines’. In my experience cooking without a strict recipe is best.
Omelettes for Breakfast
Breakfast is a bit of a no-brainer. Bacon and Eggs are the easiest and probably most common option, but simply kick it up a notch with some vegetables. A nice hearty omelette hits the spot with a day of activity planned. Oatmeal is another great option and perfect for a brisk morning to take the chill off. A few nuts, pieces of fruit, spice and a touch of sweetness elevates this away from that bland boring slop many think of when picturing oatmeal. Pancakes are another easy option. Portion into a bag so as not to carry excess, but simply add water, maybe an egg depending on the mix. Breakfast doesn’t take much to elevate it from the ordinary. I took this as far as making Eggs Benedict one morning. That said, not all days will have a cooked breakfast, so a couple even quicker choices are nice to have. Cereals and muesli with milk powder and bread with honey were keys to a quick departure. For a touch more substance, in the time to wake up and break camp, boiling eggs for an on the go snack works great.
On the go or quick snacks are nice to have planned and up your sleeve for a lazy lunch or simply a quick munch. Picking up the odd bag of chips while on the road definitely happens, but to steer away from junk food, having fruit or trail mix on hand is a perfect alternative. Basic sandwiches make for a easy lunch and with the ability to stop into grocery stores every few days, we picked up small bricks of cheese, crackers and liverwurst as well. If avocados graced my presence while out for a shop, it was a guarantee they would make the basket.
Avocados are a part of my daily diet as often as they can be. Found in most corners of the world, these are a must in my ‘picnic basket’. Delicious and healthy, I usually eat them straight up alongside my breakfast, but avocados are perfect for smashing on a sandwich or of course, my favourite chip condiment, Gaucamole.
- 2 pc avocado diced
- 1 pc tomato
- 1/2 pc onion
- 1 pc lime
- 1 tsp cumin
- Dice or smash the avocado, depending on the texture you prefer (traditionally it would be diced)
- Add the tomato, onion, cumin, lime juice, cilantro (if available)
- Season to taste, adjust cumin and lime if desired
Guacamole with Cheetos and Red Wine (all we had and don’t worry, parked for the night)
An actual dinner is where I find most people would skimp out or take the easy route. This is where instant noodles make their dreaded appearance. While I’m far from above these instant meals from time to time and realize they play their part for the odd effortless meal, a quality meal isn’t hard to achieve. With a bit of creativity and most importantly meal planning, dinner time in camp will be a whole lot better.
The best thing about pasta is, its noodle-ly goodness is a perfect vessel ready to carry whatever flavours you desire. In my opinion there is no real recipe here, but guidelines. I often call it a kitchen sink dish as it can really consist of whatever you have on hand. Vegetables that need to be used up, your favourite spices or herbs and of course, whatever shaped noodle tickles the fancy.
Often times, we would buy a bit of meat while passing through towns. Chorizo sausage was a common occurrence at dinner.
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1/2 pc onion sliced
- 1 pc carrot sliced
- 1 pc red pepper sliced
- 1 sm. packet/jar tomato sauce
- 125 g pasta dried
- 200 ml black olives sliced
- 1 can tuna
- Heat oil and crisp up the chorizo sausage. If not using, skip this step.
- Add onions, carrots, peppers, garlic etc. and sweat for a few minutes.
- Deglaze with a splash of wine, reduce (if you happen to be drinking some).
- Add the tomato sauce (a bit of water if needed) and allow to simmer while the pasta finishes boiling.
- Near the end, add a olives and a can of tuna just before the pasta is stirred in.
- Last minute touches could be a handful of whatever dried herbs or fresh herbs you happened to see available. For me, it was a bunch of coriander, but anything goes.
Just like pasta, a recipe isn’t really required here. Using up whatever vegetables and meat or tofu are on hand along with some rice and, viola! Usually I would make a sauce from scratch, but carrying the multiple ingredients to do so is unlikely. Instead, pre-made sauces work just fine, especially where camp cooking is involved.
- 1 tbsp oil
- 175 g tofu or chicken sliced
- 1 pc onion sliced
- 1 pc carrot thinly sliced into rounds
- 1/2 head broccoli small florets
- 1 pc red pepper sliced
- 175 ml stir fry sauce ex. teriyaki
- 1 cup rice
- Cut the vegetables into appropriate sizing to cook evenly and quickly ex. carrots should be sliced thinly while broccoli could remain in small florets
- Slice meat thinly or bite size chunks of tofu
- Heat oil in pan
- Begin by searing the meat or tofu
- Add vegetables
- Add sauce with a splash of water if necessary when meat is cooked and vegetables are tender, but a slight crunch remains
- Heat through and serve over rice or noodles
This glorious simplicity is one of my favourite things to make and eat. Another dish where kind of anything goes. Obviously, rice is a bit of a necessity and day old rice is generally best for this purpose, but the rest is fair game as above.
Egg is quite often scrambled into a dish of fried rice, but I personally like to fry an over easy egg to place on top. It makes a camp meal a bit more aesthetically pleasing, plus I like to break the yolk into the rice. Fried rice also makes an ideal breakfast in my opinion. Make extra rice while making a stir fry for dinner and use in the morning!
- 1/2 pc onion
- 175 g tofu or meat
- 1/2 pc carrot
- 1 stalk celery
- 1/2 pc red pepper
- 1/4 head broccoli
- 1 pc egg
- 1 1/2 cup rice cooked, day old if possible
- 1 tbsp soy sauce to taste
- Prepare the vegetables into a small dice ready for a quick cook and the meat into thin slices if using.
- Heat oil in a pan until hot.
- Add the meat, cook until half done or so.
- Add the vegetables and stir fry for a few minutes.
- If scrambling the egg, push the meat and vegetables to one side of your pan. Add the egg in the empty area (might need a touch more oil here), and scramble so as to have distinct pieces of egg opposed to it just coating the meat and vegetables.
- Add the rice and continue to stir fry.
- Season with soy sauce to your particular taste and it really is as simple as that.
Split Pea Soup
If there’s one thing I want on a cool, dreary day, it’s split pea soup. Not every day can be perfect and if you’re watching the rain fall, have this one simmering on the back burner. The cooking takes a touch longer so dive into a book and stir occasionally. It will be worth it.
Traditionally simmered with a ham hock or salt beef, this is an ingredient few buy, let alone have on hand while camping. I happened to purchase a couple ham steaks in a small grocery store along the way, but this can easily be made vegetarian. A few common vegetables and the split peas themselves will produce a delicious warming soup.
Split Pea Soup
- 1/2 pc onion sm. dice
- 1/2 pc carrot sm. dice
- 1/2 pc celery sm. dice
- 1/2 cup split pea
- 2 cups water
- Dice onion, carrot and celery and begin to sweat in some oil.
- Add split peas and water with a stock cube or two for a simple little flavour boost. The ratio is approximately 1 part dried split peas to 4 parts water.
- Bring to a boil and simmer until tender adding water if necessary for desired consistency. This should take around 45 minutes to an hour.
- Season and enjoy a warm bowl.
- *I seared the ham steaks before sweating the vegetables and let those simmer in the soup imparting their flavour.
Split Pea Soup with Poached Egg
Red Lentil Dahl
This one requires a few specific spices, but if you enjoy curry as much as I do, they may be the spices you choose to carry around. This dish always brings me back to India where I got this simple recipe and have made it countless times since. Simple and open to some variation. A protein could easily be added and simmered alongside the legumes. Any vegetable would work here too, cauliflower and potato being good candidates. Dahl is generally a thin soup in India, but even the thickness can vary to be more of a split pea soup consistency. Just because you are camping doesn’t mean creativity is off the table.
Red Lentil Dahl
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1 pc onion sm. dice
- 4 cl garlic minced
- 1 1″ pc ginger minced
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 lrg tomatoes diced
- 1 cup red lentils
- 3 cups water
- 1 pc chicken bouillon cube (optional)
- Finely mince as best as you can, the onion, garlic, ginger
- Saute onion, garlic and ginger in oil until lightly brown
- Add cumin, coriander, garam masala, chili powder and turmeric – toast spices slightly
- Add .5 cup water and tomatoes, simmer until almost all evaporated
- Add red lentils and water or stock, bring to a low simmer
- Cook for about 15 minutes until lentils are cooked, season to taste and adjust with water to desired consistency if necessary
Ingredients to Red Lentil Dahl
Beware of this one. Everyone in the general vicinity of your campsite will be smelling and wanting a piece of this. Low and behold, this is also the simplest of things to do. It is just the concept that few think of.
Not only is this easy, it perfumes the campsite and it’s a sweet treat that makes others jealous. The cake will be unbelievably moist from the steaming process. Give this a try next time you’re out camping and impress. Can’t do this in a JetBoil.
- 1 pkg. cake mix
- 1-2 pc egg if required
- melted butter if required
- water as needed
- Buy a cake mix and follow the directions. I mean, you could make it from scratch, but that would be very impractical for travelling with all those ingredients.
- In a pot add about 2” of water. Place a flat, heat resistant object in the center. I used a rock that I found.
- Pour cake batter into a bowl (a plastic camp bowl was sufficient for me).
- Place the bowl on the rock and cover..
- Steam for about 30 minutes, checking with a toothpick or twig poking the center until it comes out clean
With these handful of simple ‘recipes’ or ideas really, you can easily fill your camping trip with a few extra dishes that will keep you full and satisfied. I wanted these dishes to be basic concepts opposed to exact recipes. I did this to hopefully inspire some creative freedom. Also, the best part of these simplistic foods is that no real recipe is required. The odd ratio, but ultimately it can be done in little time with little skill and effort, still producing great results and a good feed.
I hope these ideas jazz up your next camping/road trip so you can leave the mystery meat hot dogs at home. If you have any questions about cooking in a camp setting, back country treks or over live fire, fire away in the comments below! Posts will be coming on those topics as well, but until then, get outside and cook in the elements like millions before us.