You have a number of options with your dehydrator. You can dehydrate individual food stuffs, or entire precooked meals. The manual that comes with the machine will tell you how to prepare produce and how long it takes and what the finished product should look and feel like. It is possible to overdo, or underdo, the drying process. Too long will lead to rubbery inedible food, not enough will result in mould and spoiling. So it's not something you want to do for the very first time the week before you leave on a long trip....
You easily cook an entire evening meal, and then dehydrate it. Package in individual portion sizes and just add hot water when it's time for your meal. There's also a little trial and error here ensuring the meal is dry enough, and that the portion size is OK. It's hard to gauge how much is enough once the meal is dried, so it's often better to portion up on individual trays whilst still wet. You will be amazed how tiny a meal can look and feel once the water is removed!
Dehydrators are essentially glorified hair dryers. They make a high pitched noise that may make you just a little stir crazy if you have to listen to it non stop for a few days. If you are dehydrating a lot of food, you will work that machine for many hours and days, so put it somewhere where it disturbs you as little as possible. Just don't forget about it or you'll ruin your food.
Yes they will draw a bit of electricity. At one stage I had 2 dehydrators and the oven going, over a period of about 10 days. Not 24/7 but pretty constant. My electricity bill was up by $20 for that period (though I can't really be sure it cost that much as I had house sitters during that period and I can't account for their usage).
I used 2 books as my starting point, both American so some of the ingredients in their recipes weren't available here. They were both great resources so I'll mention them if anyone is interested. I have put links through to Amazon, but since I haven't signed up for affiliate links, I don't care either way if you purchase them! The first was Lipsmackin' Backpackin' which is mostly a compendium of backcountry recipes from American trekkers along the Pacific Crest Trail. It has a decidedly Mexican slant, but there were a few recipes I took from it and modified. The second book was Trail Food. This one had more detailed information about the dehydration process, with some great tips and advice, as well as some inspiring anecdotes from the author's backcountry experiences.
Armed with the knowledge gained from these books, and a large amount of home cooking experience and many cookbooks, I created my own collection of recipes. Here they are.
- Muesli. I make my own muesli which consists of 2 parts rolled oats, 2 parts rolled rye, 2 parts rolled triticale, one part sunflower seeds, one part pepitas, one part sultanas, one part shredded coconut, all mixed together. I use a large scoop for my measurements, and it's hardly an exact science, but suffice to say, if you make your own muesli you know what's in it. Each breakfast portion was one cup of muesli with one tablespoon of full cream milk powder added and packaged in a small ziplock bag. Just add water. I usually added hot water as I would always boil water each morning for my all important morning espresso. For my next trip, I'll be adding 2 tablespoons of milk powder for a richer creamier meal.
- Bulgur Hash. I adapted this from one of the books. Bulgur is cracked wheat, the ingredient in tabouleh. Here's the recipe: Prepackage together 1/2 cup of bulgur, a handful of dried onion, 1/4 tsp garlic flakes, 1/2 tsp dried oregano. Before heading to bed add 1/2 cup of water to dried ingredients and leave overnight. In the morning fry the rehydrated mix in oil, add some soy sauce and then crumble over some cheese. Once cheese melts tuck in!!
- Buckwheat Pancakes. These were a pain to cook because my frypan didn't heat evenly, and I needed quite a lot of fuel to do an entire batch. They also weren't filling enough to sustain me through to lunchtime, until I added nut butter. Which is quite heavy BTW. Here's the recipe: Prepackage together 1/2 cup buckwheat flour, 3 tablespoons milk powder, pinch of salt, 2 teaspoons vanilla sugar and 1/2 tsp baking powder. Put in a ziplock bag as you will use the bag to rehydrate the batter. Add just enough water to make a runny batter. Some trial and error involved. To cook, add oil to frypan and pour out pikelet size portions. Cook both sides and stack on plate adding your topping of your taste. My recommendation is a fat and protein based topping e.g. nut butter rather than carbs like jam or a fruit sauce.
I either ate dried biscuits - Ryvita and VitaWeats both kept well, didn't break up into pieces, and are light - or wraps. Mountain Bread, although light, doesn't stay moist for more than a couple of days and just crumbles. I preferred to buy chapatis or tortillas instead, though they are considerably more heavy. Personal choice. There's also the option to make your own bread, but I didn't go that far...
I also had scroggin, or what the Yanks call GORP, namely mixed fruit and nuts to snack on. I rarely snacked between meals except on days when I had a longer than usual way to walk. I also brought some savoury energy bars on the first section, and after that I had mini chocolate bars or muesli bars that I had as a snack with my cup of tea on arrival at camp.
To the biscuits or wraps (in general I would eat 2 wraps or 8-10 biscuits for lunch) I would eat any combination of below.
- Cheese. Hard cheese keeps remarkably well. Once bought I never refrigerated it and aside from a little sweating, it never got mouldy or inedible.
- Salami. Purchase the ones that don't need refrigeration. Store in a paper bag. I like spicy.
- Beef jerky. I made my own in my oven. Google for a recipe, it's really easy to make. Don't be put off by the scary idea that you might poison yourself. Again, give yourself enough time to trial your result to ensure you have dried the meat enough. It should break when you bend it. I vacuum sealed all my jerky into individual portion sizes and stored it in my freezer. Remember to wait until your dried goods are at room temperature before vacuum sealing, or you will get mould.
- Hummus. I love hummus and I was thrilled at how well this recipe rehydrated in the field. I added just enough water to make a thick paste in the morning before I set off, and then had the most delicious dip ready by lunchtime. Package in a ziplock bag as it makes it easy to squish around the added water to ensure you have enough, but not too much! Here's the recipe: Mix together cooked chickpeas, tahini, garlic and lemon juice in a blender until smooth, then dehydrate on trays covered in glad wrap. I can't give you exact quantities, I always make my hummus by taste, and usually add more garlic and tahini than the recipes suggest. Suffice to say, make your hummus the way you like it, then dehydrate. Once dry and cooled down, put it back in the blender and blitz into a powder. I used 1/4 cup of dried mix per serve into a small ziplock bag. I didn't add oil, but had the option to do so in the field.
- Sun dried tomatoes. I dried mine in the oven and the dehydrator. A tiny amount of water added into the bag in the morning before leaving plumped them up a little so they weren't rubbery. OMG the concentrated taste is phenomenal. Any time you have a tomato surplus, get dehydrating, you will never purchase store ones again!
- Pesto. I actually made two different pestos. The first was a classic pesto using basil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan, all mixed up in the blender and then dehydrated. Parmesan dries well. The other was a chive pesto, same recipe, just substitute chives instead. Can't give you exact amounts, it's been far too long since I've used a recipe to make pesto. Just use the taste test. You could also substitute different nuts. I know some people use almonds or cashews instead of pine nuts. Again, once dried and cooled, blitz in blender to a powder and package in 1/4 cup portions.
Again, lots of choices, though all were a combination of carbs (pasta/rice/noodles) plus vegetables and protein. I dehydrated bags of frozen veg (mixed veg and frozen peas) from the supermarket, as well as fresh capsicum and zucchini. I purchased dried mushrooms and dried taro leaves from the Asian supermarket. I mixed up the dried vegetables then vacuum packaged them in individual meal portions. I did the same for the mince meat and tinned salmon and tuna. When I arrived into camp and made my afternoon cup of tea I would add hot water to each packet and they were ready for cooking in a couple of hours. I brought along a small plastic container with a lid. I used this to store my rehydrating foods whilst walking, and to decant my evening packets into before adding water. No leakage, and no flies. Worked brilliantly.
I just made a guesstimate of portion size for the vegetables. Next time I'll make my portions a little larger and add more variety. You crave fresh vegetables and fruit when you get to each town, but more rehydrated veg would have helped.
Canned tuna and salmon dehydrated really well. I bought quite a few tins of the no name variety and found that it not only weighed almost nothing once dry, but rehydrated really well. I was able to be generous on portion size as a result.
Mince meat is easy to do as well. Purchase lean mince and cook it up, draining off as much fat as you can. Then rinse it well under warm water, pat dry with paper towels, then put it on trays in the dehydrator. Regularly pat dry with a paper towel to soak up any excess fat. Vacuum pack in individual portion size once it's the consistency of gravel, and at room temperature. Store in the freezer until your trip. It rehydrates well if you add hot water and give it a couple of hours to reconstitute. If you don't give it enough time it earns its sobriquet of "gravel".
I also made my own tomato pasta sauce. Everyone has their own recipe for a basic tomato pasta sauce, or alternatively I guess you could just buy jars of it and dehydrate. Being the food nazi that I am, I prefer to cook from scratch. Dehydrate on trays covered in glad wrap and again package individually. Each of my portions weighed 33g, which turned out to be a little too small for me.
So here are my meals:
- Pasta with Tomato Sauce and Mixed Veg. Rehydrate packet of mixed veg and pasta sauce with hot water an hour or so before dinner. Boil water and cook 100g whole wheat pasta until al dente. Drain pasta, keeping aside a little of the water. Add rehydrated veg and sauce to water and cook for a minute or so, then add to pasta. Eat!
- Salmon Pasta. Prepackage 1/4 tsp dried garlic flakes/granules, 1 tbsp dried onions, 1/4 cup milk powder, 1/4 cup dried peas, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tbsp parmesan cheese, pinch pepper, 1 tbsp arrowroot powder. The arrowroot powder is a thickener, and is tasteless and gluten free! An hour or so before dinner rehydrate in just enough water to cover it. Also rehydrate your portion of vacuum packed dehydrated salmon (55g). Cook 100g of pasta in boiling water until al dente. Drain and keep a little water for cooking. Add salmon to pot and warm through, then add sauce and cook until thickens (not long). Add pasta and mix through. This meal is rich and creamy and delicious!
- Miso soup with tuna and soba noodles. This is a great recipe and particularly good for replacing salt and water lost by exertion. It's really quick and easy because soba noodles take next to no time to cook. The only limiting factor is the rehydrating of the dried tuna. Soba noodles usually come in prepackaged bundles. I divided each bundle in two and then broke the noodles in half to make them easier to package. I purchased nori seaweed sheets that you use for making sushi and used one third of a sheet per meal. I wrapped the dried noodles in the seaweed sheet, added one packet of miso soup paste (I used the small 12g soft packets that come in packs of 12 as they were less bulky) and vacuum packed this separate to the tuna packet (55g) which was also vacuum packed. I think this helped stop the noodles from breaking into tiny pieces in my backpack. To cook, first rehydrate the tuna in some hot water a good hour or so before dinner. As this is more a soup you don't need as much time if you are really hungry. Boil water, add soba noodles, cook for a minute or less before adding miso paste sachet, tuna, and torn up nori sheet. Add extra soy sauce to taste. Enjoy!
- Veg, Mince and Noodle Soup. This was another awesome meal, inspired by my love of Asian cuisine. Prepackage one portion of rice noodles, one portion of dehydrated vegetables, one portion of mince gravel (see above) and one portion of spices. The spice portion is: 1/4 tsp garlic granules, 1 tsp dried onion flakes, 1 dried birdseye chili chopped, 1 tsp dried lemongrass, 1/2 tsp dried shrimp, 1/4 tsp garam marsala, pinch of salt. Make sure the spice is vacuum packed as dried shrimp is real smelly, but absolutely essential to this recipe. You could also probably add some kaffir leaf, I'm improvising here thinking about what is currently growing in my garden. To cook, rehydrate the veggies and mince then cook in water. Add spices and soy sauce to taste, then lastly add rice noodles and cook until soft. Watch everybody around you go green with envy at the smell of this as it cooks. Greedily slurp up your gourmet meal!
- Pasta with Pesto and Mixed Veg. Rehydrate your packet of dried pesto and packet of mixed veg an hour before beginning cooking. Cook 100g whole wheat pasta in boiling water until al dente, drain, conserving some of the water to cook your vegetables and pesto sauce in. Add to pasta and enjoy.
- Curry Coconut Rice with Taro Leaves. I found dried vacuum packed taro leaves at the Asian supermarket and thought I'd come up with a simple recipe that allowed me to have a meal that included leafy greens. To rehydrate the taro leaves add some cold water, but not too much, and squish the water around until the leaves become pliable. Meanwhile empty the prepackaged coconut rice mix into your billy, add at least a cup of water and cook by absorption method. Add taro leaves after 2 minutes and mix well. Add more water as needed to stop rice burning. The rice mix is: 1/4 tsp garlic granules, 1/4 tsp dried shrimp, 1 tsp dried onion flakes, 1/2 tsp curry powder, 2 tbsp coconut cream powder, 1/2 cup basmati rice. I always use Basmati because it tastes good, it cooks much quicker than many other rices, and it's good for you!
Yep, a camping trip isn't complete without a little dessert. I reapportioned packets of instant chocolate mousse and instant pudding, making sure I added extra milk powder so all I needed to do was add water. To these desserts I threw in some dried fruit and sometimes nuts. Not particularly earth shattering. More fun was toasting marshmallows over the fire after dinner and the best dessert I had was the Bliss Balls I shared with Lynda and Nikki at Yourmadung campsite. Lynda's recipe comes from a pre bought mix, but I've been experimenting at home. Below is my recipe that makes enough bliss balls for two to share if they are feeling generous, or one if feeling greedy.
- Mix in a blender: 1/2 cup pepitas, 1/2 cup sunflower seeds, 1/2 cup chia seeds, 1/2 cup hazelnuts and 1/2 cup cacao nibs ( or 1/3 cup cacao or cocoa powder). Blitz into a powder then prepackage into 1/4 cup portions.
- To make the Bliss Balls soak 4 chopped dates in just enough water to soften them and mash them up. Hot water works best. Once dates are mashed up and soft, add your powder mix, stir, and wait for your concoction to expand and all the water to be soaked up. If it is too dry you can add more water, but even better is to add coconut oil. Don't add too much, be patient.
- Now using your fingers, make balls out of this gloop and roll in some shredded coconut that you brought along especially for the purpose. Then pop into your mouth.
- If there's any shredded coconut left over, just add it to tomorrow's breakfast muesli.
As I mentioned earlier, I also made savoury energy bars for extra nutrition. I made these frequently for snacks when skiing in New Zealand and they are delicious. They don't, however, keep long unless frozen, so I resorted to frying them up for breakfast rather than throw them away when they started to show early signs of going mouldy. I'm the sort of person who scrapes off the mould rather than throwing otherwise good food away, and I've never suffered any ill effects from doing so. My energy bars, when fried up with a little oil and soy sauce, were delicious. Here's the recipe that I started with, customise to your own taste and pantry ingredients.
So there's some food for thought.....
Next time I'll review my camping/trekking gear.