Alimentary, My Dear
Diet for a Small
Eating Well in the Backcountry Without Meat or Milk
By Tamia Nelson
June 16, 2009
When I was a kid, camping meant eating lots of meat. We had bacon or sausage for breakfast, bologna or ham sandwiches for lunch, and SPAM®, hamburgers, or hot dogs for supper. Mom believed that no meal was complete without meat, and she also believed that growing kids needed plenty of milk and eggs. She wasn't alone in thinking this way, of course. My friends' Moms all clung to the same beliefs.
But times have changed. Tastes have changed, too. And there's a growing consensus that our planet can't feed an expected nine billion-plus people on a diet of meat and milk and eggs. Don't get me wrong. I'm not exactly a convert. I'm not yet ready to go the whole hog, so to speak. But my diet has evolved over the years. I eat a lot less meat than I used to, for one thing. As my circle of friends and acquaintances has expanded, so has my knowledge of culinary traditions. Readers of this column have helped. In fact, it was a letter from a reader that got me thinking about the challenge of preparing meatless, eggless, and dairyless meals for the backcountry. At first glance, it doesn't seem like this would be particularly hard to do. Just…
Eat What You Eat At Home
And it works. Up to a point. Packing for a day trip is a cinch. Overnighters and weekend getaways pose few difficulties, too. Bring what you'd eat at home, but figure on larger portions—paddling builds big appetites—and be sure to keep any perishable foods cold. Soft coolers make this possible.
The problems begin when a trip stretches on into the third day. Freeze-dried or dehydrated fruits and vegetables can pinch-hit for fresh. So far, so good. You can even dry your own, and why stop there? Soups and sauces are candidates for home drying, too. Or you can go shopping. The local HyperMart is a good first stop. Just graze the aisles, menu in hand, paying close attention to the fine print on the packages. Lists of ingredients and "How to Prepare" instructions can be very revealing. (Microwave ovens are rare in the backcountry.) Food co-ops and ethnic markets broaden the range of choice even more. And don't neglect online sources of supply. Outfitters are now offering an ever-expanding range of meatless, dairy-free dehydrated and freeze-dried meals.
But what about specific meal options? Well, let's begin at the beginning—with breakfast. Hot or cold cereal (oatmeal and granola are favorites) is an obvious choice. Instant soy milk powder stands in for powdered cow's milk. Want something more? Dairy-free breadstuffs like bagels, flatbread, bannock, and journey cakes will fill out any odd corners, particularly when topped with jam or jelly, nut butter, or marmalade. And pancakes? What about pancakes? Well, why not? Make them from scratch or use a non-dairy mix and serve with maple syrup. There's no better breakfast for a rest day in camp.
Of course, breakfast is only a curtain-raiser. Lunch is the next act in the day's culinary drama. And it may be the easiest meal of all to plan for and prepare. It's probably best viewed as a moveable feast, a never-ending snack that spans the interval between breakfast and dinner. Handfuls of nuts and dried fruit are always welcome, as are bread and crackers, and on cold days a mug of instant dried soup goes down a treat. Make it with water heated on your stove or storm kettle.
OK. It's dinnertime. This is the main meal of the day, and it's at the other end of the fuss-and-bother scale: if breakfast and lunch are pop singles, dinner is a classical symphony, an intricate integration of complex elements. That's how it often seems, at any rate. So I've put together…
A Simple Supper Sampler…
In the hopes of making things easier. Some considerations don't change. Carbs are king, whatever the time of day. When you're the engine, you have to keep fuel in your tank. But dinner ought to be a well-rounded meal, too. And it's usually a social occasion, a time to kick back and relive the highlights of the day—and look forward to the day to come. It's a meal you'll want to linger over, in other words. Here are a few suggestions, beginning with a dinner for your first night out:
Tofu and Veggies with Rice Tofu is simply soybean curd. It's a staple in many meatless menus, and there's no reason not to take it camping. Dehydrated and freeze-dried tofu can be found in many ethnic markets, not to mention the virtual market stalls of online retailers. But fresh tofu is no trouble to pack for your first supper in camp. I buy "extra-firm" tofu, and I carry it in a rigid, airtight container. A selection of fresh vegetables comes along in a second container. To save time, I cut the tofu into bite-sized cubes and slice the veggies in my kitchen at home.
To make enough for four typical paddlers, heat oil in a skillet over a medium-high flame (or moderate fire) and sauté an onion, a stalk of celery, and a bell pepper, all of them chopped fine. If you're using dehydrated diced vegetables, however, forget about the oil. Instead, put a quarter cup of each veggie into the skillet (or a pot), cover with water, and simmer till softened. Now season the veggies (whether fresh or dried) with salt, ground pepper, and dried oregano. Then add a large handful of TVP granules, a couple of tablespoons of barbecue sauce or ketchup, and a 14- or 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes or tomato sauce. Alternatively, use a retort pack of diced tomatoes, or rehydrate enough dried, powdered tomato to make about one and one-half cups of tomato sauce. Finally, stir the tomatoes into the skillet or pot and simmer until the TVP is softened and the sauce is thick. Serve over split rolls or thick slabs of hearty bread—and garnish with fresh lettuce if you're lucky enough to have any.
Not tired of tofu yet? Then you can substitute crumbled, extra-firm tofu for the TVP. Simply sauté the tofu with the veggies and proceed with the rest of the recipe as written.
Now it's time to take a walk on the wild side, in the company of exotic-sounding quinoa, an ancient Andean seed crop.
Quinoa Pilaf The name may be unfamiliar, but you can use quinoa in the same ways you'd use rice, and pilaf made with red quinoa is as delicious as it is attractive.