Road trips. Car camping. Backcountry backpacking adventures. If any of these resonate with you, then it’s an absolute fact you’ve faced the reality of creating yet another meal with an open flame, minimal ingredients, and a collection of those adorable little cooking utensils that the more masculine among us prefer to call “the mess kit.”
All these outings are ruled by a common denominator: keep it light, keep it easy. Here’s an alternative to planning out a series of elaborate meals. Speaking from experience–you never know what condition you, your camp site, or the weather will be in when you hunker down to prepare a meal. Instead, pack your basics and use some premixed spice blends to wake up bland camp food.
The following blends were inspired by Mark Bittman and an article in a Sept. 2010 Backpacker magazine.
6-Day Spice Blend Shakedown
- 1 tbs. roasted, fresh ground cumin (Roast your own!)
- 2 tsp. oregano
- 1 tsp chile powder (I prefer ancho).
- 1/2 tsp. ground coriander.
Add this to rice and beans or sprinkle inside cheese quesadillas. Mix it into a standard macaroni and cheese box mix. Bonus: oregano is one of the Fantastic 5 Antioxidant Superheroes.
Equal parts dried rosemary, thyme, parsley and/or sage. Lavender is another option. Crumble in one or two bay leaves. Bring toasted pine nuts and sprinkle on pasta with olive oil. Or blend it with mashed potatoes.
Equal parts dried garlic and powdered ginger. Packets of soy sauce and a couple pinches of brown sugar. Toasted sesame seeds are optional. Tasty on rice or mixed with noodles.
Equal parts dried basil, oregano, parsley and garlic powder. Use your toasted pine nuts here. Add sun-dried tomatoes. Try it on toasted cheese on bread (or a tortilla if you’re out of bread), rice, or pasta (of course).
- 1 tsp. each ground ginger, cinnamon and cardamon
- 1/2 tsp. each fresh ground clove or nutmeg.
You can cheat and bring a garam masala mix and add some pinches of whichever of the above spices you prefer for extra flavor.Try it mixed with chick peas or fresh tomatoes on pita bread or mixed in pasta. Very delicious when cooked with squash (a little bulky for backpacking but keeps well and good for a first night).
This isn’t a blend you make yourself but it’s an easy alternative to making your own. Bagel Spice packs a flavor punch to eggs, potatoes, and pasta.
Tip: If you’re looking for small, spillproof bottles to hold your olive oil, pine nuts and spice blends I recommend the Nalgene Travel Kit. We use them all the time and have successfully packed around vinaigrette, olive oil, and other goopy condiments without any issues. Just click the picture.
Double tip: If you’re in bear country do all your spice roasting before you leave. The last thing you want is that deep aroma penetrating into the deep woods. This is my own advice but I’ve had at least 30 bear encounters over my lifetime–very few when actually camping outdoors.
Triple Tip: Please, please, please DO NOT cook your food by your tent. Wildlife will mistake your tent for your food bag. And if your clothes smell like campfire put them in a plastic bag OUTSIDE and AWAY from your tent.
The above spice advice is coming from a girl who, during a road trip across the country, got so desperate for flavor, my then boyfriend dumped almond liqueur into the rice. First, I have no idea why we had almond liqueur in the middle of the Utah desert. Second, it was disgusting but he ate it. Third, wish I knew then about spices what I know now. Finally, said boyfriend is now my husband. 🙂