One thing that makes a recipe great for cooking out on the trail is adaptability. This is usually the result of ingredients that are very forgiving to the variable cooking temperatures and cook times we encounter while out camping or adventure picnicking. For backpackers, limitations like water quantity and cook pot size may also be prime concerns.
When it comes to adaptable foods, lentils are hard to beat. They weigh very little when dry, keep very well, are a great source of protein, are high in fiber, and provide great nutrition for active outdoors people. Red lentils are the best choice for outdoor cooking since they tend to cook faster, and therefore use less fuel and water.
The recipe below takes up very little room in your pack, but will provide a gourmet satisfaction hard to get from freeze dried backpacker’s meals.
Bacon, Lentil, and Tomato Soup is a simple, yet hearty dish, for the trail, whether you are cooking over a camp stove or a campfire.
Bacon, Lentil, and tomato soup is an easy dish to put together since it uses fresh and dried ingredients that are readily available from practically any grocery store.
The most challenging ingredient to find is usually the sun dried tomatoes. These are usually found with the raisins and cranberries, but sometimes they end up in the salad dressing aisle. If you have trouble finding them, the good news is that because they keep so well, you can just mail order them. You can even find them on Amazon!
Substitutions for Vegans and Vegetarians
While in the salad topping section you should also find packaged bacon pieces. Depending on your store, there may be some non-meat substitutions here if you are a vegetarian or vegan. Another alternative that offers both great flavor and convenience on the trail are the many vegan jerky products on the market. My personal favorite is the maple bacon flavor of Louisville Vegan Jerky you can also get from Amazon.
A Note about Quantities
The quantities and directions below should serve two hungry hikers, but if the hiker hunger is really over the top you may want to either increase the amount of ingredients or bring along some crackers or bread.
Also, in following the directions below, you should be able to barely fit in all into a standard 750ml pot like the TOAKS titanium pot. The pot will be brimming over until it cooks down a bit and It can get a bit messy, but hey, that’s the fun of cooking outdoors!
By the way, a very convenient way I’ve found to measure out the ingredients while out on the trail is the Sea to Summit X Cup. It also doubles as a coffee cup in the morning!
Serves 2 – Makes about 3 ½ cups of soup
- 2 cups of water
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 small onion
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 cup red lentils, uncooked
- ¼ cup sun dried tomatoes
- ¼ tsp. cumin
- ¼ cup bacon pieces
- salt and pepper to taste
At Home Preparation
Start by repacking all the dry ingredients in small sandwich bags. I usually keep the bacon pieces and sun dried tomatoes in their original packages and use the leftovers in other dishes.
The onion and garlic can be put together into a small sandwich bag, but if you are out for an extended trip and cooking several meals with onion and garlic, I would just keep them with the rest of your fresh food supply.
The salt, pepper, and cumin can be carried in their original containers or you can purchase light backpacking spice containers to save space and weight. You can also just put your spices in small Ziploc snack baggies. Just be sure to write what they are on the bag with a sharpie.
The most important thing is to store your olive oil in a leak proof container. An oil spill inside your pack could be disastrous.
Keep in mind that lentils take much longer to cook than simply boiling water for a freeze dried backpacker’s meal. That being the case, this is a great recipe to cook over a campfire or on a bushcraft stick stove like the Bushbox Ultralight Pocket Stove. If you only have a gas stove, read the tip about presoaking the lentils below.
Chop the clove of garlic and onion. Add both to your cookpot.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the onion and garlic in your cook pot and saute until they begin to brown.
Add 2 cups of water, cumin, bacon, sun dried tomatoes, and the lentils to your cookpot. Bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 mins or desired consistency is reached.
Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!
As mentioned above, this recipe is wonderfully adaptable for different tastes, dietary concerns, and limitations encountered on the trail. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Below are a few tips to help you get started.
Is it a chili or a soup?
One of the great things about this recipe is that you can control the consistency by how much water you add. If you follow the recipe above and use 2 cups of water, you will end up with a thicker dish closer to pea soup or chili.
For a more soup-like consistency, simply add an additional ½ cup of water. Keep in mind that if you are backpacking with a small cookpot, there may not be enough room in the pot for the additional water. Adjust the quantities of the ingredients as necessary to suit the conditions.
Presoaking the Lentils
Lentils do take a long time to cook, so if you are cooking over a gas stove and wish to conserve fuel, presoak the lentils for 30 mins to an hour before cooking.
The best way to do this is to measure out the quantity of lentils you plan to use into a small Ziploc bag and then add double the measurement of water to cover the lentils. For example, if you are using a half cup of lentils, add a full cup of water to presoak them.
Once you add the presoaked lentils and water to your cook pot. Remember to take into account this extra water and adjust the amount of water you add while cooking. For example: following the recipe above, if you use one cup to presoak, only add 1 cup rather than 2 cups when cooking.
The limitations and challenges of cooking outdoors doesn’t mean you can enjoy hearty, nutritious, cooked meals. Bacon, lentil, and tomato soup is a great dish to start out with if you are new to trail cooking and adventure picnicking. Once you’ve cooked up your first batch, don’t be afraid to substitute, experiment, and create your own delicious trail dishes!