Just Add Water…

One aspect of being self-reliant in the outdoors is simply working with a variety of resources in a variety of ways. It’s not always in conjunction with a life-threatening, emergency scenario, but simple a way to expand certain skill sets to enhance your outdoor experience. 

To that end, I decided to check out an aspect of camp cuisine: What about those foods you “cook” just by adding water? My quest took two significant turns:

Turn #1 

Most of us are quite familiar with freeze-dried, dehydrated foods that sometimes come in MRE’s, backpacking pouches or individual offerings such as instant oatmeal, desserts, etc. I’ve learned several key palate-pleasing realities from having tried each.

MRE’s taste just like the color of their packaging – olive drab- and are as appetizing as the one might e         xspect from something that has a crammed-in-the-can shelf life of several decades. Backpacker meal packets are always heavily laden with instant pastas of some form, or rice, in a salty tomato base. Typically you add water to a pouch containing the food packet and a chemical generated heat source activated by water warms up the sealed meal inside.

The package hisses and vents steam like a sleeping dragon, sometimes going on with 12-15 minutes of warming or reconstitution time. After which the food comes out luke warm or only partially saturated and “cooked”. Yummy!

Granted, these are extreme cases for the most part. Being able to prepare tasty meals pretty much anywhere (I’ve prepared many from the cockpit of my kayak) remains their biggest advantage.

I therefore offer these examples of especially good tasting, easy-to-prep “instant” foods that I’ve field tested for many years and guarantee that if you have discriminating taste buds, you’ll likely find these particular, specific brands worth stocking in your campfire kitchen pantry:

  • Quaker’s oatmeal packets: especially if you combine the regular flavor with one of the seasoned varieties; use boiling water and thicken to taste;
  • Sturdiwheat pancake mix: a far cry above the watery yuck earlier mixes yielded. These are a 1:1 mix/water delicacies – in a variety of rib-sticking blends; 
  • Idahoan instant mashed potatoes: my youthful memories of “instant” potatoes is one of a chemically-odiferous blob, impenetrable to gravy, butter and sometimes a fork. These taste and feel like real mashed spuds. Good for potato pancakes or thickening voluminous Dutch oven concoctions!;
  • Swiss Miss Cocoa: Head and shoulders above other brands; adding a bit of dry dairy creamer powder creates a thicker, mouth-coating brew;
  • Milkman Dry Milk: The secret to natural-tasting instant, dry milk is to mix it the night before and let the sugars do their thing to enhance the flavor over several hours. Milkman adds dried cream to its milk powder, resulting in a taste very, very similar to 2% milk, maybe 3% if you cut back on the added water a bit. Great taste!
  • Bear Creek dried soups: Very tasty with each packet serving up many bountiful bowls of cheese/veggie/meaty soups. Get the water boiling and you’ll have hearty stew-soups to soothe multiple cases of hunger pangs around the campfire.

Most of these selections above rely up freeze-dried, dehydrated real meat, veggies or grains. What about those who want these conveniences but don’t eat meat or dairy products – regardless of their altered convenience form? 

Turn #2

Enter Vegan cuisine!

Now your stews don’t have to even contain any meat. Instead the chewy ingredient is actually processed protein powder extracted from peas, or the ubiquitous soy bean that’s masquerading as “beef”, or as “chicken” in your stir fry dish. Food science had come a long way, riding on the back of protein processing technology – turning legumes into textured meat wanna-be’s! 

Basically these ‘meats’ are processed powders that are able to be formed into a variety of similar looking animal tissue that we all know as “meat”. The key to their deception is that they take on the tastes of whatever they are combined with: the seasonings and sauces used to create a dish, as an entreé or side.

I’ve made classic Sloppy Joe’s using a pea protein substitute that when seasoned with ketchup, mustard, onions and spices tasted convincingly like the real deal. By themselves, once reconstituted by long soaks in very hot water, they are bland to the point of being tasteless, coupled with a totally unnatural, homogenous texture. 

However, once prepped, those ’chicken’  chunks, mixed in with rice and fried with accompanying flavor enhancers  can trick your mind and taste buds into thinking that it does, indeed “taste like chicken”. Same goes for the beef chips when the are soaked in all the great additives that come together to form beef stew.

These can all be incorporated into a campfire kitchen menu that even the staunchest vegan/vegetarian in the group can chow down. 

Besides meat substitutes, liquid egg mixes made from mung bean powder can take the place of those from real chickens in the same manner. Alone they have a weird texture (too uniform), but cook up like the real scrambled variety, especially when the salt/pepper is added, or when incorporated into a tasty, flavor-sharing omelet. These fake mixed eggs that look just like a beaten whole egg can be used when baking, too. 

These high-tech foods may open the door to broader opportunities for creating backcountry cuisine. The question around the campfire may go from “What kind of meat is this?” to “Is this really meat at all”?

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