Tag Archives: backpacking

Dahl: a damn fine food, on & off the trail

Spent my morning tea time looking through the Ansel Adam’s masterpiece Sierra Nevada: the John Muir Trail. As both a Sierra lover & a a press aficionado, I must recommend this amazingly published art exhibit. If you haven’t yet seen it, find a copy & set aside some time to spend in the Sierras without having to change out of your pajamas. I’m full of memories of past hikes & dreaming ahead to next summer’s adventure.

While we’re on the trail, every night’s supper is pease porridge, which Mr. Jack refers to as a quick-and-simple dahl: a by-weight 1:1 mixture of chia seeds, dehydrated split pea soup and toasted quinoa flakes. For the 2 of us, it weighs about 6 oz, including the critical seasoning square of organic vegetable bouillon, which does include at least turmeric, if not the other spices more traditionally associated with dhal.

Dahl is a traditional Indian dish of rice, beans and spices, that has hundreds, if not thousands, of variations. Fran’s House of Ayurveda blog, for instance, has a great winter squash/lentil recipe with simple directions. With canned pumpkin on sale this month, this is especially appealing, although I would need to use another bean since lentils are on my “avoid” list.

I’ve been making a lot of dahl since our JMT hike when we discovered that rice & bean dishes supplied more energy than any other combination of food. So of course, I’ve developed a more slapdash approach than that suggested in other recipes, using pre-cooked rice & beans because it’s easier for me to cook a big batch of beans & freeze to use as needed. In a pinch, I use canned beans.

Turns out that dahl makes a perfect breakfast! It’s the kind of food designed to be made in a big pot & reheated as needed. I am aware of the 3-day leftover rule; at our house, however, that is completely ignored as neither Mr. Jack nor I have delicate stomachs and often find ourselves happily eating food more than a week after its initial appearance. Here’s my casual recipe, which you may enjoy trying on some cool fall or winter day, either for breakfast or later in the day:

You’ll need:

2 cups cooked rice
2 cups cooked beans (canned are fine if you don’t have the inclination to soak & cook your own)
2 cups mixed cooked vegetables

Note: If you are using frozen rather than fresh vegetables, you will not need to cook before adding to the dahl. Canned vegetables are not recommended as they get too mushy.

My current dal includes these vegetables, which I piled into a saucepan in this order, & steamed until just tender:

  • 2 golden beets, julienned
  • a handful of green beans, chopped into 1/2″ lengths
  • small chayote (or other soft-fleshed squash) cubed 1/2″

Fresh greens, a handful or 2 if available (chard, spinach, beet, turnip). Adding chopped, raw greens to the completed dahl is one of my favorite ways to enjoy more vegetables.

1 onion, chopped
fresh ginger, about 1″, minced
cooking oil: grapeseed, olive or coconut; ghee
basic dahl spices — adjust to your own taste; heat can be added as desired

  • cumin, whole, 2 TB
  • corriander, whole, 2 TB
  • fenugreek, ground, 1 TB
  • tumeric, ground, 1 TB

Salt to taste

You will need a big pan for all of this to end up in, as well as a few other pans for toasting seeds, sauting onion & ginger, and steaming the vegetables.

A coffee grinder works great for grinding the seed spices.

Ready, set, go!

Put cooked rice & 3 cups of water in a big pan with a lid (use a pressure cooker if you have one) — cook at low heat until the rice has broken down into a porridge
While the rice is porridging:

  • Roast about 2 TBs each cumin & corrieander seeds
  • Pour out & let them cool before grinding


  • In a oiled pan, low to medium heat, saute a chopped onion very slowly.
  • When about half-done, add finely minced ginger & keep stirring.
  • When the onions are nicely translucent & browned, add the toasted, ground cumin & corrieander, along with tumeric and ground fengreek.
  • Add some more oil — I like coconut for the extra flavor, but grapeseed or olive would work as well. Ghee would probably be perfect.

Finish up
To the rice porridge pot, add:

  • Spice/onion mixture into the rice porridge of rice, along with:
  • Cooked beans
  • Veggies, assorted
  • Salt to taste

Note: This recipe has no real heat. Feel free to add a chopped chili pepper along with the ginger, or a pinch of chili flake along with the spices at the end. Do remember that heat added on the first day may get hotter as the dish matures! For breakfast each morning, I put 2 cups into a small saucepan, along with a half-cup of water, cover & simmer on the lowest possible heat while I have my tea.

Hope you enjoy some dahls this winter season. If you decide to cook a big pot & dehydrate to enjoy on the trail, leave the rice out. Next blog, we’ll talk about rehydrating rice for backpacking.

Sugar & Your DNA

Sunday afternoon, Mr. Jack hosted a mini backpacking show-n-tell in our backyard. Five guys & their gear. Tents filled the grass, sleeping pads & bags, stoves, filters — you get the idea. Since a non-backpacking girlfriend had dropped in for a spontaneous tea & pomegranate party, I missed most of the convention, but I did mingle a bit at the end to chat about backpacking food & find out what folks had carried/planned to carry in their bear cannisters.

And I heard the classic backpack defense of pop-tarts (fill in your own favorite sugary backpack treat): “Oh, it doesn’t matter, I burn it all off.”

But it does matter:

Researchers in Melbourne found that a human tissue cell, when given a one-off sugar hit, will carry a related chemical marker for weeks.

“We now know that [sugar] can have very acute effects, and those effects continue for up to two weeks later,” says Associate Professor Sam El-Osta, of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.

“These changes continue beyond the meal itself, and have the ability to alter natural metabolic responses to diet.”

On a personal note, after last week’s sugar rant, I amused myself by taking inventory of the sweeteners in my pantry:

  • 2 qts of honey from the backyard hive
  • pint of maple syrup
  • cuppa brown sugar that I bought for last year’s holiday baking & is now hard as a brick
  • 1/4 lb of xylitol
  • 5-gal sack of processed white sugar Mr. Jack uses in his humming bird feeders
  • 1 cp of apricot jam from a neighbor last Christmas
  • qt of black strap molasses

Very few of these sweeteners ever make it to the trail. Just the honey, in the food bars.

As Rob was leaving the gear convention Sunday, he asked when I would put the pease porridge recipe up on the blog & I promised next week.

That’s an amazingly simple & versatile hot dish that we ate & enjoyed for 24 days’ supper on the John Muir Trail. You’ll like it, too.

Green Food Bars: Easy Veggies on the Trail

Although I planned to comment on the bins of abandoned backpacking food donated by JMT thru-hikers at the re-supply sites of Red’s Meadow, Vermillion andMuir Ranch, that must wait. Because today I grocery shopped for the first time since coming home (how grateful we are for the abundant garden!) & discovered a “new” food bar at the Davis Food Co-op. Yes, I’ve since discovered that the Organic Food Bar company started in 2001, but I have missed out! I bought the Active Green version & ate it in the grocery aisle, pleased with the fresh flavor & chewy texture and not at all adverse to the dark green color. I bet it would take even better while actually backpacking!

OFB Active Green tastes remarkably like our longtime favorite food bar, Rebar, a bar made entirely & completely of raw, organic fruits & veggies. Nothing else added. While OFB is also a green bar, it includes some seeds, nuts and sprouts, as well as agave nectar (3d ingredient in the list). Rebar also makes a nut/seed bar, but since it contains soy, we haven’t been able to add it to our repertoire.

Both of these bars are free of gluten, soy, dairy & egg.

The bars have similar amounts of carbohydrates (38/34), sugars (20/22) & fiber (7/6). OFB, however, provides 10 extra grams of protein (12) with the added bonus of 13 g of fat to Rebar’s none, thanks to the almond butter listed as the first ingredient. OFB is also a bigger bar at 68 grams to Rebar’s 50.

The calories/ounce ratio (important to consider when planning one’s backpacking menu) looks like this:

  • OFB = 125 calories per oz
  • RB = 91.4 calories per oz

Since getting the “hungries” on the JMT trip (more on that another day), I’m interested in adding more fat to my food. Whether the OFB is the answer, or whether I’d be just as well off to throw another handful of nuts into my gorp and keep eating the 8-servings-of-veggies Rebar, is a question to explore. Wonder how many servings of veggies the OFB contains with all those sprouts?

After all, fat is easy to add on a backpack (nuts, anyone?). Fresh veggies on the trail? Not so much.

Red Elephant Eats: A new dining experience

Friday afternoon, around 2 p.m., Mr. Jack & I came off our John Muir Trail backpack the long way, skirting around Mt. Whitney (which we had topped last year to finish up our 8-day High Sierra hike) and dropping into Horseshoe Meadow. We had eaten all of our food save for a few cups of nuts-n-fruit, a handful of homemade beef jerky, 2 Rebars and 2 packages of our newly modified “pease porridge”– and yes, quite a bit of Brookbond Red Label tea left from the 24 days on the trail. One must never run out of tea, after all!

We ate everything but the tea & the porridge during the hitchhiking adventure that got us to our vehicle in Yosemite Valley’s Curry Village by 9 that night, and thanks to Jack’s determined driving, we slept in our own bed & had tea in our own kitchen the next morning. Tea in a real teacup! Out of a real teapot! And then of course, real breakfast instead of a quart ziplock bag of snacks to take one up the pass & down the valley to lunch at a creek.

Backpacking food must fulfill several functions for most folks: fuel, flavor & comfort being perhaps the top 3. We want our food to keep our bodies satisfied & energetic. We want to experience the 6 flavors of pungent, sweet, sour, bitter, astringent and salty as well as a variety of textures: crunchy, creamy, fluffy, dry, light, heavy, juicy, gooey, chewy, soft & crisp. We want familiar foods but we don’t want to be bored by our backpacking foods.

Exploring the balance of fat, carbohydrates, protein and fiber that can feed us effectively & efficiently is fascinating to me, whether on the trail, eating the food I’ve brought, or at home, considering and preparing the food to be eaten. As a long-time foodie and nutritional student, a cook, an eater, gardener, and reader, I look forward to using this blog to share and learn about the food choices we take on the trail and how to optimize our eats while backpacking.