a guest article by Jake “Don´t Panic” Down
“Cooking” without cooking
With experimentation we have found a way to retain the weight savings of dehydrated food in a no-cook manner. Many freeze-dried foods and other fast cooking foods can be reconstituted by soaking in cold water. Instant mashed potatoes, instant rice and couscous are the easiest starches to “cook” with the no-cook method. Although instant noodles like cup o’ noodle or Ramen will work, the texture ends up being unappetizing and we have found that we were not able to enjoy them for long. With a starch making the bulk of the meal, adding a legume or other protein source can improve the flavor and the filling power of the meal. Our most common forms are: dehydrated refried beans, instant split pea soup, instant black bean soup, a foil pack of tuna or chicken for meat eaters or vegetarian dehydrated chili.
Keeping the flavors fresh is one of the most challenging parts of no-cook cooking. Having a full arsenal of spices helps. Among other things, we have used chili powder, curry powder, cajun spices, paprika, garlic powder, powdered milk, taco season, nutritional yeast, ramen flavor packets, chicken/beef/veggie bullion, hot sauce (Sriracha is our favorite), salsa packets, sweet and sour sauce, and soy sauce. Adding any type of oil will improve the flavor for most people. Olive oil is most commonly used among hikers, although different oils will provide different health benefits or flavors. One could try sunflower oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, or grape seed oil.
Since everything is rehydrated in cold water, the textures of most of the dishes end up very similar. There are also ways to add a little crunch and flavor complexity to the meal. Crumbling up a chip or cracker into a meal right before eating can provide a much need variety. Corn chips come in an amazing number of variations, from plain Fritos to Doritos in flavors such as “Nacho Cheese”, “Cool Ranch”, and “Jalapeno Fire”. There are even more different choices of crackers. A little bit of creativity can turn up even more options: Corn Nuts, almonds or other nuts, pretzels, or even cold cereal (preferably unsweetened).
The actual process of putting the meal together is simple. We each use an empty peanut butter jar to soak our food. We combine water with the ingredient that will take longest to reconstitute at our last break before dinner and let it soak as we hike. When we stop, we add any additional ingredients, top the jar with water, give it a shake and let it sit for a minute or two and it’s ready to eat. Cleanup is a breeze too. All we do is put a little water in the container give it a shake and dump it out (in higher use areas we drink the water to lower our impact).
The only part that is a little tricky is figuring out how long each item needs to soak. With most ingredients, there is no way to soak them too long and to find out the minimum amount of time needed is just a mater of trial and error. We prefer 45-60 minutes for rice or couscous, 30 minutes or more for beans, and just a couple of minutes for mashed potatoes. We add any crunchy thing to our meal as we eat it to ensure that they don’t become soggy.
A Sample No-Cook Menu
I ate a very regular diet on this hike. We put together resupply boxes before the start of the hike and ate pretty much the same thing every day. We found foods that we never got sick and had a menu that looked something like this:
Breakfast: Power-shake with powdered milk, protein powder, instant oatmeal, and instant coffee.
Snack 1: Handfuls of breakfast cereal from a bag
Snack 2: Snickers and peanut butter crackers
Lunch: Bagel sandwich made with cheese and Hummus or a lighter option would be soaked Ramen for those who can stand the texture.
Snack 3: Almonds or granola or an energy bar
Dinner: Dehydrated refried beans, instant mashed potatoes and Frito cracker.
Dessert: Oreo Cookies, or dried fruit for the more health conscious
A final word
When traveling no cook with people who cook, having to smell the aromas of their cooked meals can be difficult when you are not going to eat a warm meal yourself, however this is more than offset by being able to eat before them! By starting the preparation of the no-cook meal before stopping for the night, your meal can be done within minutes of arriving at your campsite. In fact, in many instances we were able to finish our first meal and be on to second dinner before our cooking companions were able to have their first bite.
If these reasons are not enough consider this, eating only cold food on trail makes that first hamburger and milkshake (or your town meal of choice) taste all that much better when you get off trail!