With a little advance planning and the use of a dehydrator, it is simple to make healthy and satisfying meals to enjoy while backpacking. One of the best meals I ever ate in the backcountry was this chili recipe when we were in Isle Royale National Park hiking the Greenstone Ridge Trail. Served with pan fried corn cakes, clarified butter and honey, it was a filling and delicious meal which satisfied us all after a long day of hiking.
Backcountry Recipes: Chili Con Carne with Pan Fried Corn Cakes
Step 1: With backcountry recipes, I’ve found that I have more success with dehydrating foods when I dry each component separately and then combine during the rehydrating process. For preparing Backcountry Chili, I start by dehydrating ground beef, a simple process you can read how to do here. I make sure to heavily season the beef with chili powder, cayenne, cumin and pepper when I spread in the the dehydrator trays. Once the beef is dried, I package it in one pound (pre-dehydrated weight) units in quart size freezer bags.
Step 2: In my dehydrator’s trays, I spread canned crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes with green chilies, several kinds of beans and whole corn. When making backcountry recipes, I make sure to liberally season the tomatoes with cayenne, chili powder, garlic powder, onion flakes, and cumin as the dehydrating process can sometimes diminish flavors.
Step 3: Plugging the dehydrator in ( I use a Nesco 600-Watt Food Dehydrator), I turn my machine on and leave it alone checking it every few hours until the food I am drying has all moisture removed. The beans will be brittle and crumbly, the corn will be hard kernels, and the tomatoes will be leathery. If one component dries first, I simply remove that tray and let the other ingredients keep drying. The beans usually dry first and the tomatoes last. Once dry, I let the ingredients cool until they are at room temperature.
Step 4: Once all the components are dried and cooled, I package each ingredient in its own storage bag. I then take each bag and package them all together in one gallon size freezer bag. In this larger bag, I also add the ingredients for the corn cakes- a package of jiffy corn bread mix (I remove the inner package from the box and just include the instructions to save space), a tablespoon of dehydrated eggs ( I use OvaEasy Powdered Whole Egg), and powdered milk (I use Nestle Carnation Instant Nonfat Dry Milk) and also a hunk of cheddar to shred over the cooked chili. All of this goes in the gallon bag which I number based on the day we are going to eat it. In our “backcountry pantry” I always have clarified butter and small travel packs of honey which will be also used with this meal. That’s it for the preparation!
Step 5: When I plan to eat this meal at camp, I start by adding small amounts of water to the individual bags to start the rehydration process while we set up camp. I then start to combine the ingredients over the stove (we love our MSR Pocket Rocket) in the same way I would chili at home. I start by adding small amounts of water to the ground beef in the pot on the stove. Don’t add too much water as once you add it, it can’t be removed so start small and add a little at a time. It is amazing how quickly it will turn into the consistency of the ground beef we are used to cooking at home. If you have vegetarians in your group, you could keep this separate and add at the end of the cooking process. I then add the corn, beans and tomatoes until it all comes together, letting it simmer for a bit so the flavors combine. Your chili is done! I serve this with shredded cheddar.
Step 6: For the corn cakes, I reconstitute the eggs and milk in a Nalgene bottle and then prepare the mix as directed. Heating clarified butter over your camp skillet, I fry these the way pancakes are made. They are crispy and delicious when cooked this way. I serve these with a dollop of clarified butter and honey. They go together perfectly with the spicy chili.
That’s it! It is not difficult to prepare this meal and it is one of my favorite backcountry recipes, and I promise that your camp mates will love this meal.
I’d love to hear about your favorite backcountry meals!