All good backpacking meals need a base such as rice, quinoa or pasta. These items provide much-needed carbohydrates and calories after crushing some serious trail miles, plus they taste nice. Here’s what you need to do to make it happen.
For a list and description of the dehydrating equipment that I am using, please visit my special post on the subject here.
Apologies if this post seems a little dry (pun intended), but it is literally about cooking dried goods only to be dehydrated again. More colorful recipes will follow shortly.
First off, I want to say that I spent an entire day prepping and dehydrating these “bases” for my backpacking meals, and I’m exhausted. My windows are steamed over and my dog is worried about my sanity. So why go to the trouble when rice, quinoa and pasta are already dry? Because normally they take forever to cook, usually with a minimum of 20 minutes, and that’s a lifetime when you’re in the wilderness and have been hiking all day. When I get to camp, I’m starving and dinner needs to be ready right now. If I sit around waiting for rice or pasta to boil, I end up snacking on junk food and then kill my appetite.
The solution is to cook your bases, then dehydrate them. This brings their cook times down from 20 minutes to 5, and also decreases their cold soaking times if that’s something you’re into instead of using a stove. I did them in big batches so I wouldn’t have to do them again for a very long time, then stored them in mason jars and zip top bags. I recommend doing the same, but ultimately it’s up to you.
Let’s get to it.
Rice is a staple the world over, and comes in many varieties. It is also gluten-free, so if you have a wheat sensitivity or allergy, then you’ll want to stock up on this for your backpacking meals.
I’m using a ridiculously big bag of basmati rice that I scored from a family member who is doing some low carb diet and didn’t want it anymore. Awesome for me; it’s going to a good cause. You can use any variety of rice you would like, including brown rice.
First of all, I give the rice a good rinse under cold tap water. This is to get rid of any starches in the rice. Normally, one might want a sticky rice to accompany their meal. However, no starches make dehydrating it much easier. Using a fine mesh strainer, I rinse the rice in several batches until the water runs from cloudy to clear.
I’m cooking the rice in one go, in a large steel pot. I followed the cooking instructions on the bag, and I would encourage you to do the same. I DID NOT add any oil, an important step to skip even if the instructions say to do so. Oil will hamper the ability for the rice to dry properly in the dehydrator. I also did not add any salt, as I will add it to my meals once I start assembling them.
Once your rice is cooked, you’ll need to go about rinsing it again to free it of any remaining starch and to help cool it. This will also stop it from cooking even further and becoming too soft.
I cooled it initially with an ice bath within the pot to stop it from cooking further; do this by adding ice and cold water. Then I began rinsing it again in small quantities in the fine mesh strainer. If there’s clumps of rice, separate them while rinsing (be careful as they may be hot still). Let the rice drain thoroughly, then transfer it to the dehydrator trays.
Once all your rice is rinsed, cooled and drained, and it’s on the dehydrator trays, spread it out evenly and thinly. Place the trays in the dehydrator.
I chose not to use parchment paper on the trays themselves, and instead put a piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the dehydrator to catch any rogue grains that fall through the mesh trays.
For white rice, dry at 130 degrees farenheit (55 C) for 6 hours. If possible, check on the rice halfway through and give it a stir to break up any clumps. You’ll know it’s done when the rice is firm and translucent. If it’s not done, dry it for another hour or so.
Brown rice and wild rice will take a bit longer, anywhere from 6 to 8 hours. Brown rice will also look translucent when done drying, and wild rice should snap easily when bent.
Dehydrating Quinoa (and a bonus whole grain blend)
My quinoa that I’m using is Kirkland brand from Costco, and the bag I’m cooking up was more than half full (about 3 lbs worth). It is also gluten-free.
The whole grain blend is a brand called Tru Roots, and is also from Costco. The ingredients on it states that it’s organic and contains good things like sprouted brown rice, sprouted red rice, quinoa and wild rice. I had about 2 cups (400 grams) left in the bag. Again, a gluten-free product.
I’m putting both in the dehydrator at the same time as they have the same drying times and temperature.
The prep for both the quinoa and whole grain blend is the same as the rice; rinse and repeat in a fine mesh strainer until the water runs from cloudy to clear. Cook the two products according to their packaging (and separately, obviously).
The quinoa puffs up quite a bit, and I almost felt overwhelmed by the amount that I ended up with. Once it was done cooking on the stove top, I did another ice bath and rinsed it some more under cold water. Drain it thoroughly in the strainer by stirring it as it sits.
I decided to do a bit of an experiment with the quinoa, in that I dehydrated half using parchment lined trays and the other half without (just on the mesh trays). The quinoa grains are much smaller than the rice, so I thought that using the parchment would help in saving it from falling through the mesh trays as it dries. However, with the parchment down, you have to check on it and rotate often so it gets proper air circulation.
The verdict? I prefer without the parchment. If you just line the bottom of the dehydrator with a piece of the parchment paper, it catches the loose pieces (just like I did with the rice). Without the paper, the quinoa dried faster and more evenly, and I didn’t have to fuss with it as much during the dehydration process.
If you decide to use parchment paper, spread the quinoa out in a very thin layer, no thicker than 1/4 of an inch. Check often and flip to help with even drying.
Dehydrate the quinoa at 130 degrees farenheit (55 C) for 7 hours, stirring halfway through and breaking up any clumps with your fingers.
As for the whole grain blend, follow the cooking instructions on the package and rinse in cold water once it’s done. Spread out in the same way as the quinoa, on the dehydrator trays, either with or without parchment paper. I went without and it was fine.
Dehydrate at 130 degrees farenheit (55 C) for 7 to 8 hours, stirring halfway through and breaking up any clumps.
Both of these still may come out clumpy in the end, but don’t fret. Once they’re dry all the way through, they’ll feel crunchy and will break apart easily.
The pasta I’m using is an organic brand called Garofalo, and is also from (you guessed it) Costco. I’m cooking up two 500 gram packages, as I think this will be plenty to get me through several meals.
I’m cooking the pasta according to the directions on the package (I’m beginning to feel like a broken record here), omitting the pinch of salt. Remember, don’t add any oil to the water while cooking!
Once the pasta is al dente, give it a good rinse with cold water in a colander and break up any noodles that are stuck together. Drain well.
Spread out on the mesh dehydrator trays, making sure that the individual noodles aren’t touching. Dehydrate on 130 degrees farenheit (55 C) for 4 hours. Pasta will be firm throughout when it is done drying.
If you’re using a whole wheat or gluten-free pasta, the drying time will be longer. It will take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours depending on the product you’re using. Try drying at the minimal time of 4 hours, checking for dryness, and then continuing for longer if it’s not done.
Store your rice, quinoa and pasta in glass jars (mason jars), zip top bags, or plastic food storage bins in a dry, cool place such as a pantry. I like to throw in those handy little silicone packs if I have them; the very ones that come in pill bottles and shoe boxes. I always label and date my products, to help with proper rotation and to get an idea if something is still edible or not.
Making Backpacking Meals with These Bases
Rehydrating times will be about the same for all of these, about 5 minutes. However much you decide to use, just keep in mind that the amount will double or triple once it is cooked. For example, 1/2 cup (100 grams) dry rice will triple when water is added, creating 300 grams of cooked rice; the same goes for quinoa. Pasta on the other hand, will double in size.
I rarely measure water to cook my meal with when I’m out in the wilderness, and instead just use the one part to two parts rule: one part rice to two parts water. Or I just eyeball it and put the meal in my cook pot, and cover it with water. Bring to a boil, then let it sit in a pot cozy for 5 minutes until it’s cooked through.
If cold soaking is your jam, then you already know that it will take a few hours for your dinner to be ready to eat. I’ve only done it a couple of times, and honestly, it’s not for me. I like my meals hot and less on the cold and slimy side. If this doesn’t bother you, then you deserve my applause; you are a true soldier. For those who are unaware of the cold soaking method of cooking, it is essentially this: you put your food in a screw top container, add water, bury it in your pack, hike all day and then by evening time, your food has soaked up all the water and is therefore “cooked”. This is supposed to reduce weight by defeating the need for a stove and fuel cannister.
The choice is yours.
As for what to use these bases in, it’s time to get creative! I’m currently working on some recipes in which the rice, quinoa and pasta will be featured. Until I get around posting some of those recipes, I would suggest making some curry stir fries to accompany your rice, or perhaps a pesto sauce for your pasta. Add a packet of tuna and voilà, you have a complete meal.
Try combining quick cook oats with some quinoa and rice for a more flavorful and textured porridge instead of just eating your run of the mill oatmeal. Add dried fruit and brown sugar and now you have a delicious breakfast to start your day with.
At the moment, I’m busy harvesting my garden and shopping for deals at the market for my next project: dehydrating veggies and fruits.
Do you have a favorite backpacking meal? Fire off in the comments! And until next time, happy trails (and eat well).