Sarah Adams dissents on the usual trail foods. Gorp is too heavy, she says, and packaged backpackers' foods are gummy and over-sweetened. At the end of a long day of hiking, you want a hot meal.
As one who often cooks for a group of women who like to hike Southern California's mountains, she has two strict criteria for trail food: It should be light to carry and not need long cooking. In short, a quick-cooking grain product such as bulgur, couscous, quick-cooking rice or angel hair pasta.
"Usually, for a weekend hike," she says, "you go to the trail head on Friday night, so that dinner is no problem. In the morning, we have instant oatmeal packets, which you can get in a supermarket. You just add hot water; we use the hot water left over from making coffee. Or we have granola and powdered milk.
"For lunch, we eat on the trail without stopping. We carry cheese and salami or fruit or crackers. We hike to where we're going and have dinner there." Breakfast and lunch the second day are a repeat story.
Dinner on the trail is the hot meal. "We don't hike anywhere we have to pack in our own water," Ms. Adams says. "We use local spring or stream water. Of course, you have to use a water purifier everywhere these days. We filter the water into a nylon bag.
"Some people cook pasta, put it into plastic bags and carry it with them, but I think that's pretty heavy. I prefer to cook it on the spot. Angel hair cooks in about three minutes."
Flavoring for the rice or pasta need not add a lot of weight to your pack. Herbs and spices are good. For one- or two-day hikes, you can carry fresh herbs in a plastic bag, and it's easy to find space for an onion or a head of garlic in your pack.
"You can make a quick sauce from sun-dried tomatoes, soaked five minutes, cooked with onions and spices," says Ms. Adams. "Basil is a nice addition. Jerky is too salty for eating on the trail - you have to drink a lot of water with it - but it works as a flavoring in rice, couscous or any other starch.
"On the trail, I prefer dried fruit to gorp. There are wonderful freeze-dried snacks like apple and banana chips you can get in a supermarket. In our group, we all carry carrots and celery just because we like the taste of something fresh. Not lettuce or cabbage, though. They're heavy and they dry out."
Her group isn't particularly into sweets, but some of the women carry oatmeal cookies, biscotti or even chocolate. "Chocolate melts," Ms. Adams admits, "but it resolidifies by dinner time."
Just in time for dessert.
BACKPACKER'S PECAN PILAF
3 cups chicken broth (can make with water and bouillon cubes)
1 cup quick-cooking brown rice
13/4 cups bulgur
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup mint leaves, chopped
1 cup quartered pecans
1 cup currants
1 bunch green onions, sliced
Grated peel of 2 oranges
1 tablespoon orange juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
This dish features currants instead of raisins because Ms. Adams feels raisins tend to overpower a dish. Any leftovers may be stored in plastic bags and eaten the next day. Ms. Adams carries a zester for the orange and minces the herbs with scissors. Be sure to buy quick-cooking or instant brown rice; if you don't, the cooking time will increase to 35 or 40 minutes. Follow the package directions on the rice; ours called for 1 cup liquid to 1 cup rice.
Bring 1 cup broth to boil in a pot. Add quick-cooking rice and cook until water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 5 minutes.
In separate pot, bring 2 cups broth to boil and cook bulgur about 2 minutes. Mix rice and bulgur. Add parsley, mint, pecans, currants, green onions, grated orange peel, orange juice, olive oil and pepper to taste and toss. Serve hot or cold.
Makes 7 to 8 servings. Each of 8 servings: 314 calories; 300 milligrams sodium; 0 cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 47 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 1.51 grams fiber.
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