With the tiny kitchen in our 16 ft. Shasta equipped with an electric burner, an electric skillet, and its original propane-powered three burner stove and small oven, I have more cooking options than I even had some years ago in the bachelorette pad that I loved so much.
Add to that the use of a tiny portable propane camping cooktop and an inverter generator that can not only power our little camper, but that is light and quiet enough to haul on tent-camping trips for the electric burner — and we are in no danger of going hungry any time soon.
Yet, some of our favorite meals to prepare and enjoy are those which don’t require any such kitchen elements at all. I am talking about real CAMP FOOD. Food that is made outside of a “kitchen” — made beneath the big open sky.
Of course we still utilize much modernity even in our more rugged recipes — buying foods like rice which has already been processed, or storing groceries in ice-packed coolers, for instance. But many of our meals remain a far cry from the days of ripping the cellophane off a box of chicken nuggets and tossing them into the microwave.
But toss those nuggets (or anything, for that matter) into a cast-iron pan and throw it on a fire and then we’ll talk.
So, here are a few of our favorite things to eat that don’t require traditional kitchen preparation.
Along with eating just about anything that is fire-blazed in cast iron, I will eat just about anything wrapped up in crunchy, watery, lettuce. I don’t really eat much bread anymore, because most things that I like on bread, I love on lettuce. Turkey or ham or any meat, Swiss or Provolone or any cheese, and honey mustard or mayo or any dressing — it’s all good on lettuce.
And with limited space for keeping things cold — the Shasta’s mini fridge or an ice-filled cooler — lettuce wraps work well with many canned food items and vegetables that don’t need to be immediately kept in cold storage. Canned tuna, light mayo, and fresh onion are great as a wrap with both lettuce or tortilla, as is canned chicken, canned corn, and ranch dressing.
We make a lot of mixes that are also great heated as soup or in the skillet on the fire, with varying arrangements of canned chicken, corn, black beans, diced tomatoes, and fresh peppers and onions, and I love wrapping it all up in a fat piece of lettuce, either warm on the spot or as cold leftovers the next day.
We looove eating sushi in the woods. And it is surprisingly camplife friendly. Seaweed wraps come in a small, easy to store container, and the wraps, rice, and vegetable do not need to be refrigerated — only the crab meat and cream cheese need to be kept cold. Once the roll is made, it’s nice to let it chill for a while on ice before eating, and leftovers require cold storage, but we don’t usually have leftovers when we make sushi…
The go-to cucumber or avocado is always delicious in a sushi roll, and avocado doesn’t require refrigeration before use, but we have recently discovered the green pepper we use so much for other things is a great replacement vegetable in our sushi roll. Something about its color, texture, and juiciness makes it just as enjoyable to us as the cucumber, but with a longer and easier storage life.
Sean is the major sushi-lover in the house, and has nearly perfected the art of sushi-making. He can make a roll or two in the same time it would take to make a sandwhich, and enjoys making them often. Which means I’m a lucky gal.
And if we run out of seaweed wraps before the other goodies, or if I’m not really feeling the seaweed (my least favorite part of the sushi experience, to be honest), the rice, crab, green pepper, and Yum Yum sauce (can’t do sushi without the Yum Yum sauce) still taste wonderful together mixed up in a bowl or lettuce wrap.
But the rice? Doesn’t the rice have to be cooked?
The rice does have to be cooked, and back in our apartment in Denver, we would wait up to 30 minutes for the Japanese sticky rice to simmer on the stove before it was ready to use.
But now, we go with instant rice, and with solar cooking, we let the sun do the work.
Solar Cooking — Anybody Can Do It
With certain foods, that is. Foods like pastas, beans, and rice are ideal for solar cooking because they are less likely to contain bacteria, whereas something like meat would need to be cooked at high temperatures with direct heat from a flame or stove to destroy the bacteria before consumption.
That said, many uncooked grains like Sean’s beloved Jasmine Rice wouldn’t cook in the sun, because the grain is too dense to be penetrated by the water at the solar temperatures. Instant rice, however, has been pre-processed and already cooked (there’s that modernity), thus easier and quicker to soften by water and cook in the sun.
Using roughly the same ratios as suggested for cooking the rice in the microwave — two cups of water and two cups of rice, give or take water as needed — we mix the rice and water in a microwave-safe bowl, cover it with a lid, and place it outside in the sun.
About twenty minutes later we have fully cooked and steaming white rice ready for sushi rolls or whatever else. Sometimes a little bit of butter and garlic is all that I need to add before eating the rice by itself.
Throw It On The Fire
With cooked rice on hand, every meal easily becomes heartier. Soup heated in a can or on the fire can be poured over a bowl of rice for some added thickness (broccoli and cheese is my favorite), or cooking it all in the cast iron skillet makes a yummy campfire casserole. And with many evenings at around 10,000 ft calling for wool socks, and a crisp fire — even in the summer months — a warm supper always hits the spot.
And I wasn’t exaggerating about eating anything from an iron skillet over an open flame — food truly tastes better this way. I’m not ashamed to say that throwing a leftover Taco Bell burrito into the skillet over the fire was one of our best ideas yet. Or those little spring rolls in the frozen food section in the grocery store? Fried in some coconut oil, butter, or sesame oil — you have yourself a real glamping treat. I’m coming to find that most things that can be fried, baked, boiled, or microwaved can be made over a fire.
We even witnessed a neighboring camper bake an entire lasagna over his open fire, and I only wish I had thought of that before.
So with having about five different ways to make a grilled cheesed sandwich or cup of coffee, there are many reasons to have some favorite rugged recipes in the lineup. Having the Shasta in an area with no electrical hookups, using the generator or propane for charging batteries or heating hot water rather than cooking, or tent camping in an area dry enough to enforce a fire ban, are a few instances where low maintenance meals are ideal.
Plus we just enjoy preparing food this way. For many people who love to camp, the creative cooking is their favorite part of the experience.
I think for us, our cooking accompanies the simplifying of our lives — our minimalism has sort of extended to our eating habits. Though not rid of them completely, we eat less and less processed foods, and I for one haven’t really had milk or dairy aside from cheese (which I’ll never let go of) in the last six months or so, and I believe I feel better for it.
Like I said, too, there’s something about making food outside of a traditional kitchen — out in the open air. Preparing meals that, in a way, I imagine my ancestors or the people on this land before me used to prepare them — with the aid of earthly elements like fire and the sun.
Is that cheesy? I did say I’d never let it go…