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Quinoa – A Superfood for the Trail

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Back in my vegetarian days I often turned to quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) as an important part of my diet. Quinoa is the seed of the goosefoot plant which was prized by the ancient Incas. It is a complete protein and a good source of the amino acids. Quinoa is also gluten free.

Quinoa isn’t just for vegetarians or people who can’t have gluten; it is a healthy and satisfying alternative to meat that everyone can enjoy – even the meat eaters among you. It makes an excellent protein for backpackers because you can cook it ahead of time, dehydrate it and rehydrate it on the trail. My favorite brands are Bob’s Red Mill (Organic) and Indian Harvest. You can find quinoa in the organic foods or vegetarian sections of larger grocery stores or at health food stores.

This food is also extremely versatile. Red or the more traditional white quinoa is a great substitute for small pasta such as orzo, rice or couscous. It can be eaten as a breakfast cereal in place of oatmeal or cream of wheat. Use whole, cooked quinoa in baked goods such as bread or muffins and use it uncooked to add crunch to bars. Quinoa flour can be used to replace some of the all-purpose flour in many recipes. Red quinoa is a little more flavorful than the white variety. It has a bit of a firmer texture and nutty earthiness. White quinoa is milder. Both varieties can be toasted to enhance their flavor. Another interesting use for quinoa is in salads or in place of bulgur wheat in tabouleh. Quinoa flakes are like oatmeal and can be used as a quick hot cereal or in place of oatmeal in your apple crisp.

Red Quinoa © Laurie Ann March

“So, how do I cook it?” you ask.

If the package of the quinoa doesn’t specifically state that it is pre-rinsed your first step will be to rinse the seeds. This is important because the seeds have a naturally occurring coating of saponin, which tastes bitter. The saponin residue is easily removed by rinsing. Place the seeds in a sieve under running water for about 3 minutes or until the water runs clear. Let the quinoa drain after rinsing. Toast the quinoa in a dry frying pan, preferably non-stick, over medium heat until the seeds start to jump or pop in the pan. Let the toasted quinoa cool and then place it in a mason jar for storage until you are ready to make your meal. You don’t have to toast the quinoa, though I prefer to do so because I find that the process enhances the flavor.

While you can cook quinoa plain and dehydrate it before your trip, I tend to only do it this way for salads or when using whole quinoa as a hot cereal. I’d rather cook the meal at home and then dehydrate the entire dish. Then I merely have to rehydrate and reheat the meal at camp.

Cooked Plain Quinoa © Laurie Ann March

The following recipes are some of our camp favorites.

Quinoa Bars
from A Fork in the Trail

 Makes 10 servings
These bars have a nice crunch from the quinoa and a tropical twist with the combination of orange and coconut.

2 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup quinoa

2 egg whites

1/4 cup honey

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon pure orange extract

3/4 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup wheat germ or oat bran

1/4 cup shredded coconut, toasted

At Home

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a 9 x 9 inch pan with parchment paper so that the paper goes up the sides of the pan as well. Melt the butter and spread it on the parchment paper. Rinse the quinoa in a fine strainer under cold water for at least 3 minutes. In a nonstick frying pan toast the quinoa, stirring frequently. As soon as some of the seeds start to pop remove the quinoa from the pan and set it aside to cool.

Beat the egg whites in a large bowl. Melt the butter and add it to the egg whites. Mix in the honey, brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and orange extracts. Add the rolled oats, wheat germ, and the toasted quinoa. Stir until well combined. Pour the mixture into the pan and spread it into the corners. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the center is set and the edges are browned. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool. When slab is cool, turn pan upside down and dump bars onto a large cutting board. With a sharp knife cut the slab into 10 bars. Individually wrap the bars in waxed paper and put them all together in a ziplock freezer bag. Store the bars in the freezer, for up to three months, until you’re ready to use them.


To make the parchment paper easier to manage, place a little butter in the bottom of your pan and then place the parchment paper in the pan. The butter underneath will hold the paper in place, making it easier for you to butter the top of the paper.

Quinoa and Spinach Soup

from my book:

A Fork in the Trail


Dehydration Time: 7–12 hours
Makes 4–6 servings
This soup reminds me of chowder. You can substitute the carrots, corn and potatoes with other vegetables such as snap peas and parsnips. It’s nice garnished with toasted tortilla wedges or pita bread.
3/4 cup quinoa
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced

1 small jalapeño pepper, minced

Kosher salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon cumin

2/3 cup baby red potatoes, peeled and diced

1/2 cup carrot, peeled and diced

5 cups vegetable stock

1 1/2 cups frozen corn

3 cups fresh baby spinach

1/4 cup lime juice

1/8 cup fresh or 1 teaspoon dried cilantro

1/2 cup green onions, chopped

1/2 cup feta cheese (optional)

At Home

Place the quinoa in a fine sieve and rinse for at least 3 minutes to remove the bitter coating. Drain and set aside. Put the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and jalapeño pepper and sauté for a few moments, being careful not to brown the garlic. Add salt, pepper, cumin, potatoes, carrots, and quinoa. Sauté until the quinoa starts to make popping noises. Pour the vegetable stock in the pan and simmer for 12 minutes. Then add the frozen corn and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes more. Add the spinach, lime juice, cilantro, and green onions and cook until the spinach wilts. Crumble the feta and add it to the soup. Remove the soup from the heat and allow it to cool.

Measure the soup and write this measurement on a sticky note. Spread the stew on lined dehydrator trays and dry for 7 to 12 hours or until no moisture remains. Put the soup and the sticky note in a ziplock freezer bag.
At Camp
Add enough boiling water to the soup ingredients in a pot to equal the measurement on your sticky note. Be sure to account for and add your dried ingredients to the rehydration container prior to adding the water. You can always add more water if you need to. Let rehydrate for 20 minutes or until fully hydrated. Once the soup has rehydrated, heat it through over a stove and serve. If the soup is too thick, add a little more water.


Even though there is a jalapeño pepper in this soup it is not spicy. If you want to make it hotter, add some of the seeds from the pepper or use a bit more pepper.

Feta cheese is usually packed in brine and therefore salty. If you decide to use it in this recipe you may want to reduce the amount of the salt you add accordingly.


Carrot Cake Quinoa Flakes

from my upcoming book: Another Fork in the Trail

Dehydration Time: 5-7 hours
Makes 2 servings

This hot cereal recipe has the comforting flavor of carrot cake and the gentle flavor of green tea combined with the protein-packed nutrition of quinoa flakes. If you like, you can substitute oats for the quinoa, however, if you lead a gluten-free lifestyle ensure that the oats are packaged in a gluten-free facility. I usually rehydrate the carrots and raisins while I have my first cup of tea.

3 tablespoons carrots, dehydrated measurement

2 teaspoons gunpowder green tea, ground measurement

2/3 cup quinoa flakes

2 to 3 tablespoons powdered soy milk

2 tablespoons sultana raisins

2 teaspoons maple or brown sugar to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped (optional)

1 tablespoon shredded sweetened coconut (optional)

1 1/2 to 2 cups water

At Home

Grate a carrot on the fine side of a box grater and dry on lined dehydrator trays for 5 to 7 hours or until dry and leathery. Grind the green tea to a fine powder in a spice grinder. Place the quinoa flakes in a medium ziplock freezer bag with the green tea and soy milk powder. Put the raisins and dried carrots in a ziplock freezer bag and place that bag in with the quinoa flakes. Mix the spices and sugar together and wrap in a small piece of plastic wrap. Then do the same with the nuts, and coconut if you are using them. Put the bundles in the bag with the quinoa flakes.

At Camp

Remove the bundles from the bag of quinoa flakes and set aside. Add enough boiling water to the carrots and raisins to barely cover them and let rehydrate for 10 to 15 minutes. When the carrots have rehydrated, boil 1 1/2 to 2 cups of water depending on the desired consistency. Add the quinoa flakes, spice and sugar mixture, carrots and the raisins to the pot, cover, and let sit for about 2 minutes. Stir in the nuts and coconut if you are using them. Divide into 2 servings.


I like to grate several carrots when making this recipe. That way I have extra for this, soup and trail salads.

If you don’t have a spice grinder just use an inexpensive coffee grinder and dedicate it to grinding spices.

To save time in the morning, start rehydrating the carrots and raisins the night before using cool water and a leak proof container.


Top 10 Backpacking Meals

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Making your own backpacking meals can be an easy, cost effective way to enjoy the outdoors, your favorite foods, and learn new skills. The main challenge that overwhelms some backpackers is balancing weight, easy preparation, nutrition, and perish-ability with great taste. Discover 10 favorite backpacking recipes.

A few years back after getting tired of eating expensive prepackaged meals on the trail my wife and I decided to start experimenting with making our own. Making your own meals can be an easy cost effective way to enjoy the outdoors, you’re favorite foods, and learn new skills. The main challenge that overwhelms some backpackers is balancing weight, easy preparation, nutrition, and perish-ability with great taste. My recommendation for planning and preparing your own meals is to select some recipes below then be creative and substituting your favorite ingredients. As you gain confidence and experience you can apply principles to your favorite foods. Here are my top 10 favorite meals when I’m on the trail and reasons why I like them:

1. Oatmeal and Blueberries for Breakfast

Why I like it: Lightweight and easy to carry, fast and easy to prepare (just add hot water) especially for a warm breakfast which helps retain energy, nutritious and tastes good. I especially like hot oatmeal on summit days when mountaineering or spending time in the Arctic. When waking up early I don’t have a lot of prep time and can get ready while the water’s boiling. Having something warm at 3AM on a cold morning also helps retain energy for the climb rather than the body wasting it on digestion (body heating up something cold before digestion system kicks in) and staying warm.

2 packets serve 1:
¼ cup of dried blueberries
¼ cup of crushed walnuts
4 packets of instant oatmeal or about 170 grams or just under 1 cup of oatmeal
You can also substitute dried cranberries, strawberries, chocolate chips, or add other nuts.

At home:

Combine blueberries and walnuts in own zip lock.

In camp:

Follow instructions on package. Add water to individual cups or bowls of oatmeal, stir and mix. Add additional water as needed. Add blueberries and walnuts.

2. Cashew Chicken Noodles

Why I like it: Taste good, lots of carbs, and ramen noodles are cheap.

Serves 2:

Curry Noodles Serves one: 6 oz.
2 serving of Asian cellophane noodles (you can also use several top ramen packaged noodles)
¼ cup Jerky or 6 oz. of packaged chicken (found in tuna section of store)
¼ cup dehydrated mixed veggies
1 Tbs. curry you can also use curry paste and avoid some of the spices below.
1/2 tsp of cumin
½ tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 Tbs. coconut powder
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons of cashews
2 tablespoons of pre-chopped cilantro (optional)

Note if your short on spices you can also use the flavorings in the ramen packages, although I prefer to use my own.

At Home:

Combine all the seasonings and coconut powder in one container.

On trail add about 1 ½ cups boiling water to baggie. Mix it around and let it
sit for 10 minutes, or until everything is soft. Add cashews and cilantro before serving.

3. Cuoscous and Tempeh

Why I like it: Easy to prepare, lightweight, packed with energy.

Serves 4

1-2 cup of couscous (about 1/2 cup per person)
2 carrots chopped
2 stalks of celery
1 cup of cherry tomatoes
1 teaspoon of curry seasoning
Couple pinches of paprika, salt, pepper, oregano.
1 teaspoon of olive oil.
8-12 oz. of Tempe (leave in package till ready to prepare)

At home:

Chop the vegetables and mix spices into their own zip locks. Keep Tempeh in sealed container and freeze till your ready to pack.

On the trail:

Add oil, vegetables, to pot over medium heat for 5 min, remove from pot and add enough water for couscous (refer to package instructions) then boil the water, add the tempeh and turn down the heat, boil for 2 more minutes. Add couscous, spices, and veggies to boiled water, mix, cover and let sit for 5 minutes.

4. Mediterranean delight

Why I like it? Tasty, very little field prep and cleaning involved, hummus is a good source of protein and nutritious. Although this takes some home preparation (cutting the veggies) you can forgo carrying a stove or fuel on shorter trips. Because of the space of fresh veggies I tend to plan this meal on the first or 2nd day of the trip.

Serves 4:

1 cup of Powdered Hummus

2 medium size zip locks of fresh veggies (baby carrots, cut celery, cut bell peppers, radishes, or olives)

1-2 packages of Pita Bread (about 2-3 pita’s per person)

Optional cooked sausage (for meat lovers, can heat on a stick next to a camp fire)

At home:

Pre-wash, dry, and pre-cut the veggies. Measure and pack the hummus (adjust portion for party size) in its own zip lock (large enough to add water to later) and write down how much water to add on the zip lock.

On the trail:

Follow instructions for dehydrated humus. Add the correct amount of cold PURIFIED water to the zip lock, close, and mix well. Let sit for 5-10 minutes and it’s ready to eat with pita and veggies.

5. Ant and Dandelion burrito

Why I like it: In a time when most of us are not in tune with where our food comes from, this will help you get close to nature, overcome food aversions (if you can eat bugs you can eat almost anything), practice survival skills, and it’s packed with high energy protein not to mention the cool factor for impressing others in your group or at least giving them something to talk about. Most of all it tastes pretty good. Although you don’t have to carry a protein source the cons are you can spend extra time looking for your food source, need to consider your environment, not recommended if arriving in camp near dark, and you might not be able to procure enough ants. Note: For inexperienced survivors in the outdoors insects and fish are your best protein source.

8 Burrito shells

12 oz package of shredded cheese

6 oz of salsa (if you don’t want to carry a jar put in a zip lock-the spicier and higher the citrus (lime) content the less perishable it’ll be)

1-2 plateful of dandelion or wild mustard leaves (make sure you’ve identified these and/or other edible plants)

4 handfuls of ants or ant larvae (1/2 handful per burrito more if you can procure it)

In the field, on the trail keep a small bag easily accessible and as you pass dandelions, wild mustard, or other edible plants as your getting close to your campsite keep an eye out for dead stumps or ant mounds. I prefer the rotted stumps cause they’re easy to spot, there’s plenty in most Pacific Northwest forests, and almost always contain a plethora of ants or larvae (even in winter). Kick, rip, or pry the stump till you expose the ants. Use a stick to scoop them up, place the stick in a zip lock and squeeze them into the bag. If you can’t find enough ants you can substitute worms, you’ll have a good chance of finding them by turning over and looking under rocks that cover a 12” or larger diameter area. Once you’ve procured enough protein, wash your plant source, place the protein in a pan and fry for a few minutes or until brown. Heat the burrito shells, add, cheese, salsa, protein, and edible plant before wrapping and enjoying.

Here’s a picture of a bear enjoying a meal of ants:

6. Gouda breakfast burrito

Why I like it: Eggs and Gouda, if you plan this with other burritos in your meal plan you can use similar ingredients and leftovers saving on space and prep time, while adding variety.

3-4 ounces Gouda (cheese)

½ cup Powder Eggs or Egg Beaters (if used on 2nd day-Pre-freeze ahead of time at home and store in cooler during drive)

4-6 ounces of salsa

8 Burrito shells

At home:

Slice the Gouda, into 6 slices and place in a zip lock, add salsa to zip lock, and egg beaters or powdered eggs to another zip lock. Before packing freeze the egg beaters if not using powdered eggs.

On the trail or base camp:

Mix powered eggs with water according to instructions. Add eggs to pan and stir over low heat as they start to cook add the sliced Gouda and cover to melt cheese. Cooking time will depend on your pan and amount of eggs so keep a constant watch. Once cooked dish up onto a tortilla with salsa and eat. Most of the time this takes me less than 10
minutes to make.

7. Swiss, Ham, Apple Bagel

Why I like it: This is a quick and easy lunch and adds variety to your normal sandwich, it’s damn good!

Feeds 1:

3-4 slices of ham

1 slice of Swiss

2 slices of caramelized onions

1 bagel

3 apple slices enough to fit on sandwich

At home:

On a stovetop cook apple slices until brown; if you like onions fry them until caramelized. Add the ham, apple and/or onions, then Swiss to one bagel slice then place both bagel slices face out under the broiler. As soon as the cheese melts close the sandwich and place in fridge.

On the trail:

It’s ready to eat cold but the melted cheese will still hold things together and taste good. If you have the time and fuel recommend heating up your sandwich on a frying pan with cover.

8. Fusion Spam sliders.

Why I like it: Spam is easy to store and carry on the trail and now comes in an aluminum package vs. canned. If you don’t think this can taste good stop by Marination Mobile in Seattle to be proved wrong, where I got this idea from.

Note: I’m not following Marination’s recipe exactly which is probably a secret.

Recommend 3 sliders per person, recipe makes 1:

2 tablespoons or ½ handful of Bagged Slaw (found in salad section)

2-3 thin slices of fresh Ginger,

1 Soy packet or ½ teaspoon.

1 Hawaiian roll

1 slice of Spam to fit into the roll.

On the trail cut spam into slices and fry until crispy (realize it’s already pre-cooked but frying will make it taste better), place on bun Hawaiian roll (which you’ve been careful not to smash), and add other ingredients.

9. Tofu Shepherd’s Pie

Why I like it: Lots of flavor and hearty, helps me sleep warm in colder environments.

Serves 3:

14-18 ounce package of baked tofu
14 ounces of instant mashed potatoes
1 packet of powdered mushroom sauce or gravy
1 cup of dried mushrooms
½ cup of dried mixed vegetables like peas, carrots, and corn.
½ teaspoon vegetable bouillon
¼ teaspoon of sage
¼ teaspoon of cumin
Dash of salt and pepper
¼ teaspoon of dried thyme
1 teaspoon olive oil

At Home:
Combine all dry ingredients except potatoes in a quart sized zip lock bag. Using a pen write “add one cup of water” on bag. Add potatoes in their own quart sized zip lock and write “Add two cups of water” on it. Store oil in small leak proof container. Dice Tofu, put in separate zip lock and freeze till last minute before packing. Can also leave in sealed package and freeze to dice in camp.

In Camp:
Dice Tofu; bring 3 cups of water to rolling boil. Add 2 cups of hot water to the potato bag and one cut to the vegetable bag. Close both bags well. Squish the potato powder and set bags aside. Heat oil in a pot and sauté the tofu for two minutes or brown on all sides. Remove from heat and add vegetables (do not drain fluid) to tofu. Stir well, Add mashed potatoes, and stir again.

10. S’mores, High Altitude Version

Why I like it: Good easy dessert, if you have time you think you’ll have enough time you can forego the foil and just bring ingredients to make them in field and heat on camp stove although it’s harder to do mountaineering.

At home:

Generously coat a graham cracker with peanut butter. Drop a handful of mini-chocolate chips into the peanut butter, add a small marshmallow. Then lightly coat another graham cracker and close sandwich. Wrap in foil or place in a baggie.

In Camp:

On the trail drop the foil into a pot and cover for 2-3 minutes on med heat or into coals of a fire for 2 min.

Realize the above recopies are to help you learn. Once you get comfortable cooking outdoors I recommend you modify these and be creative to find what you like. Sample multi-day backpacking meal plans from FitClimb are available here.

Ali Alami

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