We went camping and needed some easy, shelf-stable, low sodium meals we could prepare using just our propane camping stove. My husband found Kevin Outdoors' Youtube channel and we followed his very helpful tips on dehydrating our own meals and making them low sodium. If you're new to food dehydrating, start with Kevin's videos. He has a fantastic video on how to dehydrate meals for backcountry camping. And another one specifically on dehydrating meat. Some of the key points I took away from his videos are: (1) lean meats work best for dehydrating because fat can make the meats go bad more easily; (2) dehydrate the meat separately from the vegetables/carbs; and and (3) cook onions, peppers, garlic before dehydrating for more flavor. If you already have a handle on dehydrating, go straight to the recipes below.
These recipes are very flexible. Sometimes I just don't feel like measuring and I'll just eyeball all the spices and it works just fine. And if you don't have the energy for all this dehydrating, go to my Notes below for some store-bought options I've recently discovered.
Ground Beef Pasta with Tomatoes
1/2 pound dehydrated ground beef
2 cups cooked small shells pasta
8 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 tablespoon minced dried garlic)
1/2 medium onion, diced small (or 1 tablespoon minced, dried onion)
1 medium bell pepper, diced small
1/2 cup corn
1 tablespoon salt-free chili powder*
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried ground mustard
1 14 ounce can salt-free diced tomatoes (small diced works best)
2 tablespoons salt-free tomato paste
*if you don't have salt-free chili powder, use 2 teaspoons smoked or sweet paprika, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
**Some other spice options: 1/2 teaspoon oregano, 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder.
1) Cook and dehydrate the ground beef: bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the beef in the water until fully cooked. Break up the ground beef as it cooks in the water, but try not to let it break of into tiny bits. Keep it about the size you would like it to be in the final dish. Strain the cooked beef so it's as dry as possible, and then place on the trays of a food dehydrator at 160°F. I have a Nesco Snackmaster food dehydrator that I really like, although I admittedly have never used any others. It gets great reviews and has worked very well for me for the last five years. The timing of the dehydrating will depend on how many trays you have going at a time. I check mine every 30 minutes or so and rotate the trays and meat to help it along. When dehydrating just the meat on two trays, this took about 3 hours. The final, dehydrated meat should be completely dry but not brittle.
2) Prepare and dehydrate the pasta and vegetables: I've done this two different ways. One way is to combine everything and dehydrate together. The other is to dehydrate each ingredient separately. There are pros and cons to both methods. Doing everything together requires more work on the front end but it's easier when you get to camp--just dump everything in the pot and simmer. Dehydrating separately makes the dehydration process a bit faster but there's more work at the campsite. See my notes below for doing it this way. Otherwise, here are the instructions for dehydrating everything together.
Cook the pasta and sauté the onions, garlic and bell pepper, and then combine them with all the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. If you're using the dried garlic and onions, leave them out and then just add them to the dry mix at the end. If you have petite diced tomatoes they will dehydrate faster than the larger cut diced tomatoes. The reason you want to cook the pasta and then dehydrate it is that it will rehydrate much faster than if you were boiling it straight from the box. From a camping/hiking perspective, that means you'll burn through less fuel when preparing your meals. Take the pasta mix and spread it on a few dehydrating trays and dehydrate at 135°F. I like to check the trays periodically (every hour or so), rotate them and move the pasta around. Even with just the two trays of pasta, it took over 7 hours to dehydrate. When it's done, it should be hard but not brittle.
3) Let the beef and pasta mixture cool completely and then pack it into individual servings. Kevin Outdoors suggested about 100-150 grams per meal per person, so I did 25 grams of ground beef (which is about one serving, about 75 mg of sodium) and 100 grams of the pasta mix.
4) To rehydrate the meals, simply put the dehydrated mixture in a pan and pour in just enough water to barely cover the mixture. If you have time, let this sit for 10 minutes before cooking. Or just cook right away by covering, and bringing to a boil. Then lower to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is about al dente. Let sit for another 10 minutes, covered, before serving. So easy! Some optional low sodium mix-ins: chili pepper flakes, balsamic vinegar, seasoned pepper, or lime juice.
Here's another recipe for Chicken and Rice. The process is very similar.
Spanish Chicken and Rice
1 pound chicken breast
1/2 onion, chopped small
1 jalapeno, chopped and seeded
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup corn
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 can petite-diced tomatoes
2 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1) Dehydrate the meats: just as I did with the ground beef, you start by cooking the meat and then dehydrating it. You can simply boil the chicken, shred, and dehydrate on the trays at 165°F. This time I tried cooking it in the slow cooker with some spices to see how much flavor that would add. Overall, the result was not much. In the future, I'll just boil the chicken, dehydrate it, and then add the spices when rehydrating. This chicken is already pretty dry to start with so it only took about 90 minutes to dehydrate. It would taker longer if you're loading more than a few trays.
2) Saute the onions, garlic, peppers, and jalapeño and then add the rest of the ingredients to combine and make the rice mixture. Here, again, use cooked rice because it will rehydrate faster. Spread the rice mixture on dehydrating trays and dehydrate at 135°F for about at least 7 hours, checking occasionally to rotate the trays or move the rice around. Dehydrating time will depend on how spread out the mixture is, and how many trays you have stacked together. When the rice mixture is dehydrated and cooled, pack into individual servings. I did 25g dried chicken and 100g of the rice mixture.
3) To rehydrate, put the dehydrated mixture in a pan and pour in just enough water to barely cover the mixture. For the rice, definitely let this sit for 10 minutes before cooking. With the pasta that's not as important but I've found that it can be harder to get a good texture on the rice if you don't let it soak just a little bit. Then bring to a boil and lower to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rice is about al dente. Let sit for another 10 minutes, covered, before serving. Some optional low sodium mix-ins: chili pepper flakes, balsamic vinegar, seasoned pepper, or lime juice.
Another option: dehydrate everything separately
On our last camping trip I decided to dehydrate everything separately because we had some extra space in the car and rather than dehydrate things like diced tomatoes (they take the longest), or corn (they take a long time to rehydrate), I packed a few cans of unsalted Rotel, some canned corn, and some fresh poblano peppers. I really just had to dehydrate the beef, pasta, and tomato paste and then I added 1 tablespoon each of dried minced garlic and onions packed them up in ziploc bags that were enough for 2 really large servings each: the dehydrated equivalent of 8 ounces of beef and 1/2 a pound of pasta! This was enough for two adults and two very small children.
To dehydrate tomato paste, I spread 1 tablespoon of tomato paste directly onto the dehydrating plates but in the future, I'll put them on parchment paper and then dehydrate to make it cleaner. These kept really well for a few days at the campsite. I stored them in a ziplock bag wedged between pieces of parchment paper to prevent sticking.
Helpful store-bought ingredients
I've never eaten minute rice before and while it's a bit dry and the Jasmine rice doesn't smell or taste anything like Jasmine rice, it's still a perfectly good white rice option and it cooks in 5 minutes with just some boiling water. And there is no sodium. I also found these Frontier Soup mixes at my local Ralphs (Kroger). They are a bit pricey at $7 per pack but really convenient and have no salt added so the sodium is just what occurs naturally in the vegetables or spices. Couscous is also a good option because it cooks so fast (not Israeli couscous). Sun dried tomatoes are also great if you can find some without salt added (Trader Joe's has them) but if you don't use the whole pack you'll have to refrigerate them.
Here's the finished product!