Food in the Backpack: Hummus and Campfire Corn Recipes

Campfire corn is a great backpacking food idea. Photo: Getty Images.

I was in pain and smelly, but most of all I was starving.

We’d eaten as best we could—we both love to cook for ourselves and our families—but after all, we’d been without the amenities of our kitchens for five days. No stove, no fridge, no pots and pans.

If Bart and I tried the same route today, we could feed ourselves better. In 35 years, camping and cooking have also come a long way. I’m looking at you, Ziploc.

In my experience, cooking while camping happens in two ways. You either take your kitchen with you – say in a camper, or with piles of pans in the back of the van – or you just need to clean it up and get it really rough, all in a backpack, food included. (Or you’re basically glamping and crashing and dining at someone else’s restaurant.)

All my recipes work the first way (and there’s a recipe that way today). But I also have suggestions for cooking bare bones. Just you, your food and your mind. No drive-ins, no tagalong attendants.

As Bart and I discovered many years ago, it’s pretty amazing how many good meals just two people can carry on a long walk.

Food in the backpack

Start with some sort of pantry, especially dried grains and the like: grits or polenta, rice or ramen noodles, dried pasta in small form, powdered potatoes, powdered eggs, dried fillings, and flatbreads such as tortillas, pita bread, or lavosh. The weight has disappeared in this because the water is in it. You pick it up on the way.

Fresh proteins can be dangerous without refrigeration, but today the proteins available in precooked, soy-based “mock” meats are in abundance. Their best quality is that they actually satisfy, in all departments (taste, texture, satiety). They just need heat. That is also possible along the course. (A cool thing to do with small firewood: small chopsticks made from two sturdy twigs, unless you just need to keep your spork at home.)

Especially by planning ahead before you go out, you can enjoy a delicious meal at the campsite. The main task is to capture as many of your camping recipes as you can think of, then measure and package all of their ingredients.

For example, combine a recipe’s cooking liquids, pre-measured, in a small container. For example, to dress a pack of ramen noodles, put some soy sauce, sesame oil and chili sauce in a small bottle. Make sure any bottle containing liquids has threaded mouths or openings. This prevents pop-outs and leaks, especially with shifting elevations.

Similarly, vegetable garnishes for the same cooked ramen such as scallions, bell peppers, or carrot shavings can be cut at home and placed in a sturdy zip-top bag. They will stay good and safe for two to three days, so just schedule them in early for a meal. Same dry spice idea for other recipes (salt and pepper, Indian spice powders, etc.): small threaded jars or small plastic “zip-seal” pouches, the latter available at pharmacy counters.

Likewise, wet foods you’ve made at home before you go, like the hummus recipe here, can also be packaged in sturdy zip-lock plastic bags (perhaps two, one inside the other) and hard-frozen for on-the-go. They stay very cold for a day or two (depending on the outside temperatures) while usefully cooling other foodstuffs and are ready again early for another delicious meal.

Another hack, and one my friend Bart and I didn’t have many of 35 years ago, is to clear the kitchen drawers of all those collected spice packets from delivery meals. Far beyond salt and pepper, today’s campers have at their disposal mayonnaise, ketchup, Dijon and yellow mustard, chili sauce, malt vinegar, sweet and sour sauce, jams and jellies, even different brands of hot sauces (for example, Cholula or Tapatío). Everything you need.

Finally, acidity is the best thing you have in your home kitchen to add spark and zing to any meal. So, away from home and out in the open, carry a lemon for its juice or a bottle of rice vinegar. A whisper of either enlivens everything, even overnight oats.

Super smooth Hummus

Adapted for our height, and with tweaks from me, from a recipe by JM Hirsch and Diane Unger in “Milk Streetmagazine, May-June 1997. Makes 4 cups.


8 ounces or about 1 cup or more dried small chickpeas

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup tahini, toasted sesame, room temperature and well stirred

4 tablespoons lemon juice

1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1-2 cloves garlic, peeled, to taste

Travel directions

Place 8 cups of cold water, the salt and chickpeas in a large bowl and soak for at least 12 hours or overnight. When you’re ready to cook, bring 10 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan and add the baking soda. Drain the soaked chickpeas, discard the soaking water and add the chickpeas to the pot.

Return to a boil and cook chickpeas until the skins begin to fall off and they are very tender, 50-55 minutes (or longer at higher elevations). Set a fine colander or strainer over a heatproof bowl and drain the chickpeas, reserving 1 cup of boiling chickpea water. But let them drain completely.

Remove 2 heaped tablespoons of chickpeas, set aside and transfer the rest to the bowl of a food processor. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and process for 3 full minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl 2-3 times to ensure consistency.

Add the tahini and process for 1 more minute, again scraping the sides of the bowl. With the processor running and through the fill hole, pour in 1 cup reserved water, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic. Process again, 1-2 minutes, until smooth and very light. Taste for salt.

(If going on a camping trip or outing, place in 2 thick zip-top plastic bags and allow to cool (or freeze if desired). To transport, place one of the cold bags of hummus in another thick plastic bag with zipper, both pockets well closed. )

Serve warm, if possible, garnished with the reserved whole cooked chickpeas and some other flavorings: more olive oil, paprika, cumin powder, chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, more lemon juice, sumac powder, or one of the spice blends za’ atar or ras el hanout. Serve it with pita bread, of course, but also with red cabbage leaves or sweet onion curls.

Campfire Mexican Street Corn

From; serves 4; edited for style and clarity. Additional recipes here:


4 ears of corn, husks removed

Olive oil

1 cup cotija (a fresh Mexican or Mexican cheese), crumbled

2 tablespoons sour cream

1/2 bunch coriander, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons Tajín brand seasoning or other powdered chili-lime seasoning

1/2 lime

Travel directions

Brush oil on the ears of corn before placing them on the campfire grate. Keep ears of corn out of direct contact with the flames, as they can burn quickly. Use the indirect method, keeping the ears away from direct heat. Turn the ears so that they brown on all sides. They are done when the kernels become a little wrinkly.

Place the corn on a baking sheet and brush with sour cream. Sprinkle with crumbled cotija, coriander and Tajín. Turning the corn and rubbing toppings on the skin in the cases will help spread everything evenly. Before serving, squeeze the juice of half the lime onto the ears of corn.

Rany Bill St John at [email protected]