Day 49: Pasta. Day 50: Pasta. Day 51: Pasta.
July 18, 2012 9:06 AM   Subscribe

What are some interesting, edible, non-perishable "theme packs" to spice up food choices when located in a remote area with limited access to fresh ingredients?

Mr. Blues and I are moving to a remote island in the Aleutians. We plan to bring much of our food with us, as we have been told that the items available for purchase are expensive, very limited, and not always fresh. We will have access to a CSA box twice a month, but have heard that the long journey is often tough on the produce. We hope to supplement what we bring with caribou, fish, and shell fish (apparently a reasonable expectation), and we'll be catching the tail end of berry season. Essentially, we'll be bringing a lot of grains and legumes, some canned goods, spices, oils, and sauces, baking essentials, and some "special" things to add variety and interest. Which is where you come in!

I'd like to include a number of "theme packs" to have once or twice a week, most likely based on a national cuisine or specialty dish. They can't be super-dependent on high-quality fresh food (so, for example, a caprese salad is right out). The most unusual the better, no particular restrictions other than no pork.

So far, I've thought of a Thai one including Thai tea, coconut milk, curry sauces, rice noodles, etc. I would love any additional ideas, specific products, and tips on making the most of limited ingredients.

Oh, and this is mostly dinner focused. We are ok with limited variety breakfasts, and lunch will be either PBJs or leftovers.
posted by charmcityblues to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
If you are anything like me and most people I know, you will need to bring an emergency reserve of chocolate.

There was a fieldwork portion of a class I was in a few years ago that had us out camping for a week and a half. We brought all of our food with us--lots of chili and the like--but nothing sweet. I (because I am a genius) thought to bring smore supplies and brought those out about halfway through. We descended on the chocolate like locusts.

It's obviously a luxury, but you forget how important sweet things are to your psyche when you're mostly eating survival food.
posted by phunniemee at 9:22 AM on July 18, 2012

Not sure about theme meals, but your situation sounds perfect for the NOLS Cookery book, which covers how to use bulk goods to create a huge variety of meals in the wilderness (or anywhere that fresh goods are scarce).

Also, besides international themes, consider historical themes - find recipes from 50-400 years ago and see what you can replicate. It'll be interesting to say the least ;)
posted by jpeacock at 9:26 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Soy sauce, rice, rice vinegar, sheets of nori, wasabi, pickled ginger. Supply your own fish!

Peanut butter, garlic, soy sauce, sesame sauce, sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, soba noodles. Combine the first ingredients in whatever combination seems best and pour it over the noodles.

Canned sauerkraut, mustard, carroway seeds, rye flour. Mash them all with some potatoes, make sandwiches with beef, or slather over sausages.
posted by specialagentwebb at 9:35 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

What about Indian? Cumin, cardamon, allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, some of the various sauces in sealed jars. By me, you can buy things like a "masala spice pack" that just requires adding yogurt when you're ready to make masala sauce.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:37 AM on July 18, 2012

Oooh, great question. I actually made similar "theme baskets" in my cabinet a while back! The only one I can remember offhand is the Asian basket...

- Soy sauce
- Garlic powder (since you won't have fresh)
- Powdered ginger (ditto on the above - fresh is better, but when in the Aleutians...)
- Sesame oil
- Miso paste
- Sriracha
- Fish sauce
- Oyster sauce
- Hoisin sauce
- Rice wine vinegar
- Coconut milk
- Peanut butter
- Bottled lime juice
- Chicken broth
- Sesame seeds

All of that stuff should be able to fit into, I dunno, two shoeboxes at MOST, and I can think of literally a dozen recipes you could make with it.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:56 AM on July 18, 2012

Dried beans and a ton of spices (if you like beans) - endlessly versatile. You can also take chickpeas and toast them with spices for a yummy snack. Powdered stock/soup base, I am blanking on the brand with few added ingredients and good taste, would be a good bring.
Sounds like an awesome adventure!!!
posted by mrs. taters at 10:13 AM on July 18, 2012

Mediterranean basket - Italian, Greek, Spanish, Morrocan, etc. dishes

Tins/jars/bottles of: olive oils, sun-dried tomatoes in oil, tomatoes, tomato paste, green and especially black olives, pestos, feta, pasta sauce bases of all kinds, artichoke parts in seasoned oil, garlic in oil, chickpeas, carrots, celery, spinach, dried spices (powdered garlic, basil, oregano, savory, mint, rosemary, cumin, etc.)
Packs of pasta of all types and bases (wholewheat, semolina, etc.), rices, and couscous.
Dried sausages of all types and beasts.
posted by likeso at 10:14 AM on July 18, 2012

Moroccan *sigh*
posted by likeso at 10:15 AM on July 18, 2012

Do you like/cook Korean food? If so, you will need, in addition to the other items in the Asian basket:

• Short grain rice
• Crushed red pepper flakes
• Red pepper paste
• julthumbscrew's list has miso paste. Japanese miso paste is not to be mistaken for doenjang paste. You should have both.
• You can't go wrong with a few packets of pre-cooked seaweed. But if you want to make kim bop/sushi, you will need some of this.
• Might you be able to grow your own garlic? You really, really can't go without real actual garlic. At worst, you can buy a jar (or three) of preserved minced garlic.
• Make sure you're buying your soy sauce in quantities like this and your sesame oil in similarly large amounts. Likewise on the sesame seeds. All this stuff can keep for ages if you store it properly. Seriously, you can keep one of those jars of red pepper paste for more than a year in your fridge. And if you put the crushed pepper flakes in the freezer in a well-sealed Zip-loc, they will last forever.

With all of these basic ingredients, plus some plain Heinz white vinegar and good quantities of sea salt, you should be able to make your own kimchi and basically anything else in the universe of Korean food. Which intersects quite nicely with seafood!

H-Mart also has Korean Spice Baskets, though the quantities may be small seeing as you're moving.
posted by brina at 10:50 AM on July 18, 2012

I'm in a remote location with really sporadic access to an odd assortment of fresh ingredients as well. This is almost embarrassing, but yesterday I spent $15 on two jicamas because OMG jicama finally and also I may not see them again for years-- stuff just shows up here randomly and what hasn't already spoiled has a pretty limited refrigerator life. Broccoli is usually available but you can't count on it being either here or being fresh/edible, for example.

Everyone else has given good advice above-- I may use some of it myself! But here are my thoughts:

Are you able to bring up frozen items in some sort of cooler? I've discovered that many of my favorite ingredients (lemongrass, thai bird chilies, kaffir lime leaves) can be frozen for long periods of time (I buy mine in the city- 8 hours away- then prep and freeze them here). Lemons, pre-roasted garlic, caramelized onions, herbs, etc. all freeze quite well too. These are just examples, of course-- there are many more.

Other things that have really helped are pre-made sauces (especially hot sauces).Tiger Sauce and a Chipotle one are my favorites-- I add a couple of drops of the chipotle one to mayonnaise with a dash of sugar for instant chipotle mayonnaise. There are also specialty items that in tiny doses really transform something average into something special (for example, a tiny bottle of white truffle oil has lasted over a year and a dash in a brown butter sauce is awesome for pasta).

And yes, bring lots of spices-- but don't panic about using too much or running out. World Spice in Seattle ships everywhere, high quality and reasonably priced. They have pre-mixed spice blends and dried whole chiles too. If you don't have some already, I highly recommend picking up some Sel de Mer, too-- it's awesome sprinkled on sweet things (cookies, ice cream).
posted by mireille at 11:08 AM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Get the basic ingredients for pho (simplified version here): Got cloves, star anise, and ginger, broth, onion, garlic, nam pla. Then you can add fish and and greens and carrots depending on what you have that week. Then add rice or cellophane noodles. It smells delicious when it cooks.

Also seconding packing more sweets than you think you will need and buying fruit when you can. We've been in inland Alaska for three months now and jellybeans are rare enough to send people into swoons.
posted by mochapickle at 1:23 PM on July 18, 2012

I'm a huge fan of Asian Home Gourmet. They have spice pastes from India, China, Korea, Japan etc., perfectly healthy and vacuum packed. They're tiny little packets and you can buy them online.
posted by Silky Slim at 1:36 PM on July 18, 2012

If you don't know how already, learn to bake your own fresh bread. Easy, non-perishable ingredients, and makes all the difference in the world to a boring meal.
posted by spinturtle at 3:05 PM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

You mentioned spices. If you can bring whole spices and a grinder (I have a little electric one that was sold as a coffee grinder for like $20), the spices will last much longer. The essential oils and other compounds that give them their yumminess evaporate in contact with air, so pre-ground means that they're losing flavour every day. To pick up whole spices, head to an ethnic supermarket (or just a big chain market in an ethnic part of town); cinnamon sticks are $5 for a bag of national-brand in my local supermarket, and $2 for a bag three times the size of specialty-Indian-brand in the northeast. (Or the health food folks sell a lot of this stuff bulk.)
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:16 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

You said no pork and I don't know f that a dietary/religious restriction or if you don't like the taste so I'm going to just put this here for others who might like this. CHORIZO! If you buy the big circular Chorizos, they keep in the fridge on arrival for months. They can go unrefrigerated for days without problems during transport. Slice pieces off and fry them and add them to the beginnings of a Paella (obviously order some powedered paella mix for a nice change from the yummy Asian recommendations above!).

Use chorizo as a basis for any and all lentil, chickpeas, (dried any pulse in fact) dishes. Very simple lentil stew is really livened up Fry some over eggs in the morning. Too tired to cook, have an open chorizo sandwich by the sea with a beer and pretend you're in awesome San Sebastian!

So if you absolutely cannot have any pork products then buy some smoked paprika powder and/or some n'Duja POWDER for southern european hotness.

Have a different cuisine every night of the week. Make double each time and simple freeze the excess for the next week so you have nights free of cooking. Have one week on, one week off with your partner because cooking with few fresh products can get quite boring after a while. So you cook (double) one week, means there's a whole week of defrost and warm up, then he cooks (double) the week after. This means for 1 week of cooking you get 3 following of none.
posted by Wilder at 1:49 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Masala Dabba
posted by JABof72 at 4:00 AM on July 19, 2012

Not food related, but you might find this of interest
posted by JABof72 at 4:16 AM on July 19, 2012

Preserve lemons, roasted red peppers and garlic in olive oil. Bonus: flavored olive oil
posted by cyndigo at 5:52 PM on July 19, 2012

First, to actually answer your question. Then below, some more ideas.
  • Breakfast for dinner. Oatmeal, brown sugar, dried fruits you like (apples, cherries, apricots, peaches) Honey for home made biscuits. Powdered eggs, you can buy these online. I make no promises about their tastiness. There are lots of families who use these because they are Mormon or otherwise preparing for difficult times. Maybe try to see if you can get someone to feed you a batch before you spring for a ten. pound. can....You can also get powdered milk and powdered buttermilk, which travels more cheaply than shelf stable liquid milks. Bring confectioners sugar to make frostings. Raisins will make cinnamon rolls.
  • As for the mediterranean basket, sundried tomatoes, pack them just dried, without the oil. Presumably/hopefully, you'll be able to reconstitute them in oil or water at your destination, so packing less oil and glass is better for shipping. Yogurt can be made from dried milk powder, The Hillbilly Housewife tells you how.
  • For your Asian basket, maybe add Panko for special breadcrumbs. Add dried mushrooms for flavors and vitamins. That umami flavor is great when meat is scarce, and Asian food uses them to great advantage. They are light to pack! Tamarind are pretty shelf stable and are delicious (and vitamin packed, also used in a lot of Hispanic foods)
  • Can you bring a tortilla press for "taco night?" Even without cheese or sour cream or lime, if you can grow a tomato and some lettuce, fish tacos are delightful with radishes. I bet you could grow radishes up there.
  • Holidays. How sad will you be if there is no pumpkin pie/cranberry sauce/turkey (or other) gravy? If the answer is anything about "not at all" pack a few cans of the first two, and/or whatever is acceptable to you for making turkey gravy in absence of a turkey. Think about all of your other holiday food favorites. Also comfort food. What do you eat when you are feeling ill? Do not wait until you catch a cold to wish you had some...whatever. (For a friend of mine it's gatorade, and you should know that you can buy a package of gatorade powder.
Here's some information about growing plants up there, and there is probably more available. A small greenhouse might get you lettuce during a few extra months (maybe just weeks) of the year? There are some DIY greenhouse from windows/cd cases/etc types of projects floating around.

From that link, in case it ever gets borked, cabbage is recommended, so are blueberries, lingonberries, (which you mention, with blueberry season) potatoes are suggested, and someone says they have a friend with "chickens if she can keep them safe from the foxes." Advice to make or strengthen a windbreak is given.

Not mentioned on that site is hydroponic growing indoors. There are some systems you can set up for home use, but also DIY plans online more inexpensively... and for two people you really just need one plant of each kind, staggered so that they're "ready" a few weeks apart. So, plant 2 or 3 seeds of everything once a month and then let the healthiest seedling keep growing. One or two special lights and a bit of PVC pipe might feel like it costs a fortune up there, but fresh veggies....would cost much more. Buying seeds is very inexpensive, and packing them is very easy. Also, they tend to last a very long time.
posted by bilabial at 5:21 PM on August 13, 2012

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