All your favorite no-cook, minimal-refrigeration meals
June 11, 2021 9:04 AM   Subscribe

We'll be hanging out in some national parks with a kettle and a small cooler, but no camp stove/microwave/other cooking implement. We will also have a little cutting board and knife. I am a vegetarian. What should we eat?

Ingredients that don't REALLY require refrigeration (for example hard cheeses) are strongly preferred -- like, I don't want to have to angst over the interior temperature of the cooler.

Unfortunately we'll have been on the road for a while before the no-fridge point, so I can't really make anything at home and bring it along, which is usually what I do. We won't have access to any unusual groceries either, unless it's something that will be happy in the car for a week on our way.
posted by goodbyewaffles to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
If you'd reconsider bringing a camp stove (or making campfires), I really like TastyBite Indian meals for camping.

I'm sure other people will have better no-cook/refrigeration suggestions, but you can bring little peanut or almond butter packets, honey, and bread for sandwiches.
posted by pinochiette at 9:23 AM on June 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Can you clarify what the kettle is for if you don't have a stove/microwave/other cooking implement? Like, if you're able to boil water over a campfire with it, that opens up some possibilities. There's tons of backpacking food that you can get at REI or a similar store (or just order online) that only require adding hot water to work, and you can make your own ahead of time if you have a food dehydrator.
posted by LionIndex at 9:30 AM on June 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sounds like a job for canned beans! As long as you can drain them and mix them in a bowl, you're good. Two meal suggestions:

-Garbanzo beans + a little jar of oil and vinegar + salt and spices (I like sumac, fenugreek and smoked paprika.)

- The weird one: pinto, kidney or garbanzo + peanut butter + balsamic or soy sauce + spices (curry spices are awesome with this.)

Both dishes go nicely with fresh carrots and peppers, both of which are veggies that stand up well to lack of refrigeration. If you would like a carb, a chunk of bread or pita would work.

Speaking of which, protein, whole grain breads with nut butters make a nice easy breakfast. Collect some of those single serve jams if you can (if that's your...jam.)

Other no-cook snacks I like for summer camping: fresh fruits, nuts, granola, dried and roasted chickpeas, trail mix, and Belvita biscuits. Baby bel cheeses are great fine for a bit unrefrigerated but I'd try to finish them within the first few days.
posted by prewar lemonade at 9:32 AM on June 11, 2021 [10 favorites]

Best answer: You can heat the TastyBites by submersing them in hot water, so it can be done with a kettle if you have adequate access to water and bring a small pot.

Couscous and quinoa can be made with just hot water.

Peanut butter sandwiches are also a staple of my non-cooking, non-refrigerated trips. Apples, carrots, and citrus as well.

Depending on where you're traveling, you may be able to get some produce at farm stands for vegetable content.

I have friends that swear by the "just add hot water" meals at REI but I've not tried them and don't know how vegetarian friendly they are.
posted by Candleman at 9:32 AM on June 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yep, kettle's for boiling water (for tea and coffee but also could be for food!) We just have a very tiny amount of storage/carrying ability so trying to avoid bringing (or buying) loads of other cooking supplies.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 9:33 AM on June 11, 2021

Best answer: If you can boil water, Fantastic Foods vegetarian chilli is light, delicious and very easy. You can also make a tasty porridge with Grape Nuts cereal and hot water - really nice with a little honey, cinnamon or cardamom in it.

I really like condiments and seasoning, so having a few non-perishable ones along in tiny jars makes all the difference. I will often mix some spices ahead of time and just take one container with a few tablespoonfuls. Hot sauce travels well and you don't need much!
posted by prewar lemonade at 9:42 AM on June 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Calling this a meal is probably stretching the point a bit, but my lunch today was bread and ajvar. Ajvar comes in a jar and will certainly keep just fine, unopened, until you need it. It does need to be kept cool after opening and eaten within a day or two, or it'll go mouldy, but it's delicious and vegetarian, and you may find the jar mysteriously empty by the end of the meal. If bread's impractical, I'm sure it'd be good on whatever biscuits (crackers?) you like for cheese.

Looks as if Trader Joe's sells it as "Red Pepper Spread with Eggplant & Garlic", or Amazon will happily sell you a jar.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:43 AM on June 11, 2021

Foods we eat while camping (we do have a camp stove):
- salad + roasted red bell peppers + canned refried black beans + (cholula + mini dairy creamer to make "dressing") + hard cheese
- instant potatoes + canned chili (amy's vegetarian is quite tasty)
- quesadillas or "pizza quesadillas"
- oatmeal (either packets or prep your own)
- pasta + sauce (ravioli or tortellini tends to be more filling)
- peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and honey, peanut butter and banana sandwiches (or bagels or tortillas because bread squishes)
- snacks: fruit - apples travel best
- snacks: tortilla chips + jarred salsa
- snacks: nuts
- individual shelf stable almond milks
posted by Ms Vegetable at 10:00 AM on June 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The DIY "just add hot water" backpacking method is also called "freezer bag cooking." (So-called because you put everything in a quart sized freezer bag and pour the boiling water in the bag.) Googling that will get you a ton of recipes. Because they primarily geared towards backpackers, they will keep without refrigeration and they will be light and compact.

Any prepackaged grocery store item that wants to be boiled for 5 minutes or less does well with this method:
Quick cook oatmeal - I usually add nuts, dried fruit, and chia seeds for a little added oomph
Rice/Pasta-a-Roni type dishes
Couscous and quick cook rice
Instant mashed potatoes (this is my go-to for a single overnight). I usually add shredded cheese and bacon bits.

Most of the from-scratch recipes will call for a dehydrator, but you can also buy pre-dehydrated or freeze dried ingredients online.

Depending on the size of your kettle, you may also be able to steam bake little cakes and muffins. There are some mug cake/muffin mixes and various Jiffy mixes that don't require eggs or milk, or you can bring some instant milk with you and sub that in. I have a couple of little silicon cupcake liners with feet on them that I've used, but regular silicone liners on top of rocks or a foil ring would work too.

Tangential, but have you considered a "pocket rocket" or Jetboil style backpacking stove? They take up very little space, and they'll do a much better job of heating water quickly than doing it over a fire. My single-serving backpacking kitchen is literally the size of a typical coffee mug, and that includes the mug/pot/kettle (all the same thing), the stove, the lighter, and the fuel (which all fit into the mug). My little Kovea Supalite stove fits in the palm of my hand and costs < $50. You can get similar no-name stoves on Amazon for < $15.
posted by natabat at 10:43 AM on June 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

I would do a combo of backpacker just-pour-in-boiling water meals and charcuterie/trail snacks. Cheeses, salami, fresh fruit, baby carrots or bell peppers. A cowboy caviar and chips would also be an easy one. I would figure there some sort of camping/outfitter at least somewhat nearby or en route to whatever parks you’re visiting.
But also I hate cooking while camping
posted by raccoon409 at 11:08 AM on June 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My usual travel combination that will keep me happy for quite a while on its own is fruit, cheese and good bread (ideally from a bakery). If you bring a good selection of each, you can eat the more delicate ones earlier in the trip if your cooler isn't reliable, and save the apples and hard cheddar for the end. Baby carrots and hummus are also great to round things out, and do well in a cooler, or even without one for a while. Hard-boiled eggs are nice for variety and protein, and keep well for a few days in a cooler.

As far as nonperishables, nuts and dried fruit are classic for a reason. I like those dried fruit bars too. You could bring some ramen cups, instant oatmeal packets or even fancy dehydrated meals to use with your kettle. Shelf-stable milk/milk alternatives are helpful if you want cereal in the mornings.
posted by randomnity at 11:17 AM on June 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Get yourself a small box of orzo pasta (which is much more compact than, say, rotini), a pouch of Italian dressing, a small can of olives, and a bell pepper. Make pasta salad.

Roasted chickpeas are lightweight, shelf-stable, and very filling.
posted by mezzanayne at 11:19 AM on June 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Couscous can be prepared by pouring boiling water over it and letting it sit for five minutes or so.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:50 AM on June 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Red peppers, cabbage (brocolli, Brussells sprouts), some squashes, avocados that started unripe, apples, mangoes that started unripe, can go several days if it's not really warm, so you might be able to have a few fresh veg. Most Nat Parks in the west are not allowing fire because, drought, so I would assume no cooking over fire. Crackers, chips, nuts dried fruits or veg.
posted by theora55 at 12:15 PM on June 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

I’d make a big sheet of soy curl jerky and take with for high protein snacks. Also great tossed on rice/noodles depending on how they’re spiced.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 12:30 PM on June 11, 2021

You can also do things like potatoes in foil on evenings you have a campfire. A lot of parks may also have access to charcoal bases grills for the times you want a hot meal.
posted by Candleman at 12:38 PM on June 11, 2021

Best answer: Here, the local discount store has ready to eat beans, quinoa and rice and couscous packed in bags instead of tins. This isn't the brand we get here, but it is the same concept. I'm just thinking the bags will be easier to carry in and out of the parks than tins. The ones we can get are simpler and cheaper and may well be available in the US, they are made in Italy, and sold under the supermarket own brand name here.
Scandinavian crispbread is literally made for this, for people who herd animals to summer pastures and are traveling far from shops and kitchens. My personal preference is Finn Crisp, but there are many types, based on different grains. It's lightweight, takes up little space and tastes great with cheese, vegetarian spreads like Tartex, or nut butters. Try peanutbutter on crispbread with slices of apple, it's life-changing. Tartex likes slices of tomato or cucumber on top which might not be practical, but fried onions are a delicious topping, too.
Instant miso soup can be good, and dried kombu, dried spring onions and dried shiitake mushrooms are easy to bring and rehydrate and add to the soup for texture and nourishment. The rehydrated onions and mushrooms might work well with the couscous, too.
posted by mumimor at 5:23 AM on June 12, 2021

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