Red lentils are a versatile ingredient when it comes to savory camp meals. Depending on how much water you use, you can make them soupy or mushy, and they cook up fairly quickly, making them optimal when you’ve been on the trail all day and have a severe craving to eat a big meal without investing too much time in cooking it.
This is a simplified version of dal, a recipe that I came up with while on a backpacking trip in Northern Sweden last summer and one that’s easy to make with only a few ingredients. What I like about it, besides that you can cook the entire thing in only one pot, is that it uses a couple of fresh spices – ginger and chili peppers, both of which will keep well on a longer trip, and you can use in a variety of meals. That freshness gives this dish some extra bite.
If you’re on a shorter trip and can carry fresh ingredients like leafy greens (perhaps a little kale or chard?), those will work great in here as well, just shred and toss them in a few minutes before the lentils are finished cooking. If you have the time, a big bowl of this stuff pairs perfectly with freshly baked camp bread, particularly if you put a little cumin powder in the dough.
When it comes to quantities, no matter how much you are cooking, you want about a 1:3 red lentil to water ratio. You don’t need to drag a measuring cup with you, but use whatever you have on hand – a Nalgene, a camp mug, etc – to get the right quantity. This recipe is made with a serrano pepper, but can be made with any type of chili pepper that you can get your hands on. Depending on your preference on levels of spiciness, gauge how much or how little to use. And remember to wash your hands after chopping the pepper; you don’t want your eyes to sting when you rub them while yawning after a long, hard day.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin powder
½ medium sized onion, finely chopped
½ serrano chili pepper, finely chopped (if you want the dish to be less spicy, remove the seeds before chopping)
1 inch whole ginger, finely chopped
½ cup (4.25 ounces, 120 grams) red lentils
1 ½ cups (360 milliliters) water + 2-3 tablespoons
Salt and pepper to taste
In a pot, combine the olive oil and chopped garlic and place over medium heat. Let sizzle for about a minute before stirring in the cumin powder and chopped onion, stir and let saute for a minute or two. Add the chopped chili pepper and ginger, pour 2 to 3 tablespoons of water, and cover. Let simmer for about 2 to 3 minutes, then add the lentils and water, stir together and cover.
Bring back to a boil, then cook until the lentils have soaked up almost all of the water and are tender and the consistency is thick, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir every once in awhile to make sure the lentils are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. If you want them a bit thicker and mushier, cook a little longer.