Campfire Gourmet
Tired of freeze-dried? These outdoor edibles will send you down happy trails

By Colin Berry
Photos by Maren Caruso

From Southern California's beaches to Maine's forests, nature offers the perfect summertime escape. But what to eat? Remarkably, outdoor meals almost always taste good, probably because by the time you've pitched the tent, unrolled the sleeping bag, carried the water jugs, hung the clothesline, gathered wood, and made the fire, you're hungry enough to enjoy practically anything.

Yet campfire cuisine can go beyond vacuum-packed mac and cheese and powdered hot chocolate. Camping gives us the chance to slow down and enjoy nature's green and serene places. So why not apply that same state of mind to your campfire cooking? With a minimum of preparation and a little ingenuity, you can create simple meals that are healthy and satisfying. These hearty, great-tasting foods can make your camp dining nearly as pleasurable as the great outdoors itself.


Serves 4-6 / Speed is always desirable when you're cooking campside, and this layered polenta dish assembles fast and easily when the troops are hungry. Serve in large dollops with a simple green salad and French bread.

Camp Tip: Lighten your load early by serving this hearty dish as your first-night meal. For a Southwestern twist, add a small can of diced green chilies and substitute Monterey Jack for the feta.

1/4 cup pine nuts
18 ounces precooked polenta loaf, flavored if desired
1 cup vegetable stock
10 ounces (2 bags) prewashed spinach or arugula
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, with liquid
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1. Place pine nuts in a hot skillet and stir constantly until nuts just begin to turn brown. Remove.

2. Break polenta into small clumps in a large, deep, nonstick saucepan over low fire or heat. Add stock in small splashes, stirring constantly until polenta is smooth and thick.

3. Keeping heat very low, add greens, then tomatoes and their liquid, in a layer on top of the hot polenta. Do not stir.

4. Add feta and pine nuts. Cover and let stand over lowest possible heat until greens have steamed and cheese has begun to melt, about 5 minutes.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 696 calories % fat calories: 15 Fat: 12g Saturated Fat: 5g Cholesterol: 25mg Carbohydrate: 128g Protein: 28g Fiber: 17g Sodium: 696mg

Quick Apple-Cranberry Oatmeal

Serves 2 / Oatmeal has long been the breakfast of camp-ions because it's light to carry and packs a fiber-filled, complex-carb punch. This version is rich and tart and tastes great with a side of sausage. Substitute any diced fruit for the cranberries.

Camp Tip: Skip the yogurt if refrigeration is limited. Boxed soy milk needs no refrigeration before opening.

1 cup regular rolled oats
1 cup apple juice
1 cup enriched soy milk
2 tablespoons plain nonfat yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup dried cranberries
Pinch of cinnamon

1. Combine oats, apple juice, and soy milk in a pan and cook over high heat, simmering but not boiling. Stir often, until oats are soft but not mushy, about 6-8 minutes.

2. Remove from heat and add yogurt, honey, cranberries, and cinnamon. Serve hot.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 342 calories % fat calories: 13 Fat: 5g Saturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 66g Protein: 11g Fiber: 6g Sodium: 30mg

Trailside Tabouli

Serves 4-6 / Great when camping in a hot climate. Serve with pita bread and a side of hummus.

Camp Tip: Assemble in a sturdy, properly sealed container and chill in a cold stream.

1 cup bulgur wheat
2 cups boiling water
3 ripe tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 small bunch mint, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 lemons, juiced
1/3 cup olive oil

1. In a bowl, cover bulgur with boiling water.

2. While bulgur soaks, dice tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, and mint; place in a large container with an airtight lid. Add salt and pepper and mix well. Drain bulgur thoroughly and add to vegetable mixture.

3. Combine lemon juice and olive oil in a coffee cup and stir vigorously with a fork. Add to bulgur mixture. Stir well. Season to taste. Let stand for at least 1 hour in a cool place. Stir and serve.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 333 calories % fat calories: 49 Fat: 19g Saturated Fat: 3g Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 37g Protein: 7g Fiber: 10g Sodium: 298mg

Backcountry Puttanesca

Serves 6 / Anchovies give this traditional sauce its distinctive taste and also provide nutritious omega-3 fatty acids.

Camp Tip
Mix this zesty sauce in a large zip-top bag; you can transport it, unrefrigerated, for several hours. 16 ounces low-sodium tomato sauce
2 ounces kalamata olives, pitted and diced
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 4-ounce tin anchovy filets, oil poured off, diced
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
1 pound cooked pasta

1. Combine first five ingredients. Toss with hot pasta before serving.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 172 calories % fat calories: 16 Fat: 3g Saturated Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 13mg Carbohydrate: 27g Protein: 9g Fiber: 3g Sodium: 810mg

Campfire Tofu Reuben

Serves 4 / Marinated baked tofu updates this classic sandwich, making it healthier and easier to prepare over any heat source. You can assemble sandwiches at home; wrap each in foil, keep cool, and transport to camp, ready to grill. Serve with coleslaw or fresh fruit.

Camp Tip: Shorten cooking time considerably by setting a heavy pan, a clean flat rock, or a water jug on top of the sandwiches while they cook.

Cooking spray
4 tablespoons low-fat canola mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
8 slices rye bread (Jewish, Russian, or pumpernickel)
8 ounces marinated baked tofu (such as lemon-pepper), well drained and sliced thin
12 ounces low-salt sauerkraut, drained and squeezed dry
8 ounces Swiss cheese, sliced

1. Spray skillet or cookie sheet lightly with cooking spray and place over fire or stove to preheat, attempting to make heat as uniform as possible.

2. Combine mayonnaise and mustard in a small bowl or cup. Lightly "butter" inside of bread with just less than half of the mustard blend.

3. Layer tofu, sauerkraut, remaining mustard blend, and cheese between bread slices.

4. When cooking surface is hot, grill sandwiches, turning, until tofu is hot and cheese melts. Serve immediately.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 535 calories % fat calories: 49 Fat: 29g Saturated Fat: 13g Cholesterol: 52mg Carbohydrate: 34g Protein: 35g Fiber: 6g Sodium: 1175mg

Garlicky Fry Bread

Makes about 12 / A real crowd-pleaser for kids and adults alike. Perfect with a dinnertime bowl of chili or as breakfast paired with fresh fruit.

Camp Tip: If you're car camping with a cooler, make the dough and garlic butter before leaving home and transport in plastic containers.

Cooking spray
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons plus 2 tablespoons expeller-pressed oil spread or butter
1 cup nonfat milk
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 ounces ham or soy vegetarian substitute, diced
3-4 green onions, chopped, including green parts
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed

1. Coat a large skillet with cooking spray and preheat over medium fire or heat.

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix well. Cut in 5 tablespoons spread or butter a bit at a time, until mixture looks coarse and crumbly. Add milk, cheese, ham or soy, and green onions. Stir together to form a thick dough.

3. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons spread or butter in a metal measuring cup and add garlic.

4. Drop golf-ball-size spoonfuls of dough into the hot skillet and promptly flatten with a spatula to about 1/4-inch thick. Cook, turning regularly and basting lightly with melted butter, until onions darken and bread is a deep golden brown. Eat immediately.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 179 calories % fat calories: 52 Fat: 10g Saturated Fat: 6g Cholesterol: 31mg Carbohydrate: 15g Protein: 6g Fiber: 1g Sodium: 300mg

Rosemary-Garlic Grilling Marinade

Makes 2 cups / Rather than settling for simple salt and pepper on your grilled meat, make this ahead of time and use it to marinate chicken breasts or pork loins.

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chardonnay or other dry white wine
2 lemons, halved and juiced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 6-inch sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves pulled from stalk and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Mix all ingredients together in a large zip-top bag. Cover and shake vigorously. Add chicken to marinade for 1 hour, or pork for 2-3 hours before grilling.