02 October 2010

Hiking food: a recipe

Since moving to Colorado, I have become an outdoor person. I now voluntarily spend my free time sporting active wear made from synthetic fabrics and exerting myself in the blazing sun or icy snow. Never in all my torturous years of high school P.E. class would I have guessed it would happen. But let’s face it; the scenery is enough to distract you from a fair amount of discomfort.

I have hiked all over the Front Range--Boulder, Fort Collins, Lyons, Estes Park, and Laramie and Jackson, Wyoming--but I love Rocky Mountain National Park most of all. Because I do not need to prove how macho I am, I eschew the “14ers” for moderately strenuous hikes that afford good views and pleasant areas to pop a squat and eat my bagged lunch. At the end of this post are some of my personal favorites, but hey, chime in with yours, too! The more suggestions, the better!

The best lunch combines a good deal of protein with some carbs for energy, fits easily into your bag, and requires as little clean-up as possible. I often make this lentil “salad” (really more like a chunky spread), double-bag it in sandwich-sized Ziplocs, and bring along some whole wheat tortillas to scoop it up and eat. Paired with a bag of carrot and celery sticks or some dried fruit, I personally guarantee you will not be lacking in fuel for your hike.

Curried Lentils for Fuel

1 cup red lentils (this is not a good time to substitute--use the red)
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ chopped yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1-5.46 oz. can coconut milk
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 tablespoon lime juice

Combine water, lentils, bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until water has been absorbed and lentils have broken down. Remove bay leaf and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil at medium heat in a large frying pan or chef’s pan. Sautee onion, garlic, mustard seeds, and ginger, stirring constantly until onion softens and seeds begin to pop (about 5 minutes). When this happens, reduce heat to medium-low and add the rest of the spices, stirring constantly to coat onion and garlic. Do this for another 4 minutes so that the spices become slightly toasted (they will be fragrant), and add your lentils, tomato paste, and coconut milk.

Stir mixture well, cover, and allow to simmer 10 minutes. Turn off heat and add remaining teaspoon salt and lime juice, stirring thoroughly to incorporate. (I usually add more black pepper at this point, too.)

*You can put this in Ziploc bags (I double up to avoid leaks) and scoop out with tortillas or pita bread on the trail. You can also offer some cooked basmati rice on the side and serve this as a lovely, exotic yet easy dish for guests.

Great hikes for picnicking in Rocky Mountain National Park

Cub Lake: This trail is pretty easy until the end, when it gets just a bit steep. About 2/3 of the way in, you’ll come across a beautiful, large lake with a great view of Long’s Peak looming overhead. There are lots of rocks around the lake that make perfect seats for a picnic.

Gem Lake: A steeper and shorter hike, the end yields a small hanging lake with a tiny waterfall. There are grassy areas and large rocks for sitting down to eat your lunch, and the antsy ones who finish first can do some extra climbing above the waterfall while the rest of your party finishes.

Lawn Lake: Perhaps you are sensing a pattern here. Besides two beautiful alpine lakes (Lawn and Crystal) upon which to contemplate the meaning of your lunch, the Roaring River was the site of a dam failure that led to three deaths during the great flood of 1982.

Sky Pond (pictured above): more water, amazing views, and a strenuous enough hike to earn your lentils!

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