Backpackers’ Bistro: Maghrebi spiced lentils

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  2. Backpackers’ Bistro: Maghrebi spiced lentils
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By: Patrick W. Zimmerman

One the staple food groups of the Backpackers’ Bistro is pulses & legumes. So that’s why we’re starting with one of our Eureka moments: pulses & spice mixes can be real, real good. They’re dense protein and nutrient bombs, when dried weigh very little per kilocalorie of energy, and just require water and spices to become quite tasty. One of the particular advantages of lentils is that they are small enough that they don’t need to be pre-soaked or cooked for 3 hours before the dried pulse is soft enough to eat (like, say, black beans).

One of our other staples is little bags of mixed-at-home spice mixes.  They take up almost no weight and pack the flavor along with you.  For this one, the recipe is simple: grab a bag of lentils from a grocery store and pack along the spice mix.  1/3 the cost and 10,000x better than anything that calls itself “backpacking food.”

Note: this spice mix can be used with pretty much any grain or bean you want to pack along. It also goes well with quinoa. Cultural note: This is “Maghrebi” rather than specifically Moroccan (which the dried spice mix is) because I really really like to add Tunisian harissa.

Water requirement: Filter

This can be done easily on any trip with at least a source of filterable fresh water.


Buy at a grocery store near the trailhead:

  • Bag o lentils – 1

Pre-made spice bag:

  • Ras el-hanout – 1 Tbsp
  • Coriander seeds – 1 tsp
  • Salt – 1 Tbsp
  • Black pepper, fresh ground – 1 Tbsp
  • Sumac – 1 tsp
  • Cinnamon – 1 tsp
  • Orange zest or orange peel – 2 tsp
  • Dried onion flakes – 1 Tbsp
  • Garlic powder – 1 tsp
  • Dried cilantro – 1 tsp
  • Fennel seeds – 2 tsp
  • Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
  • Smoked Spanish paprika – 1 tsp
  • Bay leaf – 3
  • Thyme – ½ tsp
  • Oregano – 1 tsp

Bring along:

  • Tube of (actual) hot harissa – It even comes in a camping-friendly metal tube and so does not require refrigeration. Seriously, this stuff is like camping crack. It’s earthy, garlicky, and legit hot. I am tempted to put this on everything in the woods, from my lentils to that tasteless cliff bar I threw in the bottom of the bag. Get me crazy enough, and I’ll start mixing it in coffee. It’s that good.


Use 1 cup of lentils for every 2 adults.  Pour in your camp stove along with 2 Tbsp of spice mix per cup and 3 cups of water (if making dry-er lentils) or 5 cups of water (if making a soup).

Bring to boil and then simmer covered for 20min (at sea level) or 45min (at altitude).

Serve and top with a good squirt of harissa.

About The Author

Architeuthis Rex, a man of (little) wealth and (questionable) taste. Historian and anthropologist interested in identity, regionalism / nationalism, mass culture, and the social and political contexts in which they exist. Earned Ph.D. in social and cultural History with a concentration in anthropology from Carnegie Mellon University and then (mostly) fled academia to write things that more than 10 other people will actually read. Driven to pursue a doctorate to try and answer the question, "Why do they all hate each other?" — still working on it. Plays beer-league hockey, softball, and soccer. Professional toddler wrangler. Likes dogs, good booze, food, and horribly awesome kung-fu movies.

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