I wanted to share with you a delicious little secret that has been keeping me happy and healthy for the last few months. Matt and I have been on the move a lot lately. We were in India in March, spent some time on the Ayurvedic detox treatment Panchakarma, then two incredible weeks at Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker School learning tracking and survival skills, and a lot of time going here and there and everywhere. 2010 has been an amazing journey. This spring has been about getting back to the roots of our heritage, nature, and bodies as physical beings.
A few weeks ago we drove from Santa Fe to our new home in Portland. Along the way we stopped at Mesa Verde, drove through the sandstone deserts of Utah, spent a day in Jackson Hole and an evening camped under the majestic Tetons, two days and a backcountry camp in Yellowstone, and a burger in Boise (photos below). Road trips are still the best American pastime, and I can’t imagine a better way (than on foot) to experience the continuously changing terrain of the west. However, we have little in the way of funds and did not want to leave our stomachs to the whim of chance. Good, hot food is essential for comfort. When you’re traveling or camping you could be defending yourself against unwashed bedcovers or grizzly bears. You need all the good fuel you can get!
Normally on a road trip we’d pack a couple jars of peanut butter and jam and a lot of beef jerky. But before our trip to NJ my mom had an ingenious idea: why not cook kichidi in a thermos?! Of course all of the camping world already knows about survival lentils and rice, but I wanted something that tasted delicious and was completely satisfying. Well, we tinkered a bit and voila: a revelation. With very little cooking time I could produce a smooth, creamy, delicious kichidi that made me smile.
For those unfamiliar with kichidi, it’s rice and dal, simply cooked and gussied up however you like. In fact, this recipe is so versatile and life-giving, it kept my father fed every day through grad school. With a thermos, though, you cut out all but 10 mins prep time and while you’re doing whatever you do, your food is slow-cooking between breakfast and lunch. Now, it must be a thermos that locks tight, completely seals in the heat, and holds enough foods to fill you up. The night before, you soak your grains. Then the following morning, as you brush your teeth, you turn on the rice and dal to a boil, turn it down to simmer, and cook it for as long as you have. Even if it’s only five minutes, it’ll do the job. You pour this into your thermos and get on with your day. Three or four hours later you have a delicious meal. Sandwiches and to-go meals are great, but nothing beats a bowl of goodness.
So right now, get up from your computer, head toward the cupboard that houses all those random kitchen contraptions you never use, pull out your thermos, and give it a good wash WITH SOAP. I’ll wait. Tomorrow (or today if you’re feeling ballsy), soak some grains. The following day, lunchtime, you can thank me. Clearly, this is a field that needs more investigation by home cooks. What else can we do here?!
Kichidi to go
1 cup brown basmati
1/2 cup split mung dal
5 cups of water
2 teaspoons spice blend
1 tablespoon ghee
1 teaspoon salt
Soak the rice and dal in enough water to cover by 2″ overnight. In the morning, rinse and place in a pot along with 5 cups water. Bring to a boil. You can either take off the heat now or cook for 5-10 minutes. Each 10 minutes will speed up cooking time in the thermos by about an hour.
Place the kichidi in a thermos. You have the option here to add in the spices and ghee now or later. Experiment. I found the most delicious way is to add 1/2 now, 1/2 later, but it’s up to you.
Additions and adaptations
Greens go really well with dal and rice. You can also add in fresh herbs, summer vegetables, tomatoes, cauliflower, etc. Just put them into the pot when you heat up the dal.
+ Add in kale, chopped and sauteed in a bit of ghee where you vagar* 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds. Add a bit of water, cover, and cook for 10 minutes, until tender. Add to the thermos.
+ Add in a cup of blanched fresh or frozen peas to the thermos.
+ Add in 2 teaspoons of spirulina for all the minerals and vitamins you need
+ Add in a handful of spinach and some toasted sesame seeds
* Vagarifying is when you heat up ghee in a saute pan and add seeds like mustard or cumin until they pop.
This blend is simple and satisfying. You could really use anything. The most effective blends will be those with varying tastes. You already have sweet and salty covered, so pungent, savory, and bitter are good to play with. Add in a little chile powder, some cloves or star anise, or experiment with dried herbs. Remember that spices are tiny powerhouses of vitamins and minerals and can be used to balance your diet.
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon turmeric
Dry roast in a saute pan on medium until toasted. Grind and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to one month.
Driving through these western landscapes makes you dizzy with wonder. We also picked up a copy of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Reading a book so provocative and filled with such utter devastation, well, it colors your trip considerably. In Mesa Verde we were slowed to a crawl because they were repaving roads, so we only made it to the Cliff Palace. Looking out over the cliff at the higgledy-piggledy house structures, you get the smallest glimpse of what humans were like when they integrated with the land, instead of living upon it. The foundations are still standing some 800 years later and their rudimentary grouting, studded with corn cobs and bits of pebbles, is still very much intact.
As we drove through the Mesa Verde lands we were surrounded by the charred tree remnants of a fire from 2003. We wandered through the knotted trees looking for life. Wildflowers were rampant, and some succulents had grown back, but not much else.
The landscape of Utah is dotted with mesas, severely steep sandstone composites that are all that remain after the rest of earth and stone has fallen away. Beside them are shitty, deposited houses-on-wheels, manmade structures that clearly don’t belong and will just as easily blow away if humans turn their back for more than a moment.
Johnny Cash was already blasting as we rolled into Jackson where we had a walk, a delicious bison burger, and a photo under the antler arch. At dusk we made our way though windy dirt roads in search of an unmarked campsite recommended to us by a shop owner. Of course we never found it, but did happen upon these bison crossing the road beneath the beautiful, busty Tetons – probably the coolest mountains ever. We did find a site beside a lake and had a helluva time getting our seriously low underbelly VW, Gloria, out the next morning.
Yellowstone, America’s first national park, was at first horse and buggie affair, but by 1933 became a popular roadside attraction; a way to view the wild from the privacy and efficiency of your own vehicle. Granted, those early 20th century Americans were certainly more adventurous than their 21st century counterparts. A ring of a road circles the outer perimeter of the park, making the greater part of the 2,221,766 acres, the backcountry, navigable only by backpackers if at all. In the two days that we drove and hiked Yellowstone we were visited by rain, sleet, hail, snow, impressive clouds, wind, and glimpses of sun. With steam bursting from geysers and mist wafting off the springs, it does resemble a land of another time. As Yellowstone newbies, we took the “WOW” exit to Old Faithful, then spent the afternoon following the “cruisers” on the safari-like journey around the park, stopping wherever we saw an enormous camouflaged monocular or camera.
But no trip is complete without a hike into the backcountry. We had to travel to the top of the park where the elevation is lower (Yellowstone has snow in May?!) When we arrived it was dusk and raining softly. We had a moment in the car deliberating over whether we’d be freezing cold and wet or happy as pigs in shit to be out there in the wild, then we hiked the 2 1/2 miles to our designated site. We were the only people in the world in a completely foreign land. It was brilliant.