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Packable Salads

These crunchy, easy-to-prepare side dishes will make your hiking buddies green with envy.

The great salad experiment started when my husband refused to pack Edible Plants of the Southwest into New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness. “It weighs only 16 ounces. Surely a big, strong man like you can handle an extra pound,” I coaxed. The ploy didn’t work, so the book stayed home—I sure wasn’t going to lug it. The next 6 days, devoid of fresh, green foods, were agony. I began to fantasize about salads: leafy mixes, crisp slaws, and tangy beans. I gazed longingly at the unfamiliar vegetation growing along the trail. I knew I was in trouble when I called a friend Romaine instead of Ronald.

I vowed never to go saladless again. And thus began a frenzy of dehydrating fresh veggies that easily could be rehydrated into a backcountry salad bar (see “Easy Drying” in sidebar for basic dehydrating tips).

I discovered that some methods and ingredients are vastly more successful than others. For instance:

  • Shredded vegetables dry more thoroughly and rehydrate faster than sliced, and are less likely to crumble into powder inside a pack. A food processor fitted with a medium grating disk is ideal for shredding firm veggies. For tomatoes and other soft fruits and veggies, stick to slices or chunks.
  • Marinate your vegetables in spices for at least 24 hours before drying and you won’t need to pack dressing ingredients. To get the full flavor blast, my marinade contains double the amounts of spices I’d normally use in camp.
  • Cabbage in all its forms dries exceptionally well, even pickled red cabbage and sauerkraut straight from the jar. Every version of cole slaw—unless it has a creamy dressing—makes the transformation from fresh to dry to salad successfully.
  • Other trailworthy candidates for shredding include carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, and apples. Put shredded apples in lemon juice or vinegar right away to keep them from turning brown.

My experiments yielded five packable salads that do more than just satisfy my craving for fresh produce on the trail. They’re easy to prepare quickly and don’t require cooking, so I can have a salad with any meal. I carry them in zipper-lock bags and just add water half an hour or so before mealtime.

Salads also add punch to a trailside lunch. In the morning, I divide the dried ingredients into individual servings in zipper-lock bags, add water, and by noon, I have a crispy, refreshing salad to augment crackers, cheese, and beef jerky. Eat it out of the bag, and there are no dishes to wash.

All of the salads in these recipes dried in 24 to 36 hours with my old dehydrator. Newer dehydrators will do the job in about 15 hours at 130°F. If you’ve never dried veggies, or if you’re using an oven or brand-new dehydrator, check their consistency after 15 hours; veggies should be crunchy, but not brittle. Dried salads last for up to 6 months in the freezer without spoilage or loss of flavor and texture.

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