How are you supposed to cook more than a measly pack of Mr. Noodles during your travels off-the-beaten path?
Whether you’re enjoying the simplicity that comes with the van life solo, or taking to the roads in search of adventure with your friends, you need to be noshing on more than convenience store staples. Not to say you shouldn’t stock up on those “freshly baked” cookies by the cash register, but perhaps consider switching these less-than-ideal eats for fresh and healthy choices. It’s necessary to keep your body and your mind fuelled if you want to make it to the beach before sunrise.
For starters, you’re going to need the right tools. There’s no room for excess, so here are the essentials to stock in your van’s kitchen:
- 2 bowls (you can eat anything out of a bowl)
- 2 mugs (for slurping water, coffee and beer)
- 2 forks (forget spoons, you can straight up drink liquids)
- 1 sharp knife (fend off wild animals or cut your meat)
- 1 fold out table (makes things easier than a picnic blanket)
- 1 frying pan
- 1 sauce pan (one of each allows for faster preparation)
- 1 spatula (forks will scratch your pan)
- 2 fold out chairs (for the table, of course)
- 1 container of wet wipes (clean everything from your dishes to your body)
For the pantry itself, fresh food can be a real commodity when travelling through small towns, or on the freeway in the middle of the desert. It may be tempting to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies before you set off, but watching them wilt in the van’s heat after a few days will be soul crushing to say the least. It does best to buy only what you need to make it to your next stop to prevent any food from spoiling and wasting money. If you have the chance, you can forage for fresh berries or shellfish. Just make sure to keep your van life diet diverse to ensure you stay healthy and avoid the temptation of the local KFC. Here are a handful of ingredients you will definitely use on the road:
- Tea and coffee
- Olive oil, coconut oil, vinegar, soy sauce, chilli sauce, mustard, mayo, honey, almond butter, garlic, curry paste
- Salt and pepper
- Herbs, paprika, cumin, coriander, ginger, sundried tomatoes
- Canned tuna/salmon, canned tomatoes
- Mixed nuts, seeds, dried fruit
- Rice, quinoa
- Dried meats, bacon, sausage
- Sweet potatoes, cabbage, carrots, onions, peppers, celery, mushrooms, zucchini, olives, lemons, cauliflower, avocados, beans
- Bananas, apples, oranges, peaches, plums, grapes
- Hard cheese
- Dark chocolate
Now the trick to utilizing these precious items and cooking in a cramped van kitchen is to not do much of it. If you can, try to get your food to multi-task in a way that one trip to the kitchen will provide a day’s worth of meals.
The options to nourish that temple of yours are basically endless if you start the day with a pot of hot water. What might you gravitate towards when this fresh canvas starts to boil? Eggs.
If you’re going to cook some eggs, opt for hard-boiled. The clean up and storage is way easier and can be used for meals throughout the day – breakfast, egg salad sandwiches, devilled eggs, a filling salad and hey, why not spice things up by tossing a few potatoes in the mix. Can someone say potato salad?
While the water is still at a rapid boil, drop in a couple of hotdogs to delight your friends. (Editor’s note – please do not attempt this if there is a perfectly good campfire and roasting stick nearby.)
Just wait! Don’t toss that water out the window before squeezing a couple drops of dish soap in to clean the day’s utensils while it’s still hot.
Salads have been hailed as the travelling cook’s best friend. Why? Surprisingly, salads can be very van-friendly. If you’re careful and choose pickled vegetables over fresh greens, you can be sure your ingredients won’t go bad. These can include carrots, beets, asparagus and beans. All the jars can be tucked away with the non-perishable goods to free up space in the fridge. A salad supplemented with pickled veggies and some nuts on top will ensure you’re keeping the fibre flowing on the road.
This is the ultimate van food because all you need is your trusty pot and you can make a big batch of whatever you want for dinner… for the next three nights. You can use any vegetables and herbs you have on hand and cook it up with some meat or tofu. Add a starch to reload on carbs and energy. Here are three incredibly low-cost and stress-free recipes to make at once:
Chorizo and Vegetable Stew
- 1 chorizo sausage, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 tsp coconut oil
- 1 brown onion, roughly diced
- 1 celery stick, roughly diced
- 1 large carrot, roughly diced
- 1-2 red or green peppers, roughly diced
- 2 large white or sweet potato, peeled and diced into cubes
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 1/2 cup water + 1 chicken or vegetable stock cube or 1 1/2 cup of liquid stock
- 1 cup tinned diced tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp mixed dried herbs
- 1 medium zucchini, diced
- Pasta sauce (make ahead of time)
- Any ingredients you fancy! Mushrooms, onion, garlic, pepper, spinach, meats, etc.
Prep all your ingredients by chopping up small amounts of everything you want on your pizza. Put the tortilla in a pan and add sauce, cheese and toppings, Now, create a pizza oven by inverting a pot on top of your pan. Turn your stove to very low heat or keep your fire minimal. Be patient, your tortilla will start to crisp up and your pan will fill with steam causing your cheese and toppings to cook. Cook your meat ahead of time if you will be adding that. You will know your pizza is done when the cheese is melted and the tortilla is crispy enough to pick up like a traditional pizza.
Chilli Con Carne
This Spanish name simply means ‘chilli with meat.’ A true cowboy food that can be cooked and eaten on the trail, or in your van, of course.
- 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil or bacon lard.
- 500g lean minced Beef
- 1 Teaspoon of whole Cumin Seeds
- 1 large brown Onion, finely chopped.
- 2 large cloves of Garlic finely minced.
- 2 -3 Red Chillies finely sliced into rings. (remove seeds for milder taste)
- 2 cups or 400g tin peeled chopped Tomatoes.
- 1 400g tin of Red Kidney Beans, drained and rinsed.
- ½ Teaspoon of coarsely ground Pepper
- A good pinch of Salt
In your saucepan, heat the olive oil to medium high. Add the cumin seeds and cook for 30 seconds until they ‘pop.’ Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds but do not allow to brown. Add the onion and stir until it starts to turn translucent and pick up a little colour. Next brown minced meat a tablespoon at a time, breaking it up and stirring. Once each portion of mince is crumbled and browned, add the next. Stir in the chillies and pepper and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and stir. Add the Red Kidney Beans, the salt and 1 cup of water. Cook for 1 hour stirring occasionally making sure not to crush the beans.
To end another fantastic day on the road, may I recommend the one, the only:
You know this classic campfire favourite? Well this is a s’more, put inside an Oreo. We’ll just leave it at that.