Gone are the days where campfire cooking meant baked beans and instant noodles. Add the right staples to your cooler box and you’ll see that whipping up a delicious meal is a piece of cake. Try these five recipes for a tasty change of pace.
If there’s one thing campers can agree on, it’s that food cooked on an open fire under the African sky simply tastes better. But while the humble braai offers a world of culinary possibilities, few people are willing to spend needless hours slaving over hot coals. After all, time is precious when you’re on holiday! Two people taking this to heart on their travels are Lea and Francois Erasmus of Ultimate Routes, a local travel company that designs personalised routes for self-drive travellers in Africa. The meals they put together on a recent recce trip through southern Africa show that camping food can be simple, fuss-free and pleasing to the palate and pocket.
Lea shares the must-haves every camping kitchen needs as well as the top five campfire foods from their recent trip.
Camping kitchen essentials
You don’t need to pack up your whole kitchen to cook successfully on the road. With just a few versatile tools at your disposal, you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve.
Don’t leave home without:
• A flat-bottomed cast iron pot
• Foil (heavy-duty roll)
• Ziplock bags
• Wet wipes
• Extra lighters/matches
• A large, good quality wooden or enamel spoon
• At least 2 sharp knives
1. Padkos potbrood
Whether you pre-mix your flour, take a recipe book along for fancy variations or use a ready-mix pack (like we did), a good old potbrood is always a wholesome addition to any overland trip. Eureka Mills has a range of easy-to-pack, easy-to-bake, 1kg Home Mixes for potbrood, roosterkoek, vetkoek and even pizza! If you’re looking for convenience, a great local supplier and delicious lunch sandwiches en route, pack a few of these into your ammo crate – you won’t regret it.
Avoid a baking flop
Baking bread on coals is an art form. We love wood fires and Francois, like a good ol’ boerseun, is a whizz with a braai and not too shabby when it comes to baking bread either. But on our last day at Mana Pools it all went wrong. Thanks to an unfortunate combination of wind, hot charcoal and a sunny afternoon, our bread baked in record time and burnt through just as quickly! In the process of trying to pry the rock-hard, thick, black bread from the pot, we managed to snap not only our little metal spatula but also our trusty wooden spoon!
● Rather bake your bread with fewer coals at first – patience pays.
● If it’s not broken, don’t fix it (keep to the same fire baking methods you’re used to).
● Pack the Spray & Cook – it just works better than oil.
● Soak the burnt stuff in your pot in cold water for at least an hour before attempting to get it off.
● Practice makes perfect, don’t be demotivated by a flop.
Also read: Etiquette for wild camping in Africa
2. Veggie ‘pakkies’
Staying healthy and balanced on a self-drive trip can be challenging. We try to minimise our use of processed foods and include as much fresh food as possible in our diet. Luckily, Africa’s soil produces fantastic fruit and veg that you can buy at local shops and markets. Veggie ‘pakkies’ are the most diverse side dish to prepare with your braai meat. They are forgiving, adaptable, easy to prepare and leave virtually no dishes behind.
Try this method
• Lie down 2 large sheets of foil (shiny side up).
• Roughly chop up a selection of vegetables such as onion, garlic, carrots, baby marrows, pumpkin, potato, sweet potato, cauliflower etc. Heap the lot in the centre of one of the foil sheets.
• Drizzle veg with oil or butter, add salt and pepper to taste.
• Add any special ingredients like sundried tomato, balsamic vinegar or cream for a more luxurious meal.
• Match the foil sheet’s top edges together, roll down towards the vegetables and tuck in the sides. ‘Double bag’ the package by wrapping the second sheet over the first in the same manner.
• Set aside a spade full of coals and place the package on the coals
• Place a few coals on top and allow 40 minutes to 1 hour to cook through.
• Open up and enjoy!
Have you tried Justin Bonello’s pizza recipe? It’s a winner. Download it, print it and keep it in the camping kitchen crate. Toppings are obviously your choice. We use what we have and if we can stock up before a pizza night en route, we’ll buy a few special toppings for a treat. We made pizza three times on our trip! Once we even made a few hors d’oeuvre pizzas for fellow South Africans camping in Mana Pools, in exchange for the use of their nifty camping-pizza-oven.
A few tips for pizza nights
● Enjoy the pre-pizza ‘kuier’ – you’ll need an empty wine bottle to use as a rolling pin.
● Prepare everything before you start making the pizzas. It’s a slow food experience: make, bake, eat, repeat.
● Ditch the tomato base for melted butter, garlic and a little lemon juice.
● Buy some local Namibian Salami (also available in many Botswana butcheries) and place thin slices on your pizza!
● Fresh tomato and onion slices add a yummy coolness and crunch. Buy these locally.
4. Thai curry
Francois and I spent just over a year in Asia before returning to South Africa to grow Ultimate Routes on home soil. Our routine evening meal was a range of Thai curries. For affordability reasons, our meat of choice was chicken or pork, so on our African recce trip, we packed a good amount of chicken. (It’s not everyone who can afford to braai mutton, beef or game every night after all.
Preparation is key. Do all the chopping while it’s still light and defrost the meat during the afternoon – but keep it hidden from the monkeys and baboons!
Try this recipe
Ingredients: Curry paste or powder, coconut milk or cream, something sweet (pineapple, chutney or jam), onion, garlic, mushrooms, carrots, baby marrows, pumpkin, potato, sweet potato and whatever veg you have at hand.
• Chop up the vegetables.
• Cut the meat into cubes.
• Heat oil in the pot, add the onion and curry paste/powder and sauté.
• Add the meat and mushrooms, a teaspoon of salt and a squeeze or two of lemon. Sauté until browned.
• Add the remaining vegetables (leave veggies like baby marrow and cabbage until the end).
• Pour in a tin of coconut milk and a little water.
• Stir twice and cover with the lid
• Let the pot stand over medium coals for at least 40 minutes.
• Add the last vegetables and the chutney about 20min before serving.
• Serve with fresh roosterkoek, rice or couscous. We sometimes add the couscous to the curry 5 min before serving.
5. Homemade sosaties
When you have a little more time for preparation, it’s time to get creative. This is one reason I take zip-lock bags along on camping trips. Not only are they great for portioning dried fruit and other snacks, but they’re ideal for storing marinades and rubs. If you want to create your own marinade, don’t feel obliged to use strict measurements. Work with what you have, add a pinch of this and a splash of that and it should be delicious.
Try this recipe
Basic marinade ingredients: oil, onions (finely chopped), chutney or apricot jam, spices, seasoning and lemon juice.
• Combine your ingredients with cubes of meat (chicken, lamb, beef or game).
• Seal in a zip-lock bag and let stand for the afternoon or overnight for best results.
• Thread meat onto sosatie sticks. Red peppers, onion, bacon, mushrooms or sundried tomatoes make for yummy spacers between the meat.
• Braai and enjoy with your choice of sides.
What food do you love to cook on camping trips? Tell us in the comments.