This dish was inspired by a recipe on the box of Trader Joe's Israeli couscous.

Backpacker recipe: Israeli couscous, trail style

When it comes to backpacker food there are two types of hikers: Those content with prepackaged freeze-dried cuisine from a bag and those who want “real” food without the weight. That’s not to say some of the freeze-dried foods aren’t good; I’m a big fan of bringing skillet brownie mixes with me on a long backpacking trip as a treat along the way; but for the most part, the packaged savory meals are too salty for my liking.

On a recent 6-day backpacking trip along the John Muir Trail there was, among my more gourmet attempts, one standout that everyone adored. It was a backpacking friendly version of the “Israeli Couscous with pine nuts & parsley” recipe on the back of Trader Joe’s boxed Israeli couscous.

With grain and pasta meals, it’s often relatively easy to make your favorite dishes, but replace the fresh seasoning and vegetables with dried. Here’s my interpretation of the recipe, for a backpack friendly dish. I pack everything in ziplock bags that have the on-trail cooking directions in permanent marker on the outside.

Pre-trip Prep

Large ziplock bag

Put all of the following ingredients in a large ziplock bag.

  • 8 oz. Israeli couscous
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 dried by leaf
  • 1 Tablespoon onion powder
Small ziplock bag

Put all of the following ingredients in a small ziplock bag.

  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts*
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons dried parsley
  • Dash of black pepper
  • 1/4 cup raisins or similar dried fruit
  • Zest of one lemon, dried (optional)

* To toast pine nuts yourself, simply melt a little butter or heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat; add pine nuts and stir until lightly browned. The recipe will work with untoasted pine nuts as well.

Additional Ingredients

You will also need cooking oil, bouillon cube and water. I like to bring a small squeeze tube of olive oil when I backpack to use with multiple meals (not just this one).

On-trail Directions

Use a permanent marker to put these directions on the large ziplock bag for reference on the trail.

  1. Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil in sauce pan
  2. Add couscous and seasoning (large ziplock ingredients) and sauté until slightly browned
  3. Add 1-3/4 cup water + bouillon cube and bring to boil
  4. Lower heat, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed (approximately 10-12 minutes)
  5. Turn off heat and add contents of the smaller seasoning bag

Enjoy! What are some of your for-the-trail adaptations? Let us know in the comments.