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As I can't go camping or bike touring at the moment, I'm taking the chance to experiment with some home-made dehydrated meals - doing everything at home but as if I was on the road. One idea is based on red lentils, with a separate sachet of dehydrated vegetables/vegetable powders/herbs/spices to rehydrate into a sauce, the whole thing served with couscous or pasta.

Stated cooking times for split red lentils range from 10 to 30 minutes; my DIY lightweight alcohol stove runs for about 10-20 minutes on a fill and I'd ideally like to boil water for the accompaniment as well on a single fill (both to minimise the amount of fuel I have to carry and to avoid the risks associated with refilling a hot stove or delay waiting for it to cool).

So how quick-cooking can I make my red lentils? My first thought is to soak them for a few hours, which I tried today (4 hours soaking) with reasonable success. This simulates knowing by mid-afternoon that I need to cook a dinner. I may experiment with a shorter soak, as it would be good to be able to cook at shorter notice. But is it possible/worthwhile to cook them and then dry them again (properly dehydrated so they'd keep)? Is there some other idea I'm missing?

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  • As soon as you rehydrate the lentils the foodborne illness clock starts
    – GdD
    Jun 1 '20 at 16:06
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    @GdD bear in mind that it's normal to soak other very similar dried pulses overnight at room temperature; in fact some recipes soak these same red lentils. i certainly wouldn't carry them for the whole trip soaked, as that would defeat the object of carrying dehydrated food.
    – Chris H
    Jun 1 '20 at 16:10
  • It is very normal to soak them overnight, but you are talking about soaking them, then draining them and packaging them up for a few days, which is a completely different animal.
    – GdD
    Jun 1 '20 at 16:53
  • @GdD. I'm not, but clearly there's more wrong with my writing than my food hygiene. I'll edit later, but what I'm doing today is a full test as if on the road - they're on the alcohol stove now after 4 hours soaking. The other idea was to cook at home, and fully dehydrate - if possible and useful
    – Chris H
    Jun 1 '20 at 19:03
  • Edited to clarify. Tonight's test was OK. I found the need for a simmer ring/choke for the stove (to slow it down), my recipe was a little bland, and I sloshed too much water on the couscous.
    – Chris H
    Jun 1 '20 at 20:23
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I can’t give you numbers as I haven’t experimented with it yet (but am very inspired to do so by your post), but assuming that you will be heating water for a morning coffee or so, have you considered putting the lentils into a smallish thermos container, topping them up with boiling water and letting them soak / slow cook during the day? Adding your dehydrated veggies and spices wouldn’t require any serious cooking at all, just a quick reheating or bringing it back to a boil.

The idea is roughly based on the principle of a haybox, where food is cooked by placing the hot out into an insulating environment. And combined with the “quick soak” method for beans, where the beans are not soaked in cold, but boiling water, but for just thirty minutes instead of overnight.

Admittedly, this would probably get the lentils in the danger zone for longer than the canonical two hours, but on the other hand, we are not dealing with proteins like meat, raw eggs or dairy. But you could always adjust the time when you start the lentils to fit stricter food safety guidelines or your personal risk tolerance, e.g. boiling the water at your lunch break.

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  • It's a nice idea, and one I had considered in passing. At the moment I'm not planning on carrying a thermos in the interests of space (I'll have 30 litres of space for all my camping gear, clothes etc.) and weight, but if I end up doing a cold-weather trip that may change. I suspect slow-cooking could be done safely and effectively with a decent thermos by (preheating it and) bringing everything back to the boil after about 4 hours before it's cooled too much
    – Chris H
    Jun 3 '20 at 15:00
  • @ChrisH : you might be able to take the general idea, but avoid the thermos -- for instance, if your pot had a tight fitting lid, you could seal it up and then wrap it in a towel or your change of clothes to insulate, then put it in the bottom of your pack. The general concept is called a 'thermal cooker' : frugalandthriving.com.au/…
    – Joe
    Jun 3 '20 at 15:42
  • @Joe I plan on using a tight-sealing plastic container for soaking (microwave safe so OK for eating hot food too). With a ziplock bag as extra protection in case of leaks that may be an option. I'll have a warm layer and hat
    – Chris H
    Jun 3 '20 at 15:47
  • @ChrisH : you might need your hat, so you can't depend on that. Your bedding might be a better option, if you do an overnight soak, and then start the cooking at breakfast so it's while you're awake.
    – Joe
    Jun 3 '20 at 15:58
  • @Joe I wouldn't need my hat or my fleece when riding (down to -6C at any rate, and I wouldn't be touring anything like that cold), and I'd be soaking/slow cooking the lentils while riding, to eat in the evening (breakfast porridge is easy: premix with milk powder etc, just add boiling water and wait 5 minutes)
    – Chris H
    Jun 3 '20 at 19:57
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  1. Cooking then in unsalted water
  2. Pressure cooking - saves 50%-60% of time
  3. Soaking them for 2-3 hours and cooking

Generally, I find red split lentils are the easiest ones to cook and they cook in a very short time than any lentils. Yellow split peas take longer to cook.

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    Point 1 is a good one (so +1). Point 2 doesn't work in this context: a pressure cooker weighs more than my entire cooking setup when bike camping; even a small one would also hold all my cooking gear. Point 3 is interesting. I tried about 4 hours soaking and they cooked in 12 minutes (after which I added the dehydrated veg and seasonings). I also have yellow split peas, but have only slow-cooked them recently, without soaking but they took longer to soften than split red lentils (which I'm told are the fastest pulses to cook)
    – Chris H
    Jun 3 '20 at 12:19
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I'm skeptical about whether adding/omiting salt makes a difference, but it may. Also experiment with adding a little baking soda; pH affects cooking time (and the final consistency), and 'neutral' isn't the limit of the usable range.

I haven't found any really reputable sources on my own, but this excellent answer discusses the role of baking soda in detail: https://cooking.stackexchange.com/a/45012/74018

Finally, take whatever steps you can to get "fresher" dried legumes. I've personally experienced 2x variation in cooking time just with stuff that was hiding at the back of my pantry for too long.

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  • In my case, as I mix the salt with the dried veg, herbs etc, that's added when the lentils are acceptably soft, so I'm not too worried about that. Dried veg includes powdered tomatoes so a bit acidic, one reason for adding them late. A little soda in with the lentils wouldn't be a bad idea though. Luckily red lentils are one of the more popular pulses around here so turn over faster and I don't have to make a special trip to buy them
    – Chris H
    Jun 3 '20 at 14:55
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A frame challenge answer: Instead of processing your own lentils, you might look into preprocessed products with reduced cook time.

Right now, my pantry contains two products that might be interesting for your case. One is a red lentil pasta that has a cooktime of 6 minutes, it's possible that other shapes have even quicker cooktimes. Another is chickpea instant couscous - it only requires you to pour boiling water over it and let it sit at room temperature. I haven't seen red lentil couscous, but it wouldn't hurt to look around for this kind of product (or directly base your meal on the chickpea couscous).

If you insist on making your own, you might look into parboiling your lentils instead of presoaking them. This will likely reduce your cooktime a lot, at least it does so with other food like rice. I haven't done it myself, so I can't get you an estimate, but it is likely that significant time savings lie in that direction.

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  • Parboiling is interesting, but they have to last several days at room temperature after that - I'm not sure if that could be achieved. I've seen quite a range of processed products. Some are likely to form part of the plan but I'll have to test a lot before I take them on the road. I've been very disappointed in some rather expensive ones meant for backpacking, while many of the ones sold in supermarkets are snacks lacking in protein, not very filling, and tasting more of salt than anything else.
    – Chris H
    Jun 7 '20 at 17:18
  • I meant parboiling, then dehydrating - they should be able to come back to edible with less time in hot water than if they have been soaked only, since the starch will be gelatinized. As for the "processed products", I meant ingredients made from lentils (or other legumes), not the expensive prepackaged meals - I count as processed the lentil pasta and chickpea couscous. You're right, the average snacks in the supermarket can be very disappointing.
    – rumtscho
    Jun 7 '20 at 18:45
  • Ah OK, so perhaps mix lentil pasta and pasta pasta, plus sauce ingredients for a complete meal. That's worth a try and I could use them up somehow if not. (Par-)boiling and green dehydrating was one of my ideas - you seem to suggest it would be workable.
    – Chris H
    Jun 7 '20 at 19:01
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    @ChrisH I'm pretty sure I've seen somewhere parboiled lentils, but since I can't remember where, and haven't made them on my own, it's a 90% sure, worth a try suggestion, not a 100% sure it will work suggestion. I would try a method like those for parboiling rice at home, for example like backpackingchef.com/dehydrating-rice.html (I just found that site, seems like they may have more ideas for you).
    – rumtscho
    Jun 7 '20 at 19:23
  • I've found a lentil-specific recipe for dehydrating after cooking. In this case it's for dhal but would adapt to plain lentils (to add veg/flavours later) or bolognese. 8-10 hours dehydrating sounds optimistic to me, but he might live somewhere drier than I do. A test is in order I think
    – Chris H
    Jun 11 '20 at 20:37
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CW as it gathers up some comments, mainly under rumtscho's answer, which started me in the right direction and which I commend.

As it turned out, what worked best was fully cooking them (as dhal), then dehydrating in a low oven (I have a dehydrator but wasn't confident it would maintain >60°C in all areas). The drying dhal needed turning a couple of times, then crumbling, to ensure it dried evenly. I started a little too hot, but a bit of toasting round the edges of the tray did no harm.

A bolognese-like sauce would work similarly, so long as any other ingredients (veg) were finely chopped, and I see no reason why plain fully cooked lentils couldn't be mixed with other ingredients in the field.

The only downside was a slight lack of texture, partly because I'd slow-cooked the dhal in the first place, and partly from the crumbling. In fact as the rice I'd also cooked and dehydrated was reluctant to soften, it had more bite than the dhal, but I still had a ncie hot meal bike-camping with minimal weight and mess.

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