This easy vegan CAMPING Palak Dal (Red Lentils with Spinach) is cooked in a Dutch oven right on the campfire!
If you’ve spent your day scrambling over rocks, looking for trail markers, and guzzling bottle after bottle of Gatorade-infused water, by dinnertime you’re probably ravenous! Chances are, those snack bags of trail mix haven’t left you full and satisfied, and what you really want (and need) is a delicious, flavorful meal to end the day.
For those of you who are camping, however, getting that meal might be a little trickier. When you find yourself at a campsite without electricity, refrigeration, or an oven– have no fear! With a little preparation, you can easily end your day by devouring a bowl (or two) of Indian-style Red Lentils with Spinach (or Palak Dal).
Gathering Equipment + Ingredients
Earlier this summer, on our cross-country, national park-hopping and hiking extravaganza, the husband and I camped… a lot. Always in a tent, and rarely with electricity. We planned on cooking almost every day, which didn’t happen, but we came close! One of the ways we managed was by modifying recipes I already cook to make them camper-friendly.
This recipe for Palak Dal is a simplified version of Masala Spiced Lentils with spinach added in, and is cooked over a campfire. I also used a propane-fueled camp-stove to heat water for rice, but if you’re not packing a camp-stove, you can prepare the entire dish on the campfire. This red lentil and spinach curry takes about 40 minutes, start to finish. Everything you need for this recipe is shelf-stable, and will be fine waiting in your car without refrigeration while you hike.
Making Palak Dal
To start dinner, go ahead and heat coals in the campfire ring, or make someone else do it while you dice the onion. (Thank you, husband!) Put oil, diced onion, a pre-made tandoori spice mix,* garlic powder, and salt into a cast iron dutch oven.** Set the oven, lid off, on the campfire. Let the onions cook for a minute or two, and then add the tomatoes. Be careful, because, you know… you’re cooking over an open fire. Don’t burn yourself! Let the tomatoes cook for a couple of minutes, and then add the spinach, lentils, and water. Cover the pan, and let it cook for 25-30 minutes, until most of the liquid has boiled down and the lentils are tender.
While the lentils cook, heat water for rice on the propane camp-stove. If you don’t have a camp-stove, you can heat water in a saucepan on the campfire grate, but you might need to wait until the lentils finish cooking. I used instant rice because it’s easiest, even though basmati and jasmine rice are definitely more delicious, but use whichever you prefer. If you stick with instant rice, don’t forget to add some flavor with garlic powder and salt. Your taste buds will thank you. Once the lentils finish cooking, and the rice is fluffy and seasoned, scoop everything into bowls and enjoy eating in the great outdoors.
*Note: I like the tandoori masala spice mix from Whole Foods
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Note: This isn’t the time to use your uber expensive, gorgeous, enameled cast iron dutch oven. No, no, no. This is the time to use the unenameled dutch oven– the work horse, not the show pony. If you don’t already have one– this is the one we use.
Campground Cooking Tips:
- Try to stay as organized as possible. I kept a box with my spices, oils, and kitchen equipment, and then separated produce, breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods into different reusable grocery bags. That way, I didn’t have to pull everything out at once.
- Clean up your dishes immediately. The faster you clean up, the easier it will be.
- Use available resources to add to your meal. For example, this KOA in Durango, CO had free fresh veggies and herbs available for campers, and Mather Campground at the Grand Canyon had an especially nice, camper-friendly market.
Want more camping food ideas? Click here!
Palak Dal (Red Lentils with Spinach)
Glamping / Camping Recipe
Serves 4, or 2 hungry hikers
- 1 TB olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 tsp salt, plus more to season rice
- 2 TB tandoori masala spice mix
- 1/2 TB garlic powder, plus more to season rice
- 1 15 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
- 1 cup red lentils (rinsed and sorted)
- 1 15 oz can spinach, drained
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 2 cups instant white rice
- access to a campfire ring or campfire area
- 1 small bag campfire coals
- 1 camp-stove with propane (optional- you can also boil water by placing a saucepan or kettle over the campfire grate)
- 1 cast iron dutch oven (not enameled)
- small metal turner or spatula
- saucepan with lid (for rice)
- measuring cup (for rice)
- cutting board
- can opener (if cans aren't pop-top)
- bowls or plates
- spoons or forks
Preheat campfire coals until very hot. Add olive oil, onions, salt, garlic, and tandoori spices into the dutch oven, and set uncovered on coals. Let onions sauté for 1-2 minutes, stirring if needed. Add tomatoes to the dutch oven, and let cook 2-3 minutes. Add spinach, lentils, and water. Cover dutch oven, and let cook 25-30 minutes, until most of the liquid has boiled down and the lentils are tender.
While lentils are cooking, boil water for rice in a saucepan on propane camp-stove. (Alternately, boil water over campfire on campfire grate. Depending on the size of your campfire ring, you might need to wait and boil the water after the lentils finish cooking.)
Prepare rice according to package directions, and then season to taste with salt and garlic powder.
If needed, season lentils to taste with more salt. Allow lentils to cool slightly before serving. Serve with rice.
*Calorie Information was calculated per serving using My Fitness Pal. Calorie calculations are based on this recipe making 4 servings and include the rice.