It isn’t too difficult to make your own vegetarian backpacking meals, but incorporating enough protein into them can be a challenge.

Protein is a critical macronutrient that helps facilitate muscle repair. You might be able to overlook it on a quick overnight, but over the course of a longer multi-day hike, your muscles will start to fatigue without it. Since much of your muscle recovery happens at night while you sleep, one of the most important times to load up on protein is at dinner.

That’s where this dehydrated Lentil Chilli comes in! Using a combination of red lentils and kidney beans, this meal is loaded with over 20 grams of plant-based protein per serving. A big bowl of this chilli is a great way to help your muscles recover after a long day on the trail.

When it comes to chilli, everyone has their own personal preference. Some like it hot, some like it mild, and some like no spice at all. Which is why this particular recipe is great. By making this recipe at home and then dehydrating it, you’re able to test the final product it before committing. This way you can dial in the spice to exactly your liking. The last thing anyone wants when backpacking is to discover the bowl of chilli you packed for your dinner is too spicy to eat!

So if you’re a vegetarian backpacker searching for a way to keep your muscles fueled over the course of a long hike, this Lentil Chili is definitely worth checking out.

Vegetarian Lentil Chili
Makes 3-4 servings
Vegetarian Lentil Chilli
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced bell pepper
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2 cups sliced zucchini
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons chilli powder
1 (14oz) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 (14oz) can kidney beans, drained
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2+ cups vegetable broth or water
1 cup red lentils
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onions, peppers, and salt and saute until beginning to soften. Add zucchini and cook until vegetables are soft and beginning to turn golden in spots. Add garlic, cumin, and chilli powder and saute until fragrant (about 30 seconds).

Add the tomatoes, beans, tomato paste, and 2 cups broth, stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then add the lentils. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, adding more water if needed. Stir in sugar and adjust seasoning to taste. Remove from heat.

To dehydrate, spread the chilli onto dehydrator trays lined with solid fruit leather sheets, ensuring the chilli is in a thin, even layer. Dehydrate at 135F for 8-12 hours, until the chilli is dry and crumbly.

Dehydrating your chilli

Package in sealable bags and store in a cool, dark place or your freezer for longer storage.

To prepare in camp:

Pack the dehydrated chilli and a small bottle of olive oil (3-4 tablespoons total) in your bear barrel (a water/air tight canister).

At mealtime place the chilli, ~1 cup water per serving (enough to mostly cover the chilli), and 1 tablespoon oil per serving in a cookpot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the beans and lentils and tender.

Tip: If you have time, you can let the chilli soak for a bit before bringing it to a boil, which will reduce the simmer time, therefore reducing fuel consumption.