Mountain Masala – A Tasty Tikka Fit for a Pika

Strolling a half mile past our unmarked junction on a long day one of six backpacking through the Wallowas was not ideal. The final mile and three-quarters to camp was a burly climb. With the temperature dropping precipitously it made for a mentally and physically taxing last stretch. While the gorgeous setting of Hidden Lake backdropped by jagged peaks dulled the weariness, a hot meal was the kicker to put our fatigue induced crankiness to rest. And when that meal is homemade Tikka Masala it’s next level soothing.

Doesn’t do it justice, but does it ever?

Tikka Masala is a popular backpacking dish and you’ll find numerous recipes online. I’ve made many, but I believe my take is the tastiest. It’s a legit restaurant quality sauce that I dehydrate for the trail. A trend you’ll find in my recipes is they are low or free of dairy to accommodate my wife, but this isn’t the rule. This recipe can be modified with various ingredients to be pro-dairy. I’ve also toned down the heat on this version, but adding fresh jalapeño and/or cayenne pepper can boost both flavor and spice!

The first step is organizing your ingredients, in the restaurant world this is called your mis en place. The second step is tasting as you go to get the flavor just right. Definitely doctor it as you go to get the taste dialed in. If you like more ginger, or lime, or heat or whatever, add it! Also don’t be intimidated by the long list of spices, I buy mine in the bulk section to get smaller amounts so my spices are fresh. Fragrant, quality spices are vital to creating a tasty dish, as is a balance of fresh ingredients so this recipe has both.

At home ingredients and preparation:

tsp = teaspoon tbsp = tablespoon

Cooking times are estimates. Differences in stoves and cookware will change these times, always use your eyes and nose to guide you along.

  • 6 tsp fresh ginger – grated
  • 6 cloves garlic – diced
  • juice of one lime
  • 1 medium yellow onion – diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro – rough chopped
  • 1 jalapeño – seeded and diced (optional)
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes, I prefer fire roasted versions
  • 1 oz double strength tomato paste, double if it’s not double strength
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 tsp ground garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp chili flake
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground fenugreek (optional, I happen to have it in my spice rack so I throw it in a lot of recipes)
  • 1-2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp Diamond brand kosher salt, halve the amount if using Mortons kosher. Don’t use table salt… ever
A gorgeous fall day, perfect for Tikka Masala!

Bring a large saucepan to medium heat and add the olive oil, using as little as possible for the best dehydrating results. When the oil is heated add the onions and cook to translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic (and jalapeno if you like it hot) and cook until just soft, but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add in tomato paste and mix well until paste starts to brown, about 2 minutes. Add in spices and salt stirring until well mixed and aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and stir everything together until well mixed. Increase heat to medium-high until bubbling, then reduce heat to simmer until the consistency thickens up and there is no standing liquid. I like to add in the cilantro for the last couple minutes to brighten up the flavor.

Once you’re stoked on the taste and consistency, line your dehydrator sheets with parchment paper and add 1 to 2 cups depending on the size of your trays. Dehydrate for 8 hours or until it’s dry and cracking, mine normally ends up still a bit pliable. 1 pre-cooked cup is a portion, so divide as needed into snack size ziplock bags for storage. Store in the freezer until it’s time to hit the trail.

Ingredients and instructions for the trail:

  • 30 grams dehydrated protein of choice: chicken and soy curls are my favorite options for this dish
  • 50 grams dehydrated grain of choice: quinoa is my favorite due to the high protein content, but basmati rice is traditional
  • 15 grams dried coconut cream or dehydrated yogurt per serving
  • dehydrated cilantro garnish (optional)
  • 2 tbs coconut oil, ghee, or butter per serving. Gotta have the fat! For weight savings use butter buds for flavor
  • cayenne pepper if you didn’t add it originally and want to spice it up in the backcountry

The easiest way to cook this is to bring roughly 1 and 1/2 cups water per serving to a boil. Remove from the flame and add all the ingredients. Let sit until reconstituted, about 20 minutes. Then give it a good stir and put back over medium heat until it reaches your desired eating temperature, stirring often. Add water as needed to reach a good consistency. For photos I rehydrated each component separately. This adds a few minutes of prep and an extra pot, but I’ve worked in restaurants long enough that I appreciate attractive plating.

On the last day of our trek I heard an eek. With an urgent swivel I was able to get a quick pic of this pika playing it cool for the camera. Sadly, it didn’t join us for dinner.

Hey lil’ buddy

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