The most frequent question I am asked when people find out that we are serious about hiking the PCT is what we are doing for food. Apparently, this is the most mysterious part. Tortilla chicken soup is something our family greatly enjoys eating for a normal dinner at home. It contains very few ingredients; it's a simple, nourishing meal; and the warm hearty nature makes it great for backpacking. I figured I'd give it a go and try some things to make an MRE out of it.
The recipe is as follows first for a large batch (about 4 servings) then a single batch. Each batch feeds between 2 or 3 people. Scroll down for a tutorial on how to dehydrate chicken stock and rehydration instructions. All our dehydrated items have been tested for at least 8 months, though many last for over a year if properly dehydrated.
One Large Batch of Dehydrated Tortilla Chicken Soup
approximately 13 cups dehydrated
9 cups finely ground stale tortilla chips or stale tortillas
4 quarts chicken stock
2 medium squash or 6 sweet potatoes dehydrated
2 cups dehydrated salsa
2 cups NIDO whole milk powder (DO NOT SUBSTITUTE NON-FAT)
1/2 cup garlic powder
1/4 cup oregano
One Single Serving of Dehydrated Tortilla Chicken Soup
approximately 2.5 cups dehydrated
1 1/2 cups ground stale tortilla chips or stale tortillas
1 pint chicken stock
1/4 of a squash or 1 sweet potato dehydrated
1/4 cup dehydrated salsa
1/4 cup NIDO whole milk powder (DO NOT SUBSTITUTE NON-FAT)
4 Tblspns garlic powder
2 Tblspns oregano
As with any recipe, test this before heading out into the backcountry without any backup. This is the way our family likes the taste. You might prefer less salsa and more garlic. You might want it spicier and will omit some of the NIDO.
Non-fat milk powder creates a very strange blend when mixed with the salsa. I don't know what the combination does (the acidity of the salsa maybe?) but it doesn't rehydrate smoothely and leaves a chunky, almost spoiled flavor. Use NIDO or some other whole milk powder. You can find NIDO on Amazon (really expensive!), at Walmart (pretty darn cheap), and at many ethnic food stores (also cheap). You can find whole milk powder at Natures, Whole Foods, and many natural food stores in the bulk food sections. Whole milk powder is completely stable at room temperature and can last over 3 years without beginning to spoil or loose nutrients. If you are backpacking, you need the fat anyway!
Dehydrating the Chicken Stock
Since you are basically trying to dehydrate a liquid, you need a medium to pour into and hold all the tasty goodness. This is where the chips come in. They absorb the chicken stock and then when dehydrated the eliminate the water. The tasty goodness is trapped inside the chips and stores remarkably well.
The tortilla chips always work best if they are stale. They tend to grind finer and absorb better. If available, use stale ones. Whatever the case, grind them up as fine as your food processor can get them.
Pour the chicken stock in a large bowl, and then dump the ground chips on top. If you were brilliant like I was and grabbed the smaller of my large bowls, stir carefully. If you were much more intelligent and picked the biggest large bowl, stir however fast you would like. Then set aside overnight.
In the morning, you should have something the consistency of baby food. It will probably look about as appetizing as well. Trust me, in the end, it will taste good.
Pour the goop onto a fruit leather tray and dehydrate at 145-155 degrees for 10 hours. You need to keep it up to at least 145 in order to properly kill any lurking bacteria. Any lower will not keep the temperature high enough for long enough.
Check it at 10 hours. The entire tray should be cracked and extremely brittle. If the pieces don't pull up in stiff blocks, they need more time. If while pulling the pieces up, you discover a section that is still squishy underneath or pliable, they need more time.
Once completely dry, give them another whirl in the food processor. If the pieces are brittle enough, the consistency should be close to sand. This means your soup will rehydrate in a matter of a couple minutes. The smaller the pieces, the quicker the rehydration. Mix thoroughly with the other dehydrated ingredients and package. Two and a half cups makes approximately 2-3 servings. It's rich stuff. As always, try it before you take outside and depend on it.
Use twice as much water as powder. Bring water to a boil, stir in powder and boil for 3 minutes. Stir thoroughly. Turn off heat, put the lid on the pot and let sit 5 minutes stirring occasionally. At this point it should be a smooth soup. Enjoy!