MSR Backcountry Cafe: Lentil Stew

A life of travel and adventure on the open road sounds downright romantic, but in truth, it is usually far from glamorous. At least, that was my experience when my husband Tyler and I decided to spend two years on the seats of our touring bicycles.


Sure, there were days when the sun was shining and a gentle tailwind urged us onward, through quaint towns filled with kind, curious people.


On those days, once Tyler and I set up camp for the night, I’d fire up my stove and really let loose, using my enthusiasm and energy to whip up meals that were fairly involved. Homemade chicken fingers, zucchini feta fritters, or a tomato mozzarella calzone recipe (all now in my cookbook!)… the sky was the limit.


There were other days, however, that were more taxing, and more fraught with complications.


There was the time, for instance, when we were tired and frustrated, struggling to find a good place to camp for the night. When at last we found somewhere to pitch our tent, the skies decided to let loose with torrential rain, and thunder that shook the ground. We were in the middle of setting up camp—with our panniers open and everything we owned was exposed to the elements.

As we fumbled with our now-soaking tent, we realized in shock and despair that our trusty tent poles had popped out of their sockets, and would take some time to repair. With every moment that passed, our belongings became wetter and wetter in the ever-intensifying storm.

When at last we had a shelter rectified, it was a veritable swimming pool. I mopped up the water as best I could, and then we sat around for a little while before peeling off our wet clothes and attempting don something dry.


I can’t remember what we ate for supper that night, but I’m guessing it was something basic, and I’d hazard a guess that it involved unwrapping a packet or two of ramen.

On nights like those, simple and satisfying foods are best. It sure would have been nice to have this recipe for simple spiced lentil stew up my sleeve! It’s comforting, hearty, and nutritious, perfect for your coldest nights and your rainiest days. It’s not the prettiest, most glamorous soup in the world, but I find that fitting. After all, life on the road isn’t glamorous either.

Featuring an array of spices, a bouillon cube, and a hearty helping of homey lentils, this recipe is far more delicious than its simple ingredient listing would seem to indicate. I also find it quite amazing that so much goodness can be packed into such a light, easy-to-prepare package—this is a fantastic make-ahead recipe!


Whether you’re hitting the road for a quick bike tour and don’t want to pack a full pantry in your panniers, or hitting the trail and want something light but satisfying for your evening meal, you’re in for a treat. Simply add the ingredients to a bag and tuck it in your pannier or backpack. When you’re ready to call it a night, dump the contents of the bag into a pot, add water, and let it boil while you make camp. Give it a stir now and then; by the time you’re done futzing with your tent, you’ll have a pot of piping hot soup waiting for you.

Note: Long-term travelers, fear not! You can still make this simple soup on the road, as long as your pantry pannier is fully stocked.

This recipe makes one batch of lentil stew—to feed more folks, double or triple the recipe.

6 tablespoons lentils
(Red lentils will cook faster, but I like the dark meatiness of regular green lentils. Do not use French lentils—they won’t become thick and stewy.)

1 bouillon cube, unwrapped
(I use chicken, but you could use vegetable if you prefer)

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon onion flakes
(Try not to substitute, but if you have to use granules, use much less—try ¼ teaspoon)

1 teaspoon garlic flakes
(Try not to substitute, but if you have to use granules, use much less—try ¼ teaspoon)

½ teaspoon thyme

¼ teaspoon crushed rosemary leaves

¼ teaspoon oregano

a few generous dashes of black pepper
(about 1/8 teaspoon)

1 dash cumin

1 dash chili flakes

2-3 cups water

Add all of the ingredients (except water) to a zippered bag or other container, and label it so you remember what it is. When you’re ready for supper, empty the contents of the bag into your small, non-stick saucepan.


Pour in two cups of water.


Prime and light your MSR Whisperlite stove, and set the pot on the flame to heat. Allow the mixture to boil, giving it a stir occasionally.


Cook for about twenty minutes, or until the lentils are soft and the consistency is to your liking.


Should you run out of liquid while the lentils are still hard, add a bit more water, and continue cooking. Water will also affect the consistency of the final dish: If you want the concoction to be soupier, add more water. If you want a thicker, stewy-er mix, add less.

There’s no need to serve this soup in a bowl. Simply eat it straight from the pot, and revel in the fact that no matter how cold or how wet your day has been, you can still warm yourself with a delicious hot stew.



This recipe couldn’t be more basic. If you’re feeling a little fancy, here are some ideas for how to give this soup a little more oomph, while still keeping it simple:

* Add meat: Chopped summer sausage, dry chorizo, or other shelf-stable meat would be a wonderful addition.

* Add veggies: A tomato would be great, as would a carrot or two. For an even heartier stew, add a potato and increase the water quantity slightly.

* Serve with cheese: chunks of sharp cheddar would be delicious melted atop the lentils.

Tara Alan is an Avid cyclist, adventurer, camp cook, and Writer of Bike Camp Cook and of the award winning website

For more of Tara’s recipes click here.