cooking ’round the camp fire


baharat marinated lamb chops with yoghurt sauce & fennel salad

They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I’m not so sure that it is exactly true. Recently I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks in the Northern Territory with two top chicks: Missy Helgs & Margot. And somewhere between Darwin and Uluru I learned a new trick: how to camp…actually there were a few other things I picked up along the way like how to kiss a cowboy with his hat on but that’s another story….

For those of you that have never been to the top end, I thoroughly recommend planning a trip, particularly at this time of year. Now it’s the dry season when the days are warm and the skies are big and blue and stretch on forever and you forget the whole concept of rain and cold.

Apart from great weather the NT has plenty to offer. In Kakadu there are picturesque billabongs, ancient Aboriginal rock art, and the possibility of getting eaten by a croc. Darwin has it’s own charms and really comes alive for the Darwin Cup (horse race) and the glam Darwin Cup Gala Ball. Then there’s Litchfield National Park with bizarre termite mounds and breathtaking waterfalls (and less crocs than Kakadu so it’s safe(er) to swim).

Katherine Gorge gives you a chance to work on your canoeing muscles and enjoy some amazing scenery. The isolated but colourful pub at Daly Waters shouldn’t be missed as much for their ‘beef and barra’ as their interesting patrons (including a Latvian troll and the aforementioned cowboy). Then there are all the attractions in the middle: the Devil’s Marbles, Alice Springs, Kings Canyon and Uluru, all of which are more amazing in real life than you would ever imagine. But apart from learning to camp and becoming a campfire cook, one of my favourite bits of the trip was just driving down the guts of the country watching the scenery slowly change.

As a relative newcomer to this camp cooking thing I’ve put together a list of tips and another list of the dinners I cooked while we were away. But I still have a lot to learn so if you have any tips or a favourite camp meal, I’d love to hear about it. I’ve also included recipes for the best lunch and best dinner of the trip  (as voted by team NT).

17 tips for easy & delicious camping cooking:

* Zip lock bags are your friend. From marinating meat to acting as a disposable salad bowl to protecting things from water logging as the esky ice melts….no camp cook should be without a good supply.

* Wet ones work a treat especially when there’s no running water.

* Remember to pack some spices.  Lightweight and shelf stable, they are invaluable in transforming a good camping meal into an amazing one. For this trip I took some chilli powder, smoky paprika, baharat, and dukkah and managed to find a use for them all at one time or another.

* Marinate meat at home before your trip and freeze it so it acts as a ice brick and keeps longer.

*Making before and freezing is also a good trick for curries or stews.

* Mountain Bread or other flat bread is great because it doesn’t tend to go stale as quickly and can withstand a bit of crushing. I really hate squashed bread.

* Tins of things like chickpeas, cannellini beans,  tuna, and salmon are great to have on hand.

* Keep it simple – everything tastes better by campfire and it’s harder for people to see what they’re eating so you can do without the fancy presentation techniques.

* Salt & pepper – don’t leave home without it – food benefits from seasoning even when you’re eating outdoors.

* Aluminium foil is great for campfire cooking. Think roasted potatoes in their jackets wrapped in foil and baked in the embers or the roast onion and chickpea salad below.

*Vegies like fennel, aubergine (eggplant), potatoes and onions that can cope for a few days without refrigeration are a great (more room in the esky for champagne!).

* Get a decent camping knife. We were lucky to have Mel’s great little camp knife…bigger than a swiss army knife but not so big as to be a hassle to carry…a big asset when you’re trying to chop things while wearing
an attractive head torch.

* Couscous is a far better option than pasta. Just boil some stock or water, add your couscous and some oil and cover and leave to stand: certainly beats trying to keep a large pot boiling for 10mins and then having to drain the thing without a colander.

* Instant polenta also work well as it only takes a few minutes of simmering and stirring till it’s ready. It does have the down side of making washing up more of a challenge.

* Cooking on a wood fired BBQ has soo much more flavour than gas or heat beads and is worth the hassle and variable temperature. Particularly when you add in the bonus of the authentic atmosphere of cooking over a campfire.

*Prewashed salad leaves in sealed bags are the way to go. We discovered that Woollies do a baby watercress mix that has a bit of sliced red onion tossed in. Perfect for sandwiches.

* Always plan a drinks esky: the final and arguably most important camping tip. We would have been lost without our supply of champagne on ice (OK we weren’t that posh a camping team…it was more some top Aussie sparkling white but still critical to the success of our trip).

prawn & mayo baguette

campfire cooking meal ideas:
*cannellini bean & chorizo stew with baby spinach
*baharat marinated lamb with yoghurt sauce & fennel salad
*couscous salad with BBQ veg & feta
*BBQ barra w smoky paprika mayo & soft herb salad
*soft polenta w BBQ chorizo, mushrooms & parmesan
*BBQ lamb cutlets with cannellini bean & mint salad & pesto rosso
*lamb kebabs with roast onion & chickpea salad
*BBQ flattened chook breast marinated in tarragon & garlic with celeriac salad & rocket
*dukkah marinated kebabs with BBQ veg & yoghurt tahini sauce

prawn & mayo baguette
serves 3

This was voted our best lunch and a bit of an eye opener for me. While I don’t mind prawns, I’ve never been very excited by them but I now think that they might be like strawberries and tomatoes.: When at their peak they are a flavour explosion, but unfortunately good ones tend to be hard to come by….

This is an ambitious amount of prawns for three girls but at Mr Barra, the Darwin seafood wholesaler where we sourced our prawns, 1kg was the minimum sale quantity…what’s a girl to do..

1kg (2lb) freshest cooked prawns
3 handfuls watercress, leaves picked
1 sourdough baguette
whole egg mayonnaise (s&w or hellmans or thomy are good brands)
freshly ground black pepper
juice 1 – 2 lemons

Peel prawns and devein if you’re into that sort of thing. I prefer to leave them be: a few prawn guts surely aren’t going to hurt. Try not to eat all the prawns before you get to the sandwich making bit.

Split the baguette and spread with mayo to taste. Fill with a generous amount of prawns and plenty of black pepper. Top with watercress and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Squash top of baguette back in place and enjoy!

Best if served under a shady tree outside a random building supplies premises on the outskirts of sunny Batcheldor on the way to Litchfield National Park.

baharat marinated lamb chops with yoghurt sauce & fennel salad
serves 4

This was voted the number one dinner on the trip. We ate this on our second night in Kakadu after an intense day of Aboriginal rock art, 4WDing and bush walking / boulder hopping, and trying to park the landcruiser on a rock.

Baharat is a gorgeously fragrant middle eastern spice blend that I’ve mentioned before. You can get it in middle eastern stores or Herbie’s Spices.

The yoghurt sauce is great for camping since all you need to do is season it and mix some oil through. This idea was one of the first Jamie Oliver things I ever cooked. He served his yoghurt sauce with salmon and herby puy lentils but it works just as well with lamb.

16 lamb cutlets
1T baharat
1t smoky paprika
1/2C extra virgin olive oil
1clove garlic
1C yoghurt
2T extra virgin olive oil
1lge fennel or 4 baby ones
1bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves picked
juice 1 lemon
1t dijon mustard
4T extra virgin olive oil

For the marinade combine spices, oil and garlic in a zip lock bag (or for non campers in a glass or ceramic bowl) Season with s&p and add lamb. Toss to combine and refrigerate overnight or as long as you’ve got.

Ask the BBQ queen and team pyromaniac to preheat BBQ to ‘high’. Combine lemon juice, mustard and 4T oil in a zip lock bag. Trim fennel fronds and reserve. Slice fennel bulb lengthwise as finely as your camp knife permits. Toss fennel through dressing and season.

Stir oil through yoghurt and season. Cook lamb for a few minutes each side or until cooked to your liking. Toss parsley and fennel fronds through fennel salad and divide between 4 plates. Top with lamb and serve with yoghurt sauce passed separately.

roast baby onion & chickpea salad
serves 2 as a main course or 4 as an accompaniment

I’ve included this because it’s a bit more unusual but cooking the onion in foil is a great trick. Feel free to mix up the type of onions you use.

This is great on it’s own as a vego main course but also works as an accompaniment. In the NT I served it with BBQ lamb. The recipe originally came from an old Australian Gourmet Traveller article where they served it with pan fried flathead (one of my fav fish) and chermoula: a Moroccan dressing of fresh coriander, lemon juice and spices. It would also work with BBQ chook or even BBQ haloumi.

5 baby onions, peeled & quartered lengthwise
3 eschallots, peeled and halved
1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into eighths
4 sprigs thyme, optional
2T olive oil
2T lemon juice
4T extra virgin olive oil
1 small clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
1 tin chickpeas, drained
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves picked

Preheat BBQ on low to medium. Lay out two sheets of aluminium foil and place onions and thyme in the centre. Drizzle with 2T oil and season. Fold foil to form a parcel and seal edges tightly.

Cook on a BBQ plate, turning every ten minutes or so for approx 25mins or until onion is deliciously soft. Meanwhile combine remaining oil, garlic & lemon juice in a ziplock bag. Season and add drained chickpeas.

When onion is cooked add to the chickpeas with the parsley. Toss to combine and serve in the ziplock bag or a more elegant serving dish if you’re not camping.


roast baby onion & chickpea salad

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