The Great West Series: Rice and Tomatoes

I am sitting in a comfortable chair in a San Francisco hotel. My hair smells like conditioner and my skin is clean. I have a bathroom within a few footsteps distance and I am about to go get dinner. Since we are halfway through our West Coast road trip, I wanted to retrospectively share a few of the amazing things we have already experienced while driving south the windy roads of The Great West. 

We have been in the depths of wilderness, breathing in fresh forest dew and salty Pacific Ocean spray for the past week, and emerged a bit dirty, with a few great adventured on our back to share. We saw the coast from its windiest points to its most desolate wildlife laden beaches. We drove through redwood forests, only to later get lost through its trails. We climbed mountains, and saw whales, otters, and seals.

As rustic as the experience has been we have been feasting every night. With the help of a nifty camping burner, and a few non-perishable ingredients, we have come back from long hikes to hot, nourishing, delicious meals. These have kept us warm as the sun sets into the Pacific horizon, red skies turning black.  

I must have learned from my mother, that roughing it out in the wild is not equivalent to poor meals. Growing up, we would go out on the boat for multiple days at a time. With only two burners, a grill, and minimal resources, she would always whip up the most decadent meals (wine and dessert always included).

In her footsteps, I present you a series of campsite recipes to make on the road, while camping, on a boat, or in the comfort of your own kitchen. Having tested them in the outdoor conditions, I am sure they will inspire and delight, reassuring you anything is possible. 

Before leaving Portland we bought the essentials we would need for the trip: salt, olive oil, some spices (cumin!), quinoa, rice, pasta, canned tomatoes, nuts, and soy sauce. We also bought some produce that could keep for several days at a time and would require no refrigeration: avocados, bananas, a couple of grapefruits and some apples. All whole foods, that would keep us feeling not only satisfied but also excited about breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every single day. 

To my surprise, I found myself craving half an avocado drizzled with oil and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt around lunchtime, and looking forward to a bowl of warm grains every night after only a couple days camping. As we ventured into the cities of Napa and San Francisco, I found myself longing for the comforting feeling that only home (camp?) cooked meals leave behind.

This recipe I am sharing today was our first while camping. We had just driven out of a gray, quaint Portland, and into the coast through a thick rain forest. Our camp was located along Oregon’s Dunes. Having left behind a beautiful drive through some of the most dramatic landscapes of Oregon, we set out to explore the shore for several hours, then start what would become our routine for the next several days: set up camp by assembling our tent then unpacking the sleeping bags, start collecting kindling to build a fire, then, finally setting up “the kitchen” for dinner.

This night’s menu revolved around red rice (new discovery I am in love with), canned tomatoes, pistachios, and avocados. As this was the first dinner, I was uncertain about how long everything would take to cook, and if it would even taste any good. But I knew I had to make it work, as we were both tired and hungry. After some trial and error with our little burner I had a nice pot of rice, water, and salt coming to a simmer on a patch of grass by the fire. Within forty-five minutes we found ourselves devouring a bowl of warm, chewy red rice interlaced with sweet tomatoes and sprinkled with pistachios for color and crunch. Just thinking about this recipe makes me hungry. Simplicity at its best, every bite is hearty and earthy. Delicious!


Red Rice & Tomatoes

Serves 2-4

Cook time 45-50 minutes

  • 1 cup of rice of choice (brown, red, or white)
  • 2 ½ cups of water
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. cumin powder
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • ¼ cup shelled pistachios
  • 1 handful of cilantro, optional
  • Pinch of flaky sea salt for serving, optional

Place water, rice, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and pinch of salt in a pot. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook until most of the water has been absorbed. Cover pot and cook for 20-30 minutes over low heat. Adjust cooking time depending on the type of rice you are using (longer, about 30 minutes for brown or red rice, or shorter, 15-20 minutes for white rice). Taste for seasoning and doneness after this time has passed.  If rice is not done, add half a cup of water at a time until and continue to cook over low heat until rice is soft with a little bit of a chew.

Add canned tomatoes and cumin powder into rice pot. Stir, then cook over low heat for another 5-7 minutes. When ready to serve add remaining tablespoon of olive oil, pistachios, cilantro if using, and a pinch of flaky sea salt. Serve in a bowl with avocado slices.