Camp food: cooking with a Dutch oven

  • Onions and garlic sauteing in a Dutch oven, the beginnings of sweet potato and peanut stew, while camping in New Hampshire's White Mountains. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Andy Castillo Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo—

  • A view from Mount Washington. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Coldbrook Falls in New Hampshire. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

Staff Writer
Published: 6/5/2019 8:27:01 AM

The sweetness of caramelized peanut butter compliments the lingering warmth of cubed sweet potatoes. Garbanzo beans and spiralized butternut squash pieces add an outdoorsy flavor to the stew — fitting, considering our circumstances.

A campfire snaps in the darkness; our tent flickers orange in its glow. My wife, Brianna, and I are camping in the foothills of Mount Washington, which looms black above the rustling trees, topped by white snow.

It’s a dinner I’d expect to be served in the warmth of a home, not in the spring chill of the White Mountains.

Growing up, my family often vacationed at Nickerson State Park on Cape Cod over the Labor Day holiday. Typically, we kept to a basic camping diet: pancakes or oatmeal in the morning, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at night, hot dogs cooked over the fire in the evening. Not to say these camping staples aren’t decedent in their own modest way (they are), but I never considered that camping food could be creative until I discovered the versatility of a cast-iron Dutch oven a few weeks ago. 

While our recent culinary endeavor was grounded in camp-friendly recipes, we found the Dutch oven lends itself to experimentation. Over Memorial Day, Brianna and I made campfire nachos our first night under the stars (black beans, salsa, fresh avocado and cheese topped with sliced mango), and capped our weekend with the sweet potato and peanut stew. 

The Dutch oven is a simple and crude cooking device; a large pot with thick sides and a heavy lid. Its simplicity is what makes it special. Uncovered and resting in or atop the coals, it becomes the perfect surface for sauteing onions and garlic in oil. Covered, it opens up a world of possibilities. The heat is controlled the old fashioned way — more wood equals more heat. 

I found the stew’s flavor to be nuanced. Sweetness mingled with savor. A touch of heat and saltiness lingered on the palate. Perhaps the fire’s shifting flames tinged the sweet potatoes and peanut butter and butternut squash with varied flavor. Then again, maybe it was the beautiful surroundings that made the food so delicious: the clear mountain air, the warmth of the crackling fire, the rising sparks and rustling trees. Whatever the reason, we ate well that weekend, and not just for campers.

Nobody ever said camp food had to be boring.

Andy Castillo can be reached at

Sweet potato and peanut stew

We used this recipe, from, as a starting point and experimented from there. For example, we forewent the kale and doubled the amount of peanut butter, among other changes.

1 tablespoon oil

1 small onion, diced (to yield 1 1/2 cups )

2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

1 medium sweet potato, chopped into 1/4 inch cubes (to yield 2 cups)

2 cups broth

14 oz can diced tomatoes

1/4 cup peanut butter

2 teaspoons New Mexico chili powder

1 teaspoon salt

14 oz can chickpeas, drained

2 cups Tuscan kale, de-stemmed and chopped

Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and saute about 5 minutes, until translucent and just starting to brown in spots. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the sweet potato, broth, tomatoes & their juices, peanut butter, chili powder, and salt. Stir well to ensure the peanut butter is thoroughly mixed in and there's no clumps remaining. Simmer, uncovered, for about 15-20 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender.

Once the sweet potatoes are tender, add the chickpeas and the kale to the dutch oven. Stir to combine and heat until the chickpeas have warmed through and the kale has wilted.

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