We all have priorities in life. I'm the kind of guy who, even when I'm roughing it, likes to make sure that both I and those around me are well-fed. Invite me along to your camping weekend? Sounds good. But be prepared to eat, and I'm not talking trail-mix here.
For me, the ideal car camping food is the same as the ideal pack-lunch of picnic food: something that is simple to make, yet feels balanced and satisfying enough to form a full meal in and of itself. Something that is easy to make in bulk and scale up or down depending on how many mouths there are to feed. Something that is good eaten fresh but even better after it's sat at least overnight in a cooler.
This recipe—a simple salad of cooked chickpeas flavored with a cumin-scented vinaigrette and tossed with slivers of crunchy celery, shallots, and parsley—hits all of those marks, particularly the last one. It's the kind of dish you almost should make at least a day in advance before serving if you really want the flavors to peak.
To make it, I like to use dried chickpeas. They're inexpensive, easy to cook, and have far better texture than their canned counterpart. I cook them in water flavored with bay leaves, carrots, celery, and onion. That said, even canned chickpeas will do in a pinch—you're coating them with a vinaigrette, so they'll still get plenty of flavor (especially if you let that flavor soak in overnight).
This isn't a fussy salad, but if you're the fastidious type, you can peel the celery to give it a nicer texture. I'm often the fastidious type, even when camping.
When my wife and I headed out to Big Sur last weekend I packed this into large quart-sized mason jars (I love that they seal up tight so you can just bring the empty jars back and throw 'em in the dishwasher), and okay, we also brought along a half dozen other soups and salads for the trip. Sometimes I just can't help myself.