What if there was a year-round method of cooking that was low cost, powered by sunlight, non-polluting, and easy to do even in college dorms, apartment balconies and off-the-grid locations? There is: solar cooking.
In the 21st century, the need for sustainable cooking solutions is great, including fossil fuel-caused climate change, the end of cheap oil, and deforestation due to firewood collection. Whether you spend a couple of hours building a simple solar cooker out of cardboard and foil, or buy a sturdy commercial model, it is possible to do everything from simmering to blanching, poaching, steaming, sautéing, braising, baking, roasting, toasting, pan frying, grilling, food canning, medical sterilization, and even making ice (at night!).
My book includes the following information:
How to choose the right solar cooker for you based on your climate and lifestyle needs
More than 100 vegetarian solar recipes and tips
How to adapt slow cooker recipes to a solar cooker
How to adapt your favorite recipes to a solar cooker
How to safely can foods using USDA canning guidelines
How to create a year-round sustainable cooking system that combines the use of solar cookers, fireless cookers, pressure cookers, and biomass-fueled stoves and earth ovens
Yes, solar cookers really do get hot and cook food! My Sun Oven reaches 350°F easily. The boiling point at sea level is 212°F. The boiling point at 7,000 feet elevation is 199°F.
At this time of year, the south-facing area in front of my front door and side garage door is the best location for solar cooking. In fact, it’s quite a bit hotter than the microclimate on my south-facing balcony in Flagstaff was, so everything cooks significantly faster and I am having to adjust some of my cooking times and adding extra liquid to the cooking pot.
I cooked garbanzo/chick pea flour (besan in Hindi) polenta in the Sun Oven, and then baked the French fry-like slices in my indoor oven after it cooled; I basted the slices with olive oil before baking. After cooking the polenta, I cooked some brown rice and wild rice to go with the fries. The “fries” were a hit with my wife, LynnAnnRose, a relatively new vegan.
Most of my new backyard faces west and north and is heavily shaded by trees. However, a strip of land along the northern side of the house receives plenty of sunlight between the morning and early afternoon during the couple of months on either side of the summer solstice. I’ve decided to use my solar cooker there, directly on the ground, for now. Monsoon clouds and rain tend to appear in the afternoons when that piece of land is shaded by the house anyway. I like this location because there is easy access to the kitchen through the patio door and the dining room. I am storing the cooker uncovered underneath the patio overhang to protect it from rain. During late fall, winter, and early spring, I’ll have to use the cooker in front of my house, which faces south; that location will require carrying food up and down half a flight of stairs, and through the front door and front gate, and storing the cooker in the garage.
I’m in the process of packing for our move to Santa Fe, New Mexico. One thing I’m doing is cooking remaining foods in storage so that there is less stuff to move. I found this several-year-old jar of brown lentils in the pantry. Lentils last forever, at least in terms of human lifetimes, making them good for long-term/emergency storage.
I decided to cook the entire jar. Now that the summer solstice is fast approaching, the rod at the back of my solar cooker is adjusted so that the cooker face is almost horizontal to capture the most sunlight during the middle of the day when the sun is almost directly overhead. Lentils are quick-cooking legumes and don’t need pre-soaking.
Lentils are cool season legumes that grows well at high altitudes. In hot climates like the Middle East, Ethiopia and India, where they are staples of local cuisines, they are grown during the cooler months. In my climate, however, they are grown during the summer.
Adapted from The Sunny Side of Cooking: Solar cooking and other ecologically friendly cooking methods for the 21st century:
It is possible to use a solar cooker for everything from simmering to blanching, poaching, steaming, sautéing, braising, baking, roasting, toasting, grilling, barbecuing and pan frying. Most of these methods can be done in a box cooker. A few require the extra high temperatures only achievable with a parabolic reflector.
The foods above include chocolate tofu pie with a gluten free almond crust, baked kabocha squash, barbecued tempeh made with home canned barbecue sauce, minestrone soup with beans precooked in the solar oven, steamed corn on the cob, home grown rhubarb crumble, and whole wheat sourdough raisin bread. Enter “raynersolar” into my “Search Lisa’s Blog“ search box to see all of my original solar cooking blog posts (not reblogs). Use my Google search box to look up specific foods and dishes.
Nov. 18, 2015