A friend gave me her solar cooker last year because she lives in a shady neighborhood and it just wasn’t working for her. I was very excited to receive it but had trouble getting motivated to use it until I picked up a book at the library this spring. “Cooking with Sunshine” by Lorraine Anderson and Rick Palkovic has a great selection of recipes and tips but also talks about different options for when you have more or less time available. They have some recipes that cook entirely in the cooker and others where you either do some cooking ahead of time (such as sauteing onions) or some cooking afterward (such as converting cooked rice into a rice salad). They also talk about what foods you can leave in the solar cooker all day without worrying about burning or drying out. I don’t want to admit how many times I have scorched rice or beans by leaving it on the stove for too long so I was very relieved to learn that wouldn’t be an issue with the solar cooker.
It also took awhile for me to grasp the idea that even if I only use the solar cooker for part of a meal (say cooking a pot of beans which I then incorporate into burritos or chili) I am still reducing my carbon footprint and taking advantage of free, clean energy. Somehow I got caught up in the idea that if I were going to go solar I had to go all the way and the world would come crashing down if clouds rolled in and I had to put my beans in the oven to finish cooking them. Silly but true.
Anyway, now I’m starting to get into the solar cooking routine although I’m still learning the ins and outs; we had some rather crunchy baked beans last week that hadn’t cooked quite long enough – although the flavor was excellent! I’m also on the hunt for the perfect solar cooker dish. Ideally, it would be an oven-safe dark colored pyrex or ceramic dish with a tight-fitting lid. Right now I’m using a white casserole dish with a clear lid and covering it with a blue cloth to try and soak up some extra heat. It works pretty well but the lid isn’t quite tight enough to keep in steam and so the top panel often gets covered in condensation, which reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the food. It’s a common challenge for solar cooking and one solution is to vent the lid slightly but that also reduces cooking efficiency. I have seen a lot of variations of solar cookers and it would be pretty easy to build your own. This one is a little bulky but it’s well constructed with a moveable set of reflectors, a plexiglass lid on a rubber lip, and a shelf inside to keep the pot off the bottom of the oven.
I set the solar cooker up on our front porch (which is south-facing) and let it cook from about 10:00 to 4:00. If I’m home, I’ll turn it a couple of times during the day so that the reflectors capture as much sun as possible but if I’m going to be gone, I just leave it pointing as close to due south as practical. On a sunny day, the oven quickly heats up to 250 degrees. On a cloudy day, it tends to hover at more like 150. So far I’ve been sticking with grains and beans but I’d like to try some bread recipes and maybe a quiche. I was surprised to see that egg dishes are considered fairly easy for the solar cooker but the reasoning is that they cook pretty quickly so you don’t have to have a perfectly sunny day. I am also contemplating using the solar cooker to sterilize some potting soil for my next round of seedlings.
Have any solar recipes or tips to share?