solar cooking Feed

Cooking with sunshine

Sun Cook Solar Oven capturing sunlight and converting it to heat to cook food. Little eco footprints

A couple of clear winter days saw me crack open my solar oven. Solar cooking is at its best in Summer – but is still possible at other times of the year. As long as the sun is shining it can be used to cook.

Solar ovens use reflective mirrors to concentrate sunlight and convert it to heat. Most solar ovens typically reach temperatures of only 100 degrees C (for a home-made cardboard box oven) to 180 degrees C for a box oven like my Sun Cook Solar Oven. This low temperature makes them perfect for slow cooking. Anything you would cook in a slow cooker or crock pot will cook perfectly in a solar oven.

I’ve had my solar oven for a couple of years and love using sunshine to cook our food. I particularly like solar cooking beans and pulses that would otherwise sit on a stove top bubbling away for a couple of hours.

An added bonus of solar cooking is that it’s almost impossible to burn or over-cook food. I can put something in the solar oven and leave home for a couple of hours and not worry about burning the food (or burning our house down).

You don’t need a fancy solar oven to solar cook (although they do make it easier and quicker). Making a solar oven out of a couple of cardboard boxes or a pizza box is a great kids project.

Hummus made with sunshine cooked chickpeas Little eco footprints

My recent winter solar cooking included chickpeas. They weren’t quiet cooked by the time the sun went down, so I popped the pot on top of our pot belly stove that night to finish them off. The following day we enjoyed hummus – cooked with sunshine and fire. To me – that’s a whole lot sweeter than opening up a tub of supermarket bought hummus.

Originally published in my 'Less Is More' column, Newcastle Herald 3rd August 2013


A sunny solar Sunday roast

I was well-and-truly taking advantage of the sunshine on Sunday.

Sun cook solar oven and solar kettle

Here’s a view of our veranda around midday. Clothes drying, water boiling in my solar kettle, and plenty of solar cooking in my solar oven.

At the same time our PV solar panels and solar hot water system were generating our power and heating our water.

That’s a whole lot of good from a little sunshine!

Four reasons why I love solar cooking.

I’m discovering loads of reasons to love solar cooking. Here’s just a few that are fresh in my mind from Sunday.

1. I can bake on hot days without heating up the kitchen.

Solar cooking on the verandah

I’d bought a chook from the farmers markets on Sunday morning and planned on using it for a baked dinner that night, sandwiches for lunch on Monday, and for chicken-noodle soup on Tuesday night (after using the bones to make a stock on Monday night). I had it all planned, but then Sunday was so warm that the last thing I wanted to do was turn the oven on.  I was tempted to throw the chook in the freezer, but decided instead to try cooking it in the solar oven, despite doubting that sunshine would be able to cook a whole chook in a few hours. But it did! I placed the chook in the solar oven around noon, and by 4pm I had a perfectly baked chicken.

Given that the solar oven reached only 125 degrees Celsius, the chook baked real slowly, so was nice and tender. The downside of this low temperature is that food rarely browns. That’s fine when it’s a cake or muffins, but with the chicken I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the pale and almost slimy finished product. So I quickly grilled the chook in our conventional oven for a few minutes. Perfect. That’s not really cheating is it?

2. I can leave the house with the oven cooking, without worrying about my house burning down. I was out and about for much of Sunday afternoon. I loved not having to worry about leaving the oven on.

3. Given the low cooking temperatures, it’s almost impossible to burn or over-cook food. I put a loaf of cornbread in the solar oven on Sunday morning and promptly wandered off and did something else without even thinking about when I needed to take it out. Every now and then I’d peek in when wandering past and could then wander off again without worrying about over-cooking.

4. Making a cup of tea has never been easier.

Solar cooked tea and cornbread

On Sunday I had water on the boil all day in the solar kettle. Each time I filled the tea pot I simply re-filled the kettle and placed it back in the sun. By the time I was ready for another cuppa, the water would be hot enough. I loved not having to wait for the jug to boil (which is often enough to turn the impatient me off making a cuppa).

Want to give solar cooking a go?

You don’t need a fandangle solar oven to solar cook (although they do make it easier and quicker). Check out the solar oven that Marita’s kids recently made out of a couple of cardboard boxes. Their frugal homemade solar oven even reached 100 degrees C - just hot enough to make a cuppa.

And back to that baked chook...

Picnic in the new van

We enjoyed our solar roast in the back of our new (to us) camper delivery van. We’ll be converting it to a camper van, so consider this the ‘before’ photo. Although, if you know us personally, you'll know there's often a LONG time between 'before' and 'after' photos, so don't hold your breath for the 'after' photo (although i'd love to prove me wrong). In the mean time, watch this space for a blog post titled ‘How to reduce the environmental impact of a not-very-eco decision’.

{Don't forget to enter the Eco Dream giveaway if you're interested in winning a Green Toy Chef Set}.


Fresh tomato and basil sunshine soup (and some solar cooking news)

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You must try this lovely fresh tomato and basil soup. It's so simple and absolutely delicious. Although, i'm sure some of that deliciousness comes from cooking the soup in sunshine.

Fresh tomato and basil sunshine soup (stove top and solar oven versions)

Serves 8.

{Ingredients}

  • 2 onions, chopped. 
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed.
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (if using a solar oven, due to the longer cooking time, you can switch to an oil with a higher heat tolerance, like rice bran oil).
  • 1 kilogram tomatoes, skinned and chopped. 
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste.
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped. 
  • 1 litre vegetable stock.

{Stove top method}

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and saute the onions and garlic until the onion is transparent.

Add remaining ingredients, bring to the boil and simmer for at least twenty minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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{Solar oven method}

Place onion, garlic and olive oil in a dark shallow dish as seen in the image above (I use a cake tin) and place in the solar oven. On a sunny day the onion should be ready in around half an hour. Or if you're pushed for time, instead, quickly saute on the stove top.

Transfer the onion and garlic mix to a large, dark, thin pot. Add remaining ingredients and place in the solar oven with a lid on the pot.

Go for a walk, or do some gardening, or head off to work, and return an hour or five later (thankfully things don't burn in a solar oven), toss in the basil, stir, and cook for a few more minutes. 

Season to taste with salt and pepper and smell the sunshine. Enjoy!

Calling all lovers of solar cooking

Heather and I have started an exciting new project. We're writing a solar oven cookbook and are inviting recipe contributions. We've got recipes being contributed from around the globe.

How about you? Are you a lover of solar cooking? Are you interested in contributing a recipe? Email SunCookBook {at} gmail {dot} com for more information.

Speaking of lovers of solar cooking, check out Dixiebelle's recent solar cooking adventures.

I'll leave you with my favourite photo from a recent solar cooking feast Heather and I had at Fig Tree Community Gardens.

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Shared at the Hearth and Soul blog hop and Simple Lives Thursday.


Dehydrating bananas in a solar oven

I dehydrated a batch of bananas in my solar oven this week. I've wanted a food dehydrator for ages, but had waited because i'd heard you could dehydrate in a solar oven.

It's so easy, and far better than having an oven on all day or powering an electric dehydrator for hours.

I simply peeled the bananas and then sliced them into three lengthwise.

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I could have left them whole, but they would have taken longer to dehydrate.

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I then dipped them in lime juice to stop them from turning brown. I could have used lemons, but I had limes, so used them instead.

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I then spread the bananas out on a cake cooling rack that conveniently fitted into a baking tray, which in turn conveniently fitted into my solar oven. It's important not to crowd the fruit, as good airflow between pieces is important.

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The food to be dehydrated needs to sit near the top of the oven, with the oven held open an inch or so, so that you get good airflow over the food. I propped open the oven with a small container and luckily my baking tray fit snugly on the top of the cooker. If it hadn't, I would have propped it up by placing a baking dish under it.

To stop flies entering the oven, I simply placed bits of an old netting curtain over the openings. I held the netting in place with chop sticks this time, but next time I think i'll whip up something more permanent. Perhaps i'll make a netting skirt I can hold on with elastic?

Then five hours later we had some delicious dried bananas....

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Perhaps a little too delicious. Only three pieces made it to the end. Once we started testing to see if they were ready we couldn't stop.

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Delicious!

The last three lasted less than a minute. Apparently, if dried until they are leathery and dry, I could have stored them in a jar for up to a year. I doubt they'd ever last a year in this house.

With the price of bananas expected to rise as a result of the recent cyclone Yasi, I think i'll do another batch tomorrow. There's only so many bananas I can fit in the solar oven, so i'm keen to try dehydrating some in my car. I'll let you know how it goes.

Do you dehydrate? Whats your favourite food to dehydrate?

~

Need some sustainable living inspiration? Head on over to the Little eco footprints inspiring reads page. My favourite post this week was Penniless Parenting's Rules of Foraging.

Be well and happy,

Tricia

~


Sunshine Cooking ~ Introducing my new solar oven

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Check out my new toy. It’s a solar cooker.

She turned up on Monday and I had her sitting in the sun cooking our lunch within minutes.

I’m IN LOVE.

So far I’ve heated up soup, cooked chickpeas, and boiled eggs. All cooked solely with sunshine. I think the term ‘solar cooking’ is too boring a term to describe the magic. I think ‘sunshine cooking’ is more apt. 

Sun Cook Solar Ovens

We purchased our Sun Cook solar oven from Sun Cooking Australia.

Tasman and the solar oven2 Heather, who founded Sun Cooking Australia, was so impressed with her own Sun Cook oven that she decided to become the sole Australian distributor.

Head on over to suncooking.com.au to find out more about solar cooking and the Sun Cook.

 Heather even offers discounts for not-for-profit, community and government organisations. 



Yes, that was a blatant plug for Sun Cooking Australia

But I’m not going to apologise.

Heather is a good friend of mine and is one amazing lady. She’s a Climate Change Scientist specialising in sea level rise and she somehow manages to find the time to run two eco businesses (Climate Change Impact Assessments and Sun Cooking Australia). She's also the founder of the eco playgroup Playdates for the Planet.

I want to note that Heather did not ask me to write this post nor promote her business in any way. She’s currently off climbing a mountain somewhere in Tasmania and has no idea I’ve written this. Let’s prove that it’s possible for a Mum to climb mountains and run a successful business at the same time. So go on, head on over to her website, check it out, and spread the word.

Speaking of sea level rise, have you seen the new Australian sea level rise maps? The maps illustrate the potential impacts of climate change for key urban areas. Our house is thankfully mapped as above sea level. How about yours?