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Solar Cooking

Why Solar Cooking?  Fun!  Doesn’t heat up your house on hot summer days  ZERO fuel consumption  ZERO greenhouse gas emissions  A nutrient-enriching slow cooking method  Easy! A Change of Pace

Solar cooking requires different timing. With a microwave, we tumble in the door at 5:30 p.m., haggle over what’s for dinner, and slam it on the table within minutes. Solar cooking calls to us to return to a more luxurious pace of life – one many of us yearn for. With solar cooking, you’ll need to select the dinner menu after breakfast.

“Prime time” for solar cooking is from 11a.m. to 2p.m. but you can

cook anytime you have sunshine between about 9am and 4pm, year round. If you’re going to be away for the day, your meal cooks while you are gone – just like in a CrockPot. Solar cooking dovetails nicely with the Slow Food Movement (www.slowfoodla.com ). This movement retrains to us to appreciate rich local flavors and traditional goodness in our food. Solar cooking times are an art, rather than a matter of exact measurement. For the most part, solar cookers behave like the good ole familiar CrockPot – they’re very tolerant of a half hour or hour give-or-take. When skies are hazy with clouds or smoke, or when you’re working outside the “prime time” window, expect your cooking project to take longer – perhaps even double the time. I’m careful to use the “prime time” window for raw meats, but with grains, veggies and pulses I’ve experimented with sub-optimal conditions and had great results. If the sun goes down and your food isn’t fully cooked, you can finish your dish using the conventional stove as a backup. Half-cooked beans can be refrigerated overnight and complete their cooking the second day. Solar cooking is a great excuse to be leisurely about your cooking. Go play catch with the kids, or take the dog for a walk – your dinner will await you.

Our panel solar cooker folds flat for storage (you can slide it in beside your refrig, or between your washer and dryer).
salvage boxes to build them. The cardboard stabilizes the mylar windowshade, and gives it strength if there is a breeze.

We

For best results:
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Use your PANEL SOLAR COOKER midday. “Prime time” for solar cooking is 11am to 2pm. “Focus” your cooker by pointing the cooker’s opening toward the sun. Face your cooker, and put your back to the sun. Maneuver your PANEL SOLAR COOKER so that the shadow of your body falls down the central fold of the upper reflector. The front edge of the bottom reflector should be slightly raised (see photo), to reflect sun rays back into the cooker. Use black or very dark-colored cooking pots with a lid. The lightweight kind used for canning is perfect. (search for “black speckled roasting pans” on Google Images). Cast iron or enameled cast iron is good if you need to retain heat in winter, or as the sun slides past “prime time,” however uncoated cast iron will react if your food is acidic (i.e. tomatoes, lemons). We do not recommend anodized aluminum for other health reasons. Slide your food-filled cooking pot into a heat-tolerant plastic bag, and allow there to be a bubble of air inside the bag around your pot. The kind of oven bags that are sold for cooking turkeys are perfect for this. The air bubble provides insulation and helps trap the heat. No need for fasteners: twist the bag closed and tuck the ends underneath. Note: the turkey oven bags can get “brittle” when heated, but if you remove your pot carefully, the bags can be reused 5-10 times before they self-destruct.

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Place bag-covered pot onto a trivet, or other device to raise it approx. 1inch off the floor of your PANEL SOLAR COOKER. This air space beneath your pot helps trap reflected heat. As the sun moves throughout the day, it will need to be re-focused. Follow description above. With experience, you will learn the sun’s path across your yard. Just like crockpot cooking, there is rarely any need to stir food in your solar cooker.

Tips:  The Golden Rule for solar cooking is “Get the food on early and don’t worry about overcooking” – Eleanor Shimeall  Remember the solar pots will be hot. More than once I’ve burned myself thinking “it was only in the sun.” Use potholders!  Solar cookers may cook from 180° to 300°– Eleanor Shimeall  You can stack multiple pots in a solar cooker (particularly in our PANEL SOLAR COOKER). It helps to place a trivet for air space
between the pots.

Allow a 1” air space all around your pot (sides, bottom). Raise bottom of pot off the cooker floor by placing pot on a trivet. Pots for our PANEL SOLAR COOKER need to be placed in an oven bag (turkey size).

Recipes:

Baked apples:

Core and slice apples (I use farmers

Plain chicken breastmeat for a salad:

Place 1

market apples and prefer not to peel them). In a measuring cup, combine ½ cup fruit juice (apple, orange, cranberry are all okay), ½ teaspoon cinnamon, dash of cloves. Honey is optional. Spread apples evenly in dark solar cooking pot. Pour liquid over apples. Cover and cook. This recipe cooks fine in the tail end of the afternoon.

frozen boneless chicken breast in dark solar cooking pot. Cover and cook. If you start at 10:30 or 11am, this will be cooked in 45 min to 1 hour.

Homemade meatballs for the kids:

Combine in

Baked potatoes:

wash potatoes and pierce skins

several times with a fork. Place whole potatoes inside dry cooking pot. Cover and cook during “prime time.”

large bowl: 1 package ground turkey, sausage seasoning of your choice (I use an Italian seasoning heavy with fennel), 2 eggs, ¼ cup grated cheese. Form mixture into small meatballs. Place in even layer in dark solar cooking pot. Cover and cook about 1 hr at “prime time.”

Indian Rice, inspired by Madhu Gadia
1 1/2 cups dry brown basmati rice 3 cups water 1/4 teaspoon cumin seed 6 black peppercorns 1/2 stick cinnamon 1 whole cardamom 2 cloves 2 bay leaf 2 teaspoons oil (I use butter or olive oil) 1 teaspoon salt Place all ingredients in dark solar cooking pot. Cover and cook for about 1 hour of prime sunshine (or longer if not prime) until done. Fluff with fork and serve.

Moroccan Lentils, inspired by Anissa Helou
¾ cup dry lentils (brown or black) 1 ½ cups water 3/4 teaspoon cumin ½ teaspoon paprika Salt and pepper 1 Tablespoon olive oil Place all ingredients in dark solar cooking pot. Cover and cook for about 1 hour of prime sunshine (or longer if not prime) until tender. There should be a bit of liquid remaining, which is delicious over plain brown rice.

Mediterranean Stew, p.267 of the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Cookbook. I made the entirety in the solar cooker, staging the onions first for an hour at “prime time,” followed by the vegetables and broth for 2 hours. I added the canned items after “prime time” as the sun was cooling.

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Vegetable, egg and cheese dishes such as the Spinach Pie in Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Cookbook or the Atkins Swiss Chard Gratin (http://www.atkins.com/recipes/s/swiss-chard-gratin-341) cook in about 2-3 hours at “prime time.” Vegetarian chili is a one-pot dinner that can be cooked entirely in the solar cooker.

Cookbooks  Anderson, Lorraine, Cooking with Sunshine (available at LAPL) Good tips on cooking techniques, including baking. Anderson
does use conventional cooking as a supplement to solar, so she’s not purist. She recommends nonstick cookware, which I avoid. And the recipes do call for some prepared foods (canned soups, mayonnaise, etc). The back of the book includes lists of recipes for cloudy days, quick preparation, and other less-than-optimal situations.

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Shimeall, Eleanor, Eleanor’s Solar Cookbook (available through Solar Cookers International and through Bountiful Gardens catalog). Many recipes are garden-to-kitchen, thus take your preparation in a more sustainable direction. Cooking instructions are quite casual, sometimes scant. But this book includes instructions on solar canning of acidic fruits and tomatoes. Solar Oven Society’s recipe webpage http://www.solarovens.org/recipes/

Conventional cookbooks which adapt well to solar cooking: Crock pot cookbooks, like Rick Rodgers, Slow Cooker Ready & Waiting Garden cookbooks, like the Moosewood series Ethnic cookbooks (Indian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean), with long-cook dishes Unhurried traditional recipes, like Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions

Most solar cookers cook slow, long, and moist (like a crock pot). Only the “solar sizzler” parabolic type of solar cooker will brown food, and even then, it does it rather slowly like a hotplate might. Knowing how solar devices cook, you can convert many of your favorite recipes to solar techniques. Eleanor Shimeall writes that solar cookers cook faster than CrockPots, and recommends “using about 2/3 the liquid and about 2/3 the cooking time called for.”

Food dehydrator
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You can use your PANEL SOLAR COOKER as an energy-free, emissions-free dehydrator, too. You will need: Baking racks, the kind that are used for cooling cookies. We use ones with a dark colored coating, that happen to stack (which is convenient). a “heat sink”-- a dark heat-retaining object which is used at the bottom of the oven. Sometimes we use an old cast-iron potlid. Other times we use a “paella pan” we found which is made of the same black speckled enamel as our solar pots. A black cast-iron trivet would also work. A large piece of netting (optional). The kind used for little girls’ ballet skirts works fine. It is used to keep insects from flying onto the fresh-cut food before the food begins to heat up. (They don’t tend to fly into the cooker once it is warmed up.)

“Preheat” your PANEL SOLAR COOKER by setting up the reflectors and heat sink in the sun, and focusing the cooker. Meanwhile, slice your fruits or vegetables thinly and evenly, then set them out in a single layer on the racks. Allow a bit of space between the pieces of food because it all works better with a bit of air flow. If your racks will stack, set them into your PANEL SOLAR COOKER one atop the other. We have achieved stacking by using small jars as spacers between the racks. Drape everything with the netting, if you are using it. As the food dries, rotate it on the racks. Move the driest food to the top layer. Food is ready when it is like dry food from the market. When you pack your food for storage, inspect each piece for adequate dryness. We recommend using many small jars rather than one big one, because if a jar goes bad (mold or bugs) then you haven’t lost more than a portion of your larder. For more detailed instructions, refer to dehydrator cookbooks like Dry It, You’ll Like It by Gen MacManiman.

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