On April 22 we celebrated Earth Day. One of the best ways to treat the earth with kindness is to turn to the sun for energy. Sure there are multiple sources of energy available on the earth; some contribute to the health of our planet and others deplete it. We, as humans, have been able to harness various resources without necessarily being able to evaluate the unintended consequences. One great example is nuclear energy and the devastating melt-down of the Fukushima plant that still has leaking reactors to this day.
The sun, however, is always emitting energy and within the last three decades we have begun to harness its potential in a large scale. One use for solar energy that has not been divulged as much is cooking. Solar ovens are a great option for making a variety of cooked dishes and an assortment of baked goods. Recently, my husband brought home this wonderful cooking device, which uses heat from sunlight, eliminating the need for fuel or electricity.
We bought large glass jars, square glass containers, and just started experimenting with it. Our first try was my chicken and yams recipe that I normally cook on a Tajine. The result was astounding. When cooked in the solar oven, inside a tightly-sealed container, all of the flavors blended together seamlessly to form a very appetizing dish — the chicken retained its moisture, the meat was tender, and the yams did not overcook. My husband also makes vegetable stews, soups, and roasts. Granted, it is not an every-day piece of equipment because on gray or rainy days, much like solar energy panels, the solar oven does not heat up as expected. If you do live in sunny Southern California, as I do, you can have solar-cooked food almost every day.
In a quest for optimum health and trying to live off of the earth’s bounty, about four years ago, I integrated daily juicing into my lifestyle. Some days I use the high-speed blender, but most of the time I use a regular old juicer which extracts the concentrated liquid from vegetables and spits out the fiber. All of the peels, seeds and fiber used to go straight into the compost bin but watching that rich, organic fiber go away, even though it was not completely wasted, started to bother me. There had to be a better use for it. In speaking with a good friend, Erin Yeschin, she told me that she did not throw away the fiber, instead she made balls with it. Balls? The wheels of my imagination started turning as I considered what she could possibly be making. The next time I used the juicer, there was no way the compost bin was going to benefit from the fiber rather than my intestines. I gathered it all and combined it with wholesome ingredients to create a raw-vegan version of meat loaf. Rather than putting all of that raw goodness in the conventional oven, I chose to use our solar oven. And thus “fiber loaf” was born. One point to keep in mind is that fiber loaf’s good flavor depends on the vegetables used for juicing; spinach, yellow chard, fennel, kohlrabi, carrots and deseeded jalapeños made the best loaf. I also decided to make “fiber balls” and cover it with tomato sauce for a “raw marinara and loaf balls sauce” that went extremely well over “zoodles” or kelp noodles. You can access the recipes for “Fiber Loaf” and “Tajine Chicken”.
When I lived in Iowa, every fall a group of women from the small town would gather at the community kitchen to wash, cut, and boil fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden, place them in jars with air-tight sealer lids and store them for winter. The process is time-consuming and difficult. Since this was a commercial-style kitchen, there were four or five commercial canning retorts, where the air-tight sealed jars would be placed for final sterilization. It was a multiple-step process that required a lot of work with a certain amount of injury risk. Needless to say my experience with canning was limited to those few years in the Mid-West, never to be repeated again. When our solar oven arrived, the thought of canning again became very enticing, especially after purchasing new glass jars and lids. I also have an air-tight vacuum sealing machine with a lid adaptor which has been used for storing soups, sauces, and beans. My next experiments with the solar oven is going to be canning. I will report on the results some time in the fall, after the food has had enough time to sit without refrigeration in an airtight-sealed glass jar. If the results are positive, the solar oven may very well revolutionize home-canning and in a near future, the canning industry itself as we become more dependent on the sun for our primary source of energy.
Solar Cookers Pros and Cons
2. Economical — no gas or electrical costs
3. Improved food flavors, moisture and tenderness
4. Similar to a crock-pot, it will cook all day
1. Will not work unless there is sunlight
2. Longer cooking time
3. Risk of hurting eyes from sunlight beams — be careful
Everyday is Earth Day, so Happy Solar Cooking!