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Cooking in a Solar Box Cooker
Solar cooking must have been part of the routine of our ancestors. You can picture the ape-like creatures laying out raw food on hot rocks and grunting with glee at the result.
I too grunted with glee when I first used my solar box cooker about two months ago. It was so exciting to cook something absolutely free of cost and without having to stir and fry and all that. When hunting for a solar cooker, I found an affordable box cooker which the seller claimed to use himself. He told me to put rice and daal (a lentil soup commonly eaten with rice in India) in the cooker in the morning and my lunch would be ready by lunch time. I knew I would be saving plenty of cash on expensive commercial gas which only gets more pricey.
The Solar Box Cooker
So I dished out Rs. 5000 for this pretty large box cooker with a glass reflector and glass lid. The box itself is painted black and three metal vessels with lids, all painted black too are provided. The cooker shell is aluminium and it has a prop stick on the side which you can use to support the lid at various angles. I was lucky that it was a sunny day when I got my solar cooker.
Cooking Rice and Daal with the Sun
I did some research online about solar cooking and found that solar cooking required less water and that rice would take about 3 hours to cook. My first attempt was rice and daal. I put in one cup of rice with one and a half cups of hot water. Allow the water to heat up to the point of little bubbles forming on the bottom of the vessel. The daal got the same treatment and I added to it chopped tomatoes, a green chillie and fresh home-grown ‘palak’ (spinach). It was about 10 am and sunny on the south-west side of my home. I placed the cooker on a platform to keep it out of reach of my dogs.
Come lunch-time – around 2:30 pm and I found condensation on the inside of the lid. It was so hot, I had to grab a kitchen towel. When I lifted the lid, steam rushed out. The rice and daal were perfectly cooked and delicious. I have read that it’ s impossible to burn the food or overcook it in a solar cooker, but then, you do put in the right amount of water. Actually, a little extra water with the rice is even better.
Baking in a Solar Cooker
Since the electric oven takes a lot of power, I was really excited at the thought of baking bread and cookies etc. in my solar box cooker. I tried cookies first which turned out fine. They took about three and a half hours, but lacked the oven crunch. Same with bread which takes longer than rice. The bread was a bit too moist although thoroughly baked. I think the bread and cookies got too moist because of the condensation. There must be a way out of that. Any suggestions?
Have You Used a Solar Cooker?
The Colour of Dishes for Solar Cooking
I've tried this out myself. All cooking vessels in your solar cooker don't have to be black. I used a pale green vessel (a peeling black inside) with a normal metal lid today for my dish of mixed daal, rice, tomatoes and palak and it's cooked right through. Incidentally, the lentils don't become totally melt-in-the-mouth in a solar cooker, but they're definitely cooked and I enjoy the stronger flavour.
Do You Need to Re-position Your Solar Cooker to Face the Late Afternoon Sun?
I think the solar box cooker is one of the few that offer maximum heat for your cooking. Perhaps this is why I don't need to make my cooker follow the sun. Usually people move the cooker around 3:00 pm when the sun travels westwards, but my box cooker is all lit up even at the time. The reflector doesn't have to directly face the sun.
Bake Sweet Potatoes in the Solar Box Cooker
It’s exciting to think up simple recipes when you have free fuel – the heat of the sun. I baked a most delicious sweet potato yesterday. I just put it inside one of the little black-painted vessels and forgot about it for 3-4 hours. It was beautifully done. All I had to do was split it down the middle and add dollops of butter. Have you ever noticed that the flavour of sweet potato is akin to vanilla ice cream? It truly is!
Health Benefits of Sweet Potato
Sweet potato is known as one of the ‘super-foods’. It’s rich in fibre, vitamins D, C, B6, calcium, iron, potassium and beta-carotene which turns into Vitamin A when consumed. Vitamin A is good for skin. Even Diabetics who crave something sweet can safely enjoy this wonderful root vegetable because of its low glycaemic index (low sugar level).
Baked Sweet Potato Makes a Great Evening Snack
My baked sweet potato (better than boiling which leaches most of the nutrients) made a wonderful fulfilling snack with a cup of tea in the evening. I add a few leaves of freshly-grown basil from my garden to the tea which makes it fragrant and healthy. I don’t boil the leaves; I just add them to the teacup. Since evening tea is my last meal for the day, adding sweet potato to it instead of munchies like cookies makes me feel completely satisfied.
Sun Baked Potato Recipe
Baked potatoes are another great way to use a Solar Box Cooker. Scrub them well, punch holes into them with a fork, sprinkle with salt and place in a dish with a lid, preferably a dark dish to attract the sun’s heat. After 3-4 hours, take out the dish (use oven gloves as it will be hot), split the potato, add freshly ground black pepper, a bit of salt and a dash of lemon juice. Eat it with the skin which should be quite crisp. Imagine how much you save on your electricity bills! Besides, food cooked in a solar box cooker tastes more wholesome.