A few months back I went on Amazon seeking out a new book. Within my suggestions a book called ‘Cooking with Sunshine,’ popped up and caught my eye. The book professed to teach me all about the benefits of solar cooking with 150 easy sun-cooked recipes.
Immediately I thought back to the day that my friend Molly and I tried to cook an egg on the hood of her parent’s car. We must have been twelve years old! We lived in upstate New York and I think the temperature hit into the 100’s. As long as I can remember, my mom used to say, ‘it’s so hot outside you could cook an egg.’
Molly and I cracked the egg on the hood of the car and the results were a slimy mess.
Since that day I thought that cooking with the sun was just a joke. The egg just ran off the hood and we were annoyed that we had to clean it up. Our expectation of a fried egg were smashed.
But when I saw the ‘Cooking with Sunshine,’ book I had to investigate.
Much to my amazement there’s a variety of ways to make your own solar cooker. Or, if you’re not the do-it-yourself type person, there’s even more varieties to buy!
Although solar cookers come in all shapes and sizes, made from a variety of different materials, they all accomplish the same thing. Solar cookers allow heat from the sun to enter a cavity and then trap enough heat to effectively cook food.
The hood of a car won’t work too cook food, but a specifically designed solar cooker will.
Most solar cookers achieve temperatures that are similar to a slow cooker or Crockpot.
There are others, however, that are able to achieve very high heat and cook in minutes rather than hours.
The cost to make or buy a solar cooker ranges from a few dollars for some easy to gather supplies through to hundreds for state-of-the-art options.
But what are the benefits of solar cooking?
How practical is it for a sailor like me? How easy is it to use? What do I do with it when I’m not using it?Does it really work? Will my family and I actually enjoy the benefits of solar cooking? Having all these questions and armed with many recipes I set out to give solar cooking a go.
Over the course of several experiments, while anchored in Bermuda, I tested a variety of recipes including Moroccan Chickpea Tagine, Sweet Potato Black Bean Tacos, Eggplant Surprise, Ground Beef Stuffed Peppers and also boiled eggs, roasted garlic, made rice and heated up spaghetti with meat sauce (the last one while motoring in the Atlantic Ocean).
In this new series, written for SailingBritican’s Britican Galley, I’ve not only tested a variety of recipes, but I’ve used different solar cookers AND I’ve recorded my triumphs and disasters in video format.
But before we get to the cooking part of solar cooking, let me first explain why you might be interested in solar cooking…
10 Benefits of Solar Cooking
1. Solar cooking is free.
After making or paying for a solar cooker, there’s no other cost. There’s no need for gas, briquettes or any other fuel. Imagine how much longer your gas bottles will go when you’re not using them every day? There’s no cost for electricity – our cooker is electric so we have to be plugged into marina mains or run our generator to cook. There are no moving parts that might break requiring expensive repairs. With a solar cooker, there’s no running cost.
2. Solar cooking is quick and easy.
Although it takes food longer to cook in a solar cooker, the time it takes to prepare and clean are vastly reduced. For every meal I’ve made, I simply chop up a variety of things, throw them in the pot and let them cook. And due to the slow nature of cooking food never gets burnt on the pots/pans. Cleaning up is quick and easy. Furthermore, by the end of the day I’m usually tired and don’t want to cook. When using the solar cooker, I prepare the pot or pots around 10am when I’m full of energy and by 5pm – 6pm all I have to do is move the pots from the solar cooker to the cockpit table, serve and eat.
3. Food cooked with a solar cooker is healthy.
When cooking food with low heat, vitamins and other nutrients don’t break down. Furthermore solar cooked foods are free of mutagens and carcinogens produced by high-heat methods.
4. Solar cooked food tastes amazing!
Thus far I’ve made 16 dishes in my solar cooker and only one had to be poured out to the sea. The reason for my disaster was the seasoning rather than the food – I added too much red Thai curry powder making my Butternut Squash Coconut soup too spicy to swallow. Aside from that one mishap, however, everything else has been flavorful, moist and delicious. Time after time, my family, guests and I rave about the flavor – with the slow nature of cooking the flavors are fantastic.
5. Solar cookers make no noise.
As mentioned before, we have to use our generator when we need to cook. With the solar cooker there’s no noise and no smelly diesel fumes.
6. Cooking with sunshine is kind to the environment.
There’s no fumes, no use of fuel or electricity. It’s the greenest cooking option available. Most sailors love to sail because Mother Nature takes us from point A to B with only the use of the wind (errrrr…usually sailors end up at point D rather than B but you get the point)!
7. Solar cooking ovens are portable.
You can put a solar cooker anywhere. Usually I have ours on the aft deck as it’s easy for me to keep and eye on it but as long as it’s in the sun it can be on the aft deck, forward deck, coach roof or heck, you can take it to the beach and set it next to you while you enjoy a lazy day on land. When you’re not using the cooker, some of them fold up and others can be stowed away in a locker or even attach it to the safety rail.
8. It’s rewarding for the whole family.
Every time we eat a solar cooked meal we’re all excited with the results. Our daughter helps put the ingredients in the pot, my husband makes sure to keep the cooker facing the sunlight and I spend time finding new recipes to try. Cooking with the sun is a family event and when friends join us they’re blown away at the possibilities!
9. Anything can be cooked in the solar cooking oven.
It’s not just for vegetables – you can cook meat, make breads and enjoy experimenting with different kinds of desserts. Furthermore, the solar cooker is great for heating up last night’s leftovers. As long as your not hangry (hungry + angry) and are willing to wait ½ hour it’s amazing how well the solar cooker heats things up. Want a cup of coffee or tea – just put mug of water in the solar cooker!
10. Cooking with the sun empowers you to be more self-sufficient.
I love the idea of being off the grid. Eventually I hope to have our whole boat running on solar/wind/water power. There’s nothing more amazing that sustainable energy that you can create yourself! We’ll always have to buy most of our food but it feels great that it doesn’t cost us a thing to make it ☺
If you’re not yet convinced, watch some of my experiments – subscribe to Britican’s Galley YouTube Channel! When subscribing to a YouTube channel you’ll have the option of being notified every time I upload a new video. Time after time my family and I are super pleased with the results. Every day, while anchored in Bermuda, we tried something new and every day we had this amazing satisfaction for being able to use the sun’s power to cook our food.
We’ve only used a couple solar cookers now, but so far the Solavor Solar Cooker (as seen in all the images here) works best for us. The unit is heavy enough that it won’t blow off the boat. Sure, it’s big and bulky but you need something heavy on a boat. We just move it out of the way when we’re not using it. The cooker comes with the pots, the temperature gauge, reflector panels (when it’s cloudy) and a cookbook. All I needed to do is add the food!
Watch my very first experience with cooking with sunshine here: Solar cooker sweet potato bean tacos Recipe included!