Everyone has their own favorite reason for solar cooking:
- Fire safe! No open flames.
- No fossil fuels or air pollution — 100% sustainable.
- No stove heating up indoor spaces on a hot summer’s day.
- Low-maintenance cooking: stirring rarely needed during cooking, as food almost never burns or sticks!
- The cook can start dinner and walk away for hours to work or play.
- Fun for kids and great teaching tool for renewable energy and thermodynamics.
- Portable: great on camping trips, particularly where camp fires are discouraged.
- Encourages time outside — dinner simmers while you garden or catch up on reading under a tree.
When you’re first starting out with your solar oven, focus on recipes that do well with slow cooking. Solar ovens really shine with long-simmered stews and casseroles; the sun seems to bring out new flavors as the steady heat breaks down the complex carbohydrates of separate ingredients into a symphony of well-mingled sweet and savory notes. Choose dishes where you won’t miss the browning that takes place in a conventional oven. A dusting of paprika or a sprinkling of herbs can provide extra visual appeal on dishes that might ordinarily be browned on top.
Patience is a virtue — it’s much harder to overcook foods in a solar oven, since the design retains moisture and prevents baked goods from drying out. Try to wait until you’re pretty sure your dish is done before checking, since every time you open the oven heat will escape and 10-15 minutes of cooking time will be added to regain temperature.
If you want to cook something quickly or at high temperatures, plan to refocus the oven every half-hour. Just look for the shadows — they should be even on all sides of the solar oven for optimum sun exposure. Check the focusing position for mid-day sun and make a note for future use: when slow-cooking your dinner while you’re at work, hiking, or otherwise occupied, set oven in that mid-day sun position before you leave in the morning.
These dishes are all a little bit special and fun, but completely approachable by newcomers to the solar oven. No special equipment is required — just a bowl, a spoon, a covered baking dish, and a sense of adventure. All will tolerate some temperature variation and still turn out delicious.
Heavenly Brunch Egg Strata
8 large slices good white bread (fresh or slightly stale)
2-3 cups grated cheese (any mixture of cheddar, Swiss, or jack cheeses)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
OPTIONAL: 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh herbs such as tarragon, thyme, or savory, or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons melted butter, plus more for baking dish
5 large eggs
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Mix this dish up the night before if you like — the longer it sits in the pan before baking, the better! This special-occasion brunch requires no last-minute fussing, just serve with fresh fruit or potatoes for a memorable and luxurious weekend meal. Butter a covered casserole dish generously and arrange 4 slices of bread on the bottom, cutting slices if needed to fit. Sprinkle half the grated cheese over the bread, then top with the remaining bread, then the remaining cheese. Whisk the eggs and add the milk, salt, pepper, herbs, and melted butter. Pour egg mixture over layered bread and cheese and allow to sit for at least an hour while solar oven preheats, or overnight. Bake at around 325F for 60-90 minutes, or until set. Blanched vegetables such as asparagus or spinach are a wonderful addition, as is smoked salmon or cooked bacon (you can cook the bacon in the solar oven too!) — just layer them in.
Sun Roasted Beets
Couldn’t be simpler! Roasting beets whole retains all their intense flavor and brings out their natural sweetness. Scrub whole beets under cold water, but don’t peel, and leave about 1 inch of stem. Arrange in a dark covered dish so they’re not too crowded, and add about 1/2 cup of water in the bottom of the dish. Place in sun oven, preheated or not — they will be delicious roasted ‘slow-and-low’ or ‘hot-and-fast’. Depending on temperature and size, they will be tender in 1-4 hours. Test with a sharp knife for doneness. Allow to cool in the pan; when cool, skins and tops should slip easily off. Serve sliced, tossed in olive oil and a touch of balsamic vinegar, or in a green salad with goat cheese and walnuts and a simple vinaigrette — perfect summer lunch!
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies — Gluten Free!
Makes two dozen 3 inch cookies
1/2 cup salted butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup unrefined sugar (or brown sugar)
1 cup salted peanut butter
1 tablespoon molasses
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract OR 1/4 teaspoon powdered vanilla bean
1/3 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 cup dark chocolate chips
Let your sun oven preheat to around 300F. These no-grain cookies are high in protein and low in sugar, making them a good option for a kids’ treat. Coconut and tapioca flours are both versatile whole-food products which are easily found in health-food stores or online.
Let all ingredients come to room temperature. Cream the sugar into the butter with a sturdy wooden spoon. Add the peanut butter and work it into the butter mixture. When smooth, add the molasses, vanilla, and the eggs one at a time, maintaining a smooth consistency. In a separate bowl, combine the coconut and tapioca flours. Dump the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and combine until smooth, then stir in chocolate chips. The dough will be soft and gooey; if you’d like it to be firmer, stick it in the fridge for half an hour. When spooning cookies onto the baking sheet, flatten each one gently with a buttered spoon — they won’t spread much on their own. I used baking parchment placed directly on the racks, but buttered cookie sheets will do fine if you have any small enough. I baked these for about 30 minutes. Cookies are done when the surface appears dry and is firm to the touch.
Perfect Baked Beans (Vegan)
Serves 4; can be doubled
2 cups dried white navy beans
1 medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small can tomato paste
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup molasses
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 teaspoon salt pinch of red chili flakes, to taste (optional)
Plan a day ahead to soak the beans, and start cooking in the morning to ensure plenty of baking time. Once they are in the oven, your work is done, except for occasional focusing adjustments! Cover dry beans in several inches of warm water and leave at room temperature for 12-24 hours. In the morning, preheat solar oven to around 300F, combine diced onion and olive oil in casserole dish and “sweat” for at least 30 minutes, or until translucent. Drain and rinse beans, add to casserole and cover with filtered water to slightly above the level of the beans, then add all remaining ingredients. Return to solar oven and bake for at least 6 hours — temperature variations should not affect success as long as you stay mostly above 225F. This recipe as written will work well in the included enamel pot, or if doubling, use a cast iron Dutch oven or other dark colored casserole dish. Originally adapted from Nourishing Traditions, a useful whole-foods resource.
Simplest Chocolate Cake
Start with all ingredients at room temperature
1/2 cup softened butter (or vegetable oil)
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup good quality cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk, water, or coffee
This recipe is great for an easy birthday cake on a camping trip, or just a fun dessert to whip up with kids. Try to bake it in the middle of a cloudless day for guaranteed full sun.
Butter an 8 x 12 baking pan, or line with baking parchment. The Joy of Cooking specifies your butter should be “the consistency of mayonnaise”, and this truly will help make your mixing easier. If you’ve forgotten to leave out your butter, you can warm it gently in a bowl in the preheating solar oven; just keep an eye on it and remove if it starts to melt (melted butter or vegetable oil will work fine in a pinch, but softened butter will provide the best texture and flavor).
Preheat solar oven to 350F (anything over 300 should work, though cooking time will vary). Cream butter and sugar together in a bowl, add eggs one at a time. In another bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Add half dry ingredients to wet, stir briefly to combine, add milk or water and stir, then add remaining dry ingredients. Use a rubber spatula to scrape batter out of bowl and spread evenly in baking pan. Check for doneness when surface appears dry or cracked: insert a toothpick or sharp knife into the center; it’s done when it comes out clean, or when the edges of the cake start to pull away from the pan. To put this recipe “over the top”, glaze with melted chocolate or a layer of sweetened peanut butter topped with whipped cream — yum!
Mushroom Chicken and Rice
Serves two; can be doubled in an appropriately-sized pot
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1-2 ribs celery, sliced
3 cloves sliced garlic OR 3 garlic scapes in season
2 cups sliced mushrooms, any combination of white, crimini, portabello, and shitake
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 pinch of saffron OR 1 teaspoon ground turmeric (for color)
1 cup basmati or long-grain rice, white OR brown
2 cups filtered water OR chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh garden herbs, including oregano, thyme and marjoram
2 free-range chicken leg quarters, bone-in salt and pepper
fresh parsley and paprika for garnish
This is a forgiving dish that will tolerate many variations, additions of vegetables, substitutions of cooking liquid or spices. The result is an easy and satisfying one-pot dinner; serve with a simple green salad and a chilled Pinot Gris. I used the enameled pot that came with my sun oven for this dish (dark pots are better for solar cooking, and some of my casserole dishes won’t fit on the hanging rack), and it worked perfectly.
Preheat your sun oven to at least 300F. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil, add sliced mushrooms, garlic and celery, salt, pepper, saffron or turmeric: toss to combine. Slice butter and distribute it evenly over vegetables, with onion slices on top and another drizzle of olive oil. Cover with lid and place in oven for 30-60 minutes, or until onions are becoming translucent and no longer smell raw. This initial “sweating” of the aromatic vegetables, and particularly of the onions, is important for the finished flavor of the dish.
While vegetables are in the oven, rinse the rice in several changes of water until the rinse water is no longer cloudy. Chop the herbs, rinse the chicken legs and coat them liberally with salt and pepper. If desired, you can briefly brown the chicken in butter on the stovetop, as poultry will not brown in the sun oven; this is a matter of taste (we skipped it, and the dish was devoured with gusto). Remove the softened vegetables from the sun oven, add the drained rice and herbs, stir to combine. Pour the water or stock and lemon juice evenly over the mixture, place the chicken legs on top, skin side up. Return covered pot to the oven and bake for about 90 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed and the chicken begins to pull away from the bone. Garnish liberally with fresh parsley and a dusting of paprika and serve hot. Leftover rice makes a nice side dish for the next day’s meal.
Enjoy! Experiment with your own favorite recipes, and please share your own successes and discoveries in solar cooking in the comments section below!