Everybody knows the summers in Austin get hot – last week we had a record of 110°! When it’s such an oven outside it only makes sense to gather the heat of the sun and concentrate it into an aparatus that can cook your dinner for you – keep that heat out of the kitchen! That’s what my mom said when she gifted me this funky little Solar Oven and a book on slow cooking. A couple weeks ago she came to Austin for a visit and gave me a 101 on how to cook almost anything in the solar oven: beans, rice, potatoes, veggies, whole chickens, chili, stews and soups, even whole roasts of meat.
The oven holds 2 3.4 quart special tin/enamel pots that absorb and circulate the heat and I’ve discovered that I can cook a whole dinner in one pot and make beans or rice for another day in the other. The coolest part of solar cooking is that you just set the oven in the sun first thing in the morning, make sure it’s facing the sun throughout the day, and before sunset whatever you’ve put in is perfectly done. No more soaking beans overnight, boiling them for hours or spending too much on canned and cooked beans.
The nonprofit organizations Persons Helping People and the Solar Oven Society originally designed this solar oven for people in places with an abundance of sun and a shortage of fuel. They’ve provided people in Afganistan, Haiti, Guatamala and throughout Africa with ovens in times of great need and as an alternative to using cooking fires. This powerful little tool can cook almost any type of food, in any temperature (even below freezing!), with just a few hours and the power of the sun.
For my second attempt at using the oven I went all-in, doing a leg of lamb with garlic, carrots, potatoes and onions with rosemary and mustard in one pot and garbanzo beans in the other. My plan was to enjoy the lamb and veg for dinner and make hummus for lunch the next day. I prepared everything at home at 8am then took the oven over to the front yard of Muddy Water Shop where we could get maximum sun exposure. At 6pm the beans were perfect and I stuck a thermometer in the leg just to double-check, but the lamb was just falling off the bone tender. We were ready to eat! Two important things I’ve learned so far about cooking in the solar oven:
So go get yourself a solar oven so we can share recipes and have a sun cooking party, then try this recipe! Or for a more conventional approach to dinner, roast this same recipe in your indoor oven at 350° for 2 hours…
1 small leg of lamb, 2-4 pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 carrots, chopped into bite-sized chunks
1 head of garlic, crushed and peeled
1 red onion, roughly chopped
3-4 medium yukon gold potatoes, chopped into bite-sized chunks
A handful of fresh rosemary, 6-8 sprigs
1-2 teaspoons dried mustard seed, crushed
Lots of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
In your pot drizzle the lamb with a bit of oil and cover with a goodly amount of salt and pepper, mustard seed and whole rosemary sprigs. Combine the vegetables in a bowl and coat with olive oil and salt and pepper, then transfer to the pot, around the lamb. Stick it in the solar oven before 9am and by sunset you’ll have a perfectly done leg of lamb with delicious vegetables.
In your pot combine 2 cups of water and 1 cup of the beans of your choice and put in the solar oven all day. Black, pinto, cannellini, and garbanzo beans are my favorite. Don’t forget to season them after cooking!
Already have a solar oven and love cooking with it? Let me know! I’d love to hear about your experience, do’s and don’t's, and share favorite recipes!