What to Cook in a Solar Oven
Plus Simple Solar Oven Recipes Anyone Can Make
Several years ago, we added a solar cooker to our homestead tools. We have long, hot summers and cook from scratch every day, which was taxing our air conditioning unit each afternoon. The day it arrived we started experimenting with what to cook in a solar oven.
We’ve learned that pretty much anything you can bake or cook in an indoor oven, you can bake or cook in a solar oven. You might need to prepare it a little differently or cook it longer, but it will still cook and taste great.
The best time to cook in a solar oven is on a sunny day between 10 am and 4 pm. You can cook on a partly sunny day but the oven won’t heat up as much and it will take longer. You can also use fire pellets in some solar ovens so you can cook on cloudy or rainy days. This isn’t ideal but we do keep a few on hand in our preparedness box, just in case we need them.
Food will cook better in a solar oven if it’s cooked in dark pots and pans. I mainly use granite ware and cast iron. However, you can paint the outside of glass dishes black with spray paint. I don’t spray paint my glass dishes but I do wrap them in a dark towel before putting them in the solar cooker.
Many people use canning jars that have been painted black since canning jars are tempered and can withstand high heat. If you use a lid on the jar make sure that steam can still escape, either use a two-piece canning lid that is not tight or use a one-piece lid that has a hole drilled in the top.
The solar oven will get hot, just like a regular oven, so be sure to use oven mitts whenever you remove the dishes from the solar oven.
You’ll get the best results if you’re able to keep the oven temperature consistent. If you’re cooking for several hours you can track the sun and adjust the solar oven every 30 minutes or so. My solar oven has a small hole as a guide so you can see if you have the solar oven in its optimal position for catching the sunlight. I just set a timer on my phone and go about my other work.
If it’s sunny and the oven temperature reaches the temperature you normally cook at, the cooking time will be the same as it is in an indoor oven. However, if the recipe is normally baked at 350 degrees F and the solar cooker will only get up to 300 degrees F you can still cook the recipe, it will just take longer.
Most recipes will take two to four hours to cook. The nice thing about a solar oven is that rarely does anything burn in it, even when left for several hours.
What to Cook in a Solar Oven
While you can cook anything in a solar cooker, some things are easier than others. Smaller items such as cookies, biscuits, and things in smaller baking dishes will cook faster than loaves of bread, whole chickens, and dried beans. The longer the recipe is in the solar cooker the more times you’ll need to adjust it to catch the sunlight.
I like to “boil” eggs in the solar oven by placing a dozen eggs in a paper (not Styrofoam or plastic) egg carton that has the lid removed. Put them in the oven and let them cook at about 200 degrees F for an hour. You can take an egg out and spin it on its side and if it wobbles all over the table, they aren’t fully cooked and need more time. Be forewarned, they are HOT after being in the oven for an hour, so use oven mitts. When the eggs are fully cooked, I cool them off in ice water and then peel — even very fresh eggs can be peeled easily after cooking in a solar oven. When you cook the eggs, they need to not touch each other or you’ll end up with brown spots in the white of the egg which is why we use the egg carton. Eggs cooked in a solar oven will end up with brown spots on the shell and that’s perfectly fine.
Cookies are another favorite the solar oven. I like to keep homemade cookie dough in the freezer and cook just what we need for a small treat. When I pull the main dish out of the solar oven, I’ll put in a small baking sheet of cookie dough to bake. I use a small, dark jelly roll pan but any baking sheet or flat cast iron skillet with work. Cookies take under an hour to bake.
Cooking pizza is a fun, but tricky, thing to do in a solar oven because everyone has their own opinion of what makes a good pizza. I’ve found that using a thin crust and par baking the crust for about 20 minutes before putting on the toppings works best for us. Some people will preheat the solar oven and then put the pizza (with toppings) in to bake and that seems to cook the crust without over-cooking the toppings.
I love making zucchini lasagna in the solar oven. I just use my regular lasagna recipe but instead of pasta, I use thinly sliced strips of zucchini and a thicker sauce. After slicing the zucchini, I salt it and let it sit so it will release its moisture. After about 30 minutes, I pat it dry and then layer in the lasagna just like pasta. There are many easy zucchini recipes that will work great in a solar cooker.
Zucchini Lasagna in the Solar Oven
Lasagna is a great casserole to make in the solar oven. Unfortunately, sometimes the long cook time makes the noodles fall mushy. That’s not the case with zucchini lasagna.
The quantities in this recipe are guidelines as there are a few variables. It will depend on how big the overgrown zucchinis are and how big of a pan you can get in your solar oven. Please keep this in mind when your making the zucchini lasagna. My family is large so I use the double stacked 9.73” pots that came with my solar oven, each one holds 3 quarts.
1-2 Large, overgrown zucchinis
32 oz Ricotta cheese
4 eggs -beaten
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
3 cups grated mozzarella cheese
24 oz spaghetti sauce
14 oz diced tomatoes
12 oz tomato paste
1 lb ground beef
Cut zucchini into strips about 1/4″ thick or less. Salt the strips and lay them in a colander for about 30 minutes to remove excess water. Put a bowl underneath the colander to catch the water.
For meat sauce
Dice the onion and cook it with the ground beef in medium or large sauce pan. Once cooked, strain excess oil if needed. Add to spaghetti sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste to cooked meat. The meat sauce will be very thick, this is what you want so the lasagna isn’t watery.
For cheese mix
In a medium size bowl mix ricotta cheese, four eggs, Parmesan and 1 cup mozzarella cheese together.
To assemble lasagna
Set up solar oven and let it preheat while you’re assembling the zucchini lasagna, 350°F is an ideal temperature.
1. Put a small amount of sauce on bottom of the cooking pans.
2. Dry the zucchini noodles with a clean towel before using, removing as much water as possible.
4. Cover bottom of pan with zucchini strips.
5. Add a layer of the ricotta mixture and a layer of the meat sauce.
6. Repeat the zucchini, ricotta mixture and meat sauce layers until you run out of ingredients or are within an inch of the top of the pot. I try to get two complete layers. There will be zucchini left over for the top.
7. Top with a last layer of zucchini and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. If you’re pans don’t have lids, cover them with aluminum foil (shiny side down).
8. Put pans of zucchini lasagna in the solar oven and realign the oven to the sun.
9. Bake at 350°F for about 45 minutes to an hour, until the zucchini is soft. If the oven temperature is less than 350°F, it will take longer to cook and can take as long as two hours.
10. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Other Ways to Reduce Your Energy Costs
There quite a few ways to reduce your energy costs besides cooking in a solar cooker. Several years ago, we added radiant barrier to our attic and saw a drop in our summer electricity bill.
A diy solar shower can be installed very inexpensively. Water heaters are one of the most expensive appliances to run each year and a solar shower would greatly reduce its usage.
To reduce energy costs during the winter consider installing a wood burning stove to heat your home and to cook on. There are many newer models that are safe and effective.
Saving on energy costs and preparing for electricity outages is something we should all be working towards. Knowing what to cook in a solar oven can help you do both.
What are your favorite things to cook in a solar oven?