Cooking with the sun!

I’ve been wanting to upgrade my solar cooking ability for some time now. It’s the green way to cook. I made a solar oven a few years ago out of a Styrofoam box inside a cardboard box, with aluminum foil over the cardboard flaps, and a sheet of glass over the top, but it wasn’t very effective. It took all day to heat up a can of baked beans in my homemade contraption.

I had looked at manufactured solar ovens a few years back, but none of them had all the features that I wanted. I looked again online last week, and found the Global Sun Oven, made by Sun Oven International in Elburn, Illinois. It had everything I wanted in a solar oven and more. Visit http://www.sunoven.com to see their great video on how it works.

The Sun Oven is made in the USA, a selling point for me.


I ordered one immediately, along with their emergency preparedness package that included drying racks for dehydrating food, a set of double stacking enamel pots with two lids, two bread pans, parchment paper, and a couple of other items. I also bought two solar cookbooks from them.

The oven shipped in two days and I was able to track it by FedEx. The features that sold me on this oven were the built-in adjustable leg so I can tilt the oven for winter or summer sun angles, a swinging rack on which to place the pot so the liquid stays level and doesn’t spill when the oven is tilted, a collapsible reflector, an included thermometer, and the fact that it was manufactured in the USA. And, it came with three dehydrator racks so it can be used to make sun-dried tomatoes, jerky, and other dried foods.

My new solar oven arrived yesterday, and required a bit of set up. Just unpacking it and removing the plastic film from the reflectors took a while. Then I had to heat soapy water in it in a pot this morning, and scrub the interior before the first use. I think that step may be to remove volatile plasticizers before using the oven to cook food.

To make a Greek beef stew in a solar oven, put 1.5 lbs of stew beef in the pot, add one sliced onion and 1/4 C melted butter. Toss to coat.

While it was preheating again, I mixed up a Greek stew of cubes of beef, onions, butter, carrots (from my garden), tomato paste and seasonings (red wine, sherry vinegar, brown sugar, garlic from my garden, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and bay leaf from my garden).

Slice five carrots and put on top of beef and onions. These are Kyoto reds from my garden.

Add 1-2 cloves of pressed garlic (OK, I used 7 here, but my homegrown garlic cloves are small) to one 6 oz can of tomato paste along with 1/2 C red wine, 2 T sherry vinegar, 1 T brown sugar, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground cumin, 1/8 tsp ground cloves, and 1/4 C raisins. Stir together, and spread over the top of the carrots.

The tomato paste mixture is fairly thick, even with the wine and vinegar added. Apparently solar cooking uses very little added liquid. Top the stew with one or two bay leaves (I picked my bay leaves off my little tree), cover, and cook in the solar oven until done, about 3-3.5 hours.

I'm so excited. My first meal is cooking in the driveway in our new solar oven!

I modified the Greek stew recipe that I’m showing here from one in the “A Month of SUNdays: Solar cooking at home” solar cookbook by Sharlene Thomas.  I also bought “The Solar Chef: A Southwestern recipe book for solar cooking” that is produced by Solar Ranch. (I made their chile cheese bake casserole this morning in my regular gas oven and it was fabulous.)

I made this chile cheese bake from a recipe that I modified from The Solar Chef, baking it in our regular oven because the solar oven was busy with the Greek beef stew. For my version of the chile cheese bake, combine 5 beaten eggs, 1/4 C flour, 3/4 tsp baking powder, 2 oz can of diced green chiles, 2 oz can of chopped ripe olives, 8 oz sour cream, 2 C grated Mexican cheeses, generous dash of Louisiana hot sauce, 1 T melted butter and 4 corn tortillas cut or torn into pieces. sprinkle paprika on top. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 min in a regular oven or 45 minutes to an hour and a half in a solar oven until top is puffy and eggs are set. Boy, this was good.

The solar oven came with a stacking, lidded, double pot, so I put rice and water in the bottom pot and the Greek stew in the top pot, topped with a lid. By the time I had the stew ready to go into the oven, the temp of the oven was already up to 340 degrees. Amazing. Just with the sun.

I’m rotating the oven every half hour to maximize the heat. I also have to clean off the condensation on the inside of the glass lid to keep the oven cooking at a good hot temperature. It’s running at 300 degrees, which is plenty hot enough to cook our dinner. The stew and rice should be cooked in about two to three hours. It’s been two hours already and it smells really great every time I open the oven to clean off the condensation.

I’m really excited about my new solar oven. Some of the benefits are that I can cook without using any fossil fuel or putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Every meal I cook on it fights global warming. The sun’s energy is free, so I’m saving money on fuel. Hahaha, not that I ever expect to save enough on fuel to offset the cost of the solar oven. another benefit is that I will be able to cook in the summer without heating up the kitchen. If we had air conditioning, that would be a cost savings, but as it is, it will merely be a comfort benefit. Mostly I’m doing this for FUN.

I had planned to get a dehydrator this year anyway. It would have cost about the same as the solar oven and it would have used electricity. This was a sweet deal to get a solar oven and dehydrator all in one package.

I am utterly amazed at all of the different things that can be cooked in it–bread, cookies, soups, stews, rice, roasts, and whole chickens.

Well, while the stew is cooking itself with the power of the sun, I can’t help but remember that I have a bottle of red wine open. 🙂 I just have to remember to keep moving the oven to follow the sun and stay out of the shadows.

About Lou Murray, Ph.D.

I'm a professional writer/photographer, avid gardener, and active environmentalist living in southern California. I am retired from writing a weekly newspaper column on environmental topics in the Huntington Beach Independent, but I am still teaching at the Orange County Conservation Corps. This blog chronicles my efforts to live a green life growing as much food as possible for my husband and myself on a 4,500 sq ft yard that is covered mainly by house, garage, driveway, and sidewalks.
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6 Responses to Cooking with the sun!

  1. Robin says:

    How exciting! Everything looks wonderful! I’m going to have to look at their website. I hope you didn’t drink too much wine with your dinner 🙂

    • Robin, what does “too much wine” mean? There’s such a thing as too much? Actually, there was enough left over to put into today’s pot roast. Unfortunately from the point of view of solar cooking, we live close to the Pacific Ocean, and there is a marine layer today that has been drifting back and forth over the house. The solar oven only got up to 250, and has now drifted below 200. I think I’m going to have to finish the pot roast in the oven.

  2. Robin says:

    Ha! I think you love your wine as much as I do! You can always see wine and other spirits in most of my pictures taken in the kitchen. I use wine in everything! It also keeps the cook happy!!

  3. Jeanie Bazer says:

    Robin, does the outside of the reflectors look blue or is that the plastic film? How did yu remove it, if so? Also the smaller white sun gauge thing on the door popped off and I can’t see how to put it back on? Does it fit over the screws? Thanks!

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