Monday, June 21, 2010
Posted by Kate at 11:14 AM
I've made very little progress towards my goal of using our rocket stove and solar oven more frequently this year. Of course I have excuses, and they're semi-legitimate, but they boil down to the universal excuses for everything that's wrong with our culture: I'm busy, and it's not convenient. I'm working on making it more convenient to use either the rocket stove or the solar oven, but in the meantime, I need to just suck it up and cook out there anyway.
It helps that the heat has been infernal lately. Who wants to cook inside with such weather? So on Saturday evening I soaked a bunch of chickpeas. On Sunday morning, I cleaned up the solar oven, and added a bunch of seasoning ingredients to the chickpeas. The day was blazing hot and sunny almost all the time. The dish didn't come out perfectly: I'd left a lot more liquid in with the beans than was really needed. But they cooked through quite well and were tasty.
I wasn't working with a recipe, but here's what I did. First I drained the soaking liquid the chickpeas were in and then recovered them with fresh water. I chopped up about five cloves of garlic, and minced about an inch of a fat section of fresh ginger. These were added to the soaking liquid along with a palmful of dried minced onion, and some spices, roughly in descending order of quantity: cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper, cayenne, and amchoor. I also added a good drizzle of oil and a coarsely diced fresh tomato. This left my cooking pot for the solar oven absolutely brimming. It went into the solar oven around 9am, and as I checked the temperature in the oven throughout the day it varied from 150-255 F (66-124 C) as the outdoor temperature climbed to 94 F (34 C) and clouds occasionally scudded across the sky. I only added salt when the chickpeas were done cooking.
Towards the end of the day I put some basmati rice to cook in the steamer out on the porch. I also went out to the garden to rustle up a quicky relish to go with what is essentially a beans and rice dish: roughly equal parts fresh cilantro (including soft stems) and spearmint (leaves only) along with a whole scallion, a pinch of salt, and a bit of lime juice. Everything whizzed together in the food processor, with the sides scraped down a few times between bouts of whizzing. This crude relish isn't shown in the picture but it added a lovely bit of green both visually and taste-wise. Very refreshing it was too, on a hot evening. I think adding a zucchini or two to the chickpeas for the last hour or so of cooking would have added a nicer balance of veg too.
I'd make this again but definitely reduce the amount of liquid that goes in the cooking pot. It worked as a somewhat soupy dish because the rice could soak everything up. But more concentrated flavor would be better. Cooking in a solar oven is definitely an experimental endeavor for me. It's a bit like baking in that you have to set things up and then relinquish the possibility of intervention once the actual cooking begins. Because the cooking containers are very nearly airtight, I'm having to learn how much liquid to add. And this is an iterative process. Also it seems to me that flavors in solar-cooked dishes are more mellow and more diffuse than I would expect from conventionally cooked food. The flavors in this dish reminded me of leftover curry that had been cooked a few days previously - all the seasonings had spread themselves out and reached a point of equilibrium among all ingredients. So I might also learn to be a little heavy handed with the seasonings as I continue with the solar cooking goal for this year.
Oh, and by the way, Happy Solstice!