I loved my Easy-Bake Oven as a little girl. Every fall when the Sears Christmas Wish Book arrived, I pored over the pages featuring the small boxes of cake mixes and circled the flavors I hoped to find under the tree. Today I shudder to think of the ingredients those little packets contained. But as an eight-year old I dreamed only of the little round cakes I would bake via the heat of an incandescent light.
Today a different oven makes me just as giddy. Like my Easy-Bake Oven of old, it also relies on a light source to cook.
The property manager at the intentional community where I live built the solar food dehydrator above and I keep it in my yard for most of the summer. This simple—yet beautifully built—glass-covered wooden box can reach temperatures of 200°F (93°C) or higher. I’ve dehydrated vegetables and fruit it, such as tomatoes and these apples. They both taste like candy! I hope to make granola in the dehydrator this week and to attempt oatmeal cookies. Meringues would definitely work.
Unlike my Easy-Bake Oven, a solar cooker is no mere toy. In fact, these cookers transform lives. Last year, I attended a solar cooking festival north of me in scorching hot Sacramento, hosted by Solar Cookers International. This wonderful organization distributes solar cookers to families in developing countries. The ovens make unnecessary the indoor open fires that release dangerous particulates and often burn down homes. They enable kids to attend school who would otherwise spend hours searching for and collecting firewood. And these ovens make drinking water safe. Globally, a child dies every minute from water-related diseases. Solar ovens purify water contaminated by bacteria and viruses, making the water safe to drink.
- 149°F (65°C) kills Hepatitis A
- 140°F (60°C) kills E.coli, Cholera and Typhoid bacteria and the Polio virus
- 131°F (55°C) kills worms and Cryptosporidium
Of course, solar ovens also cook delicious food!
Solar-Baked Kale Chips
- 1 bunch kale, flat or curly works
- 1 to 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 to 1/2 salt
1. Remove tough stems from kale and cut into bite-size pieces.
2. Wash kale and spin to dry. I place my greens in a homemade cloth produce bag, take it outside and whirl it around to dry the greens. It works! I’m not a big fan of bulky gadgets like salad spinners that take up too much of my precious tiny kitchen space and break easily. A cloth bag works well and you can simply toss it into the fridge with any greens you don’t use immediately, after shaking any excess water off the bag.
3. In a large bowl, toss the kale with the olive oil and salt. Go easy on the oil and salt if you have a small bunch of kale! My first chips were WAY too salty. I crumbled and sprinkled them into egg salad with no added salt. Food waste averted!
I find it best to mix these with your hands in order to coat the kale evenly with the oil. I wanted to get a shot of that, but couldn’t quite manage it with my oily hands. Sometimes I wish I had a sous chef/photographer…
4. Distribute kale on ungreased cookie sheets and place them in the dehydrator. Situate the box in direct sunlight. These cook in about an hour at 200°F. If you use a solar cooker or dehydrator for a recipe that requires several hours to cook, you occasionally must rotate the device so it sits in direct sunlight (depending on the oven’s design).
That’s it! I find these taste best immediately out of the oven, warm and crisp as kale chips tend to lose their crispy texture within a couple of hours. As I said in a kombucha class I taught yesterday, real food usually has a short shelf life.
I haven’t made these kale chips in a conventional oven but I imagine they would turn out well. Just set your oven to around 200°F and bake them for an hour or until crisp.