Although good solar cookers have been available for two decades, they were out of reach because of distribution issues. Nowadays you can even order them on online. Food cooked in solar cooker taste better
Prices of crude oil are falling globally but in percentage terms nowhere close to the way prices of solar powered products and cells as well as reflecting surfaces used for solar energy purposes are falling too. Not just photo-voltaic and photo-thermal cells but even paint-on or paint-apply reflective surfaces, which can be used to generate energy with even the least amount of Sun regardless of ambient temperatures around.
For the last few weeks, we have been using a new generation solar cooker at home for cooking a variety of food items in Delhi's cold weather. The list of items we could not cook is mutton (gave up after five hours, but that is also because it became foggy) and rotis (we need to tweak the flour used so that it can "rise" like a "kulcha"). Everything else can and has been cooked. Even French toast.
For the rest, for a family of five, sometimes six people, we have been able to cook a variety of raw unpolished rice (100-120 minutes), polished rice (60-75 minutes), lentils (90-120 minutes) and vegetables (60-150 minutes, depending). Food ends up tasting better, and for those of us who recall what daal tasted before pressure cookers entered our homes, tastes fluffier too.
Cooking by solar also requires less oil/ghee, as the process involves slow cooking at its best, and this in turn reduces the amount of oil wasted by simply being burnt away. There is no need to keep stirring also, as the heat is applied from all around and within.
The all-important "tadka" is applied previously or subsequently as per your taste. Solar "chaunkh" never tasted better, especially if done in a covered vessel left in the solar cooker for a few hours to heat up well.
Prices for a typical four-container/vessel type solar cooker now start from as low as Rs2,000 upwards and there is no "brand" value attached to them. Modern nano coating techniques enable even plastics and polymers to be coated, as also metals, which can be bent or curved to any shape wanted. The one we use looks like a medium sized suitcase, about 550mm x 550mm by 300mm in size, and apart from the hinges and latches, is made totally of lightweight composite material and is therefore easy to place and move about literally anywhere.
Solar cookers are available with ease online and increasingly in local markets too. The biggest benefit we have found is that it liberates us from the kitchen, as food laid out to cook does not get burnt, because temperatures do not rise beyond a moderate cooking level. This is one product where, hopefully, local unbranded options will do much better than costlier branded types. Simple rule - if you get even half a day's sun for half the year, then you will recover your investment in short time. Not to mention that you must have access to a roof, balcony or yard, which gets at least two-three hours of Sun on sunny days.
The previous problems of birds pecking at the solar panels have been solved by using full reflecting surfaces. However, within Indian conditions, we may need to see solar cookers with drain plugs to remove condensation that forms inside the cooker at times. Right now, we just hold it upside down, and then wipe it dry.
(Veeresh Malik started and sold a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing. He is also involved in helping small and midsize family-run businesses re-invent themselves.)