Low Fuel Cooking: Flowerpot Hoppin’ John and Solar Gluten-free Cornbread

Double Dutch Oven from Lehmans.com
Need to make lots of rice, beans or chili? Choose the Lodge 5 qt Double Dutch Oven, at Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio and Lehmans.com.

On Monday, I told you all about the ways I cook without using my stove. Here are two of my favorite recipes, which I make with only minimal use of stove and fuel. I can put dishes together, and let them develop for hours. It’s been really warm and sunny here, so my main motivation is to keep the house cool. But I use these methods in the winter too! Today, let’s talk about Flower Pot Hoppin’John and solar cornbread.  Here’s how it’s done.

Hoppin’ John

Soak the dry blackeyed peas overnight.  I do this so that I can start cooking peas, rice and cornbread in the morning and everything will be done by afternoon.  This is a slow process for everything.

I usually start with enough blackeyed peas and rice to have leftovers and also some extra rice to use in other dishes besides the HJ.  I can’t really give you a precise amount, for that reason.  Leftovers are a good thing and extra rice is very versatile. If you need to start with a recipe quantity–there are great HJ recipes out there. But you’ll want to make extra rice, trust me. It’s so good done this way.

Put the rice and peas in separate dutch ovens.   For the rice, use the rice/water ratio that you always use for your rice.   I use 3 cups water for every cup of rice.  If you like your rice firmer, use less water.  For the peas, cover them, and make sure you have about an inch of water topping them off.

Bring them to a rolling boil.  I don’t season the rice or the blackeyed peas.  That way, if I am are going to use some of it for other things, I haven’t seasoned incorrectly.  (I also have a big problem when I add salt to anything before it’s done.  Nothing seems to get done for me!  Other people do it just fine.)

While things are coming to a boil, start to prepare your flowerpots like I showed you in Monday’s article, with the bathmat in the bottom and so forth.

As soon as the ovens are boiling really well, take them off the heat. INVERT the lid on the bottom pot so it can hold the top pot steady. Carefully stack the dutch ovens into the flower pot prepared with towels and bathmats. They’re really hot, so take care. That insulated heat that will cook these foods can burn you when you’re setting up!   Pack and wrap the towels and cover both pots all with the top bathmat. Place in a draft free area, in the sun if possible. Let everything cook for 5-6 hours, longer if you want.  It won’t burn. It can’t burn, because there’s no direct heat source.

NOTE: If you like firmer rice, put the rice pot on top and check it in a couple of hours. If it’s done, remove that pot, rewrap everything and let it continue cooking. I usually just leave the rice in as long as the peas and it’s fine, but we prefer our rice soft. Long grain brown rice and wild rice take a long time to cook.

Lodge Logic Cast Iron Skillet
Lodge Logic Cast Iron Skillet, in 6 sizes, from Lehmans.com or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

When the peas and rice are finished, slice and sauté some peppers, onions (and meat if you like) with olive oil in a cast-iron fry pan on the stovetop, woodstove or even your grill. You can add other stuff, too.  I’ve put in spinach, chopped eggplant, chopped squash.  Be creative.  Add what you like. The cast iron pan will hold the heat, so you’ll use less fuel.

Bring both pots back to the stove.  If you are saving peas or rice for other dishes, remove them now.

Mix the remaining peas, rice and whatever you sautéed.   Simmer the mixture for a little while to blend flavors, and taste the mix to make sure the peas and rice are done.  If they didn’t get totally done in the flower pot, cook them a little longer.  Just don’t season them until the peas and rice are totally done.

For seasoning, I add salt, of course, and pepper.  I’ve used chili powder, crushed red pepper or garlic.  You can suit your mood and your diet.

If you are cooking only one of the items in the flower pot, I suggest the peas.  They take longer than rice to cook.  Then just cook the rice on the stove about an hour before you take the peas out of the flower pot.

Serve Hoppin’ John with Solar Cornbread

Put the cornbread out in the solar oven in the morning so it will get done.  Solar ovens usually don’t do well in the afternoon for us, but you may find differently in your area. Experiment first, when you have time.

We usually make things gluten-free here, so here’s my flour mix for cornbread:

2/3 C. oat flour + 1/3 C. brown rice flour + 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum.  Mix well with a fork.*

First, combine the dry ingredients (below).

  • 1C flour* or gluten-free oat flour mix
  • 3/4 C. cornmeal – (we use gluten-free, blue corn cornmeal)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt  (more if you like it, less if you don’t)
  • * This is my equivalent mix to 1 cup of flour. If you don’t need to be gluten-free, just use 1 cup of all-purpose flour.

Mix the wet ingredients:

  • 1 whole beaten egg or 2 well-beaten whites (if you use egg substitute, mix up the equivalent of 1 egg)
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1-1/4 C. plain yogurt. Any kind works.
  • 3 tbs. honey

Gradually add the dry to the wet ingredients and mix until everything is combined.  Don’t overdo it, as you’ll toughen the cornbread. Make sure most of the dry ingredients are moistened, and you’ll be fine.

Stainless Steel Cake Pan With Lid
Stainless Steel Cake Pan With Lid

Oil an 8 inch square pan.  I use olive oil, but any vegetable oil will do. Pour the batter into the pan. It’s a good idea to cover it so it doesn’t dry out in the solar oven.  Put a lid or pie pan on top.  DON’T USE FOIL because it reflects the heat.

Let the temperature of your solar oven get up to about 250-300 degrees before you put the batter in to bake. Bake it for at least one hour before you even check it. In full sun, I usually let mine go for about 4 hours total before I even check it.

Oven thermometer
A reliable oven thermometer is a must for bakers. Available at Lehmans.com or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

Solar cooking is trial and error.  You need good sun and if the clouds roll in, you will be finishing your cornbread in the oven.  Watch your temperatures and use your judgment.

If you don’t want to use a solar oven, you can bake this in a regular 8 inch suqare baking pan or 8 inch skillet at 425 for about 20 minutes.  Don’t forget to oil the pan.  Everything else is the same.

What Else Goes In The Pot?
In the insulated “flower pot cooker”, I also make potatoes, stew, green beans, lentils, and grains such as quinoa, rice, kasha, etc.

I don’t use the flower pot for beans.  They take a lot more cooking.  I use a pressure cooker.  It gets them done in about 20 minutes and actually uses a lot less propane than keeping them simmering forever.

And a note on cooler cooking weather: We’re in the high desert of Arizona. Because of our location, the house stays warm in the winter.  It’s made of tires with earth pounded into them.  It’s like having really big round bricks.  Because the house faces south and gets solar gain, it’s warm, 70-ish during the day and only loses about 4 degrees during the night, so we’re sleeping in a fairly comfortable range of 60 to 66 degrees in the house.

Winter nights usually go down to about 25 degrees outside, but can get colder.  But the sunshine during the day keeps us comfortable. Last winter, I didn’t use the wood stove (our only heat) after December. The stored warmth in the house makes the kitchen too hot if I use the oven, so I often use my alternative cooking methods year-round.

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