As South Africans, we have become accustomed to the fact load shedding can strike at any time. A huge concern for most families is how they will prepare dinner, because it is not viable to always buy take-aways every time there is load shedding. If you have a headache from what you are going to eat due to power outages, don’t despair.
There is a much easier way of cooking tasty and nutritious meals that doesn’t require as much of your time and costs significantly less money. It’s the hotbox! It is a healthy, because food cooks at moderate temperatures therefore retains more nutrients. It is also cheap, because it uses less electricity and tasty, because the food is tender, can’t ever burn or over-boil and retains more juice and flavour. Best of all, it is convenient, because you can start off a delicious family meal in the morning and continue working in the background – your pots won’t get burned and will be easier to clean, too. Did we mention that it is eco-friendly too, because it uses less electricity and produces less pollution.
The hotbox cooking method is simple and efficient as it uses a trick that is centuries old yet very effective. Instead of heating a pot continuously by leaving it on a stove until the meal inside is completely cooked, the hotbox technique requires only a fraction of the normal heating time.
You heat a pot containing all of the ingredients for a meal until all of the contents have reached a boiling temperature. Normally this will require no more than 20 minutes on a conventional stove. Then close the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it inside the hotbox, a simple contraption that surrounds the pot with a thick layer of insulating material. This insulation retains enough heat in the pot to allow the cooking process to continue and finish over a period of several hours.
You can make all sorts of dishes using a hotbox, but the method works best for the kinds of meals that you would normally simmer in a liquid for an extended period of time and those that work well in a conventional slow cooker. These include rice, dried beans, grains and pulses, stews, casseroles, savory mince, curries, soups, pap, vegetables, oats, porridge and even pasta.
You can buy a hotbox from between R200 and R400 from Takealot.com or Yuppiechef but what’s really exciting is that you can make your own for next to nothing. In essence, a hotbox is a container that will keep a closed pot snug and warm for hours. There are two basic designs: a big pillow with a space for the pot in the centre or a box filled with insulating material. The easiest way of creating your own hotbox, however, is to simply line the bottom and sides of a large cardboard box with insulating material. There you have it, an easy way to cook while load shedding.