It may look like something you’d sit on and not cook with but the Wonderbag is a wondrous invention.
But this bit of cooking kit is doing marvellous things – notably in South Africa where it’s creating thousands of jobs – to saving the planet. In developing countries where the Wonderbag is used, there’s been a reduction in the amount of trees cut down per household each year and a reduction of over fifty percent in firewood use. An eighty percent reduction in the water use too. It will also prevent millions of deaths from smoke inhalation and one of the company’s goals is to get get 100 million in these countries, saving lives. Food waste is a big problem, twenty percent of food cooked on an open fire in rural areas gets burnt and thrown away. In Kenya, the women who cook with the Wonderbag can’t believe there’s no burning or waste, at all. You can also feel rather chuffed when you buy a Wonderbag here in the UK – your purchase is matched and another is given to a family through charity groups and church organisations. In 2014, the company are extending their reach into Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.
So what is a Wonderbag and how does it work? It’s a non-electric, heat-retention ‘cooker’ that allows food that’s brought to the boil on a heat source, to continue cooking for hours after it’s removed from the bag. It’s also a useful cool bag when you throw in a couple of freezer blocks. The padded bag opens and closes with drawstring ribbons and has a padded lid to make sure there’s really good insulation.
Any casserole cooked in the Wonderbag finishes in the state you take it from the heat source so if it’s full of liquid, then it won’t thicken up – you’ll need to do thicken it with heat or cornflour before you bag it. Cheap cuts of meat cook perfectly in the Wonderbag and it’s almost impossible to over-cook food – most cuts will become melt-in-the-mouth tender with lengthy cooking in the bag. It remains hot for up to 12 hours (obviously that varies slightly with the food type and quantities prepared) but the rule-of-thumb tends to be that grains take an hour, chicken 3 and red meat up to 4 but the longer you leave the food, the more tender it will become.
Ideal pots to use inside the bag are metal – I used my Le Creuset casserole – earthenware has been known to burn the bag and glass doesn’t keep heat.
To make a delicious vegetable casserole follow this very simple recipe.
150g baby topped carrots
1 washed leek
10 salad potatoes
1/2 small butternut squash
2 leaves of Cavelo Nero
2 sticks of celery
100g button mushrooms
2 Knorr vegetable stock pots – or any vegetable stock cubes (I just happen to LOVE the Knorr stock pots) and water to mix. I use two and enough water to cover the vegetables in a 25cm Le Creuset
Chop everything, except the baby-topped carrots into uniform sizes – this is important because whichever you choose – slices or cubes – all need to cook at the same time. Place the vegetables in the casserole dish and add the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for twenty minutes. I added tbsp of mixed cornflour and added it to the stock to give it some thickness and simmered for a further ten minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat, make sure the lid is on properly and transfer it to the Wonderbag. The bag should not scorch if you use the correct cookware. Add the lid pad and pull cord tight to seal it.
Leave for at least six hours and you’ll have a fabulous vegetable casserole, ready to serve.
If you live in the UK, you can buy your Wonderbag here. The model I tried is the contemporary cool model in red and navy and retails at £60.00 on their website. I loved the Wonderbag concept, there are many recipes online on their website that you can take advantage of.