Using an air fryer to cook chickpeas is one way to cut down on gas. Staff photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The first renovation we made to our Brunswick home when we bought it eight years ago was swapping out the furnace’s oil burner for a natural gas one. At the time, both my husband and I understood burning natural gas to be the greener option. We considered it a “bridge fuel” as we made our (long) way toward figuring out how solar power might fit onto the frame of our historic, 213-year-old home.

Promised benefits of the natural gas conversion were lower heating bills (my husband’s main concern) and the ability to cook with gas (a professional preference for me). I can’t lie, I love the immediacy of an open flame and the controlled power it gives me to wrestle raw ingredients into home-cooked meals. I’ve always preferred an electric oven, though, for baking consistency. But the price of a dual-fuel option on the higher-end range I wanted would have made the aforementioned husband faint, so I didn’t even bring it up for discussion.

Fast forward to 2020, where the building electrification movement is gaining a foothold on the energy scene. The term “building electrification” means replacing fossil-fuel-powered commercial and residential heating and cooling systems and appliances with electric ones as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. EPA studies show that building sector emissions from fossil fuels burned on-site comprise about 12% of America’s economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions; natural gas is the dominant fossil fuel used to heat American buildings. Associated methane leakage in gas production and distribution further increases this fuel’s contribution to greenhouse gas, energy analysts say. Doing away with natural gas in the building sector could reduce the country’s overall emissions, and statewide standards and building codes could be tailored to achieve that end.

Of course, all buildings are also wired for electricity use. Seeing as many cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco and Berkeley, California, to name a few), and states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maine, are establishing standards that mandate cleaner electricity generation over time, it stands to reason that cooking with electricity will one day be the greener way to go.

“Using an electric appliance like an electric stove taps into the fact that emissions in the electric sector are going down over time,” says Marty Grohman, executive director of the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine (E2Tech).

Grohman points out that since 2005, greenhouse gas emissions related to the production of electricity have gone down 27 percent. “We expect that trend to continue. So if you think about the fact that (when) something is plugged into the grid, it’s getting greener over time, even as you continue to use it in the exact same way.”

But the switch to an electric stove is not a choice any sustainability-minded Maine cook needs to make immediately. At press time, I used the ISO to Go app to learn that the New England power grid (from where Maine sucks its electricity) was delivering electricity generated by a mix of natural gas (57%), nuclear (26%), renewables (9%), and hydro (8%) power. So not cooking with gas right now won’t decrease my overall carbon footprint a noticeable measure. Additionally, I’ve not yet reduced the per-use cost of my high-end range (though I use it three times a day) to satisfy the Yankee in my husband’s blood, so ripping that out and replacing it with an electric oven and an induction cooktop (which could require new flat-bottomed, appropriately metaled cookware) is neither a prudent economical nor a wise ecological action.

Meanwhile, though, I can look around my kitchen to see how I can make smaller shifts away from my gas stove in preparation for its eventual departure.

My electric kettle is both quicker and safer for boiling water for tea (I once melted a metal kettle when I’d forgotten I’d put water on for tea).

My microwave has always reheated leftovers (in non-plastic containers) more efficiently than either the stovetop or the oven. I’ve run some semiscientific tests that kind of show that my electric pressure cooker is the most energy efficient way to cook a pot of beans.

The broiler function of my toaster oven requires less energy to perfect broiled fish dishes when I’m making them for just me and my love. That same Energy Star-rated appliance has both a setting for dehydrating foods that is lower than the lowest temperature allowed by my oven and an air-frying function that allows me to eat a close replica of my favorite foods without having to submerge them in cooking fat.

While I will likely still use the natural gas flame to sear proteins in cast iron pans and use the residual heat to create an easy pan sauce to go with them, I’m happy to report that I am becoming a bit more open minded about cooking with heat from other sources.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Paprika helps give these chickpeas a smoky flavor.

Smoky Electric-Fried Chickpeas with Garlic, Lemon and Thyme

This recipe is the reason Maine chef Ali Waks Adams became a good friend. When she developed it, we were both cooking professionally in Pennsylvania. Though we didn’t know each other, we were both active members of the then fledgling Food52 website. Ali posted the recipe. I cooked it and raved about it circa 2010. Five years later when she moved to Maine, she realized I was a transplanted Food52 friend and looked me up. We moved from virtual friends to real life ones. I’ve changed the amount of oil and the appliance; other than those, all credit belongs to Ali. You’ll need an air fryer.

Makes 3 cups

2 (16-ounce) cans chickpeas

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

Coarse salt to taste

4 cloves garlic, sliced

Peel of 1 lemon, removed in strips

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Toss with the olive oil, paprika and salt in a bowl. Spread the ingredients on a tray that fits into your air fryer. Add the garlic slices and lemon peel to the bowl. Toss them with any oil, paprika and salt left in its bottom and set the bowl aside.

Set your air fryer to 400°F and cook the chickpeas until they are starting to crisp, 15-18 minutes, shaking them a few times as they cook. Add the reserved garlic and lemon peel strips to the tray with the chickpeas and continue to air fry until the garlic and the lemon peel begin to brown, about 3 minutes.

Remove the tray from the air fryer, cool slightly and sprinkle the chickpeas with the thyme leaves. Though best eaten warm, these are still pretty addictive at room temperature.

Smoky Electric-Fried Chickpeas with Garlic, Lemon and Thyme


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