OIL-FREE COOKING AND BAKING
To promote optimum health, many in the plant-based community recommend eating very little or no processed oil. I agree with this so cooking without oil is a great skill to have. Even olive oil is partially saturated and contains 119 calories in one tablespoon.
We can find fat, which we do need, from other, more healthy sources such as 1 oz of nuts per day or avocado. Most foods have some fat, as well, so there’s no worries about getting enough.
When transitioning to baking and cooking without oil on a plant-based, vegan diet, or if you just want to cut down on calories, knowing your alternatives is fundamental. Especially when you can start by using no cooking oil. So, how can you cook oil-free?
Making sure your kitchen is stocked with the proper equipment is also key. Below are some techniques and ingredients, as well as some suggestions for tools and appliances that will help make your kitchen an oil-free success. Read on to learn how cooking with water instead of oil can help with cooking oil-free.
STOVETOP: HOW TO COOK WITHOUT OIL
Sauteing & Stir-Frying: Can you cook with water instead of oil? It’s as simple as it sounds when learning how to saute without oil or stir-fry, and yes, all you need is water.
The best technique is to start with a small amount of water (about 1-2 tablespoons), adding in an extra tablespoon at a time if it gets dry until you’re finished sauteing. Be sure to watch your pan closely so the water doesn’t completely evaporate. For added flavor, you can use your favorite broth instead of water or even wine.
Browning & Caramelizing: Oil is not necessary for browning or caramelizing. These effects can be achieved when you’re cooking without oil; you just need to allow for more time. The best way to achieve this is to saute vegetables without oil and water, preferably in a hot, non-stick pan.
They will begin to release their water and start to brown. Give them plenty of time until you see the browning. Keep turning them in the pan until they have caramelized. Watch this quick video on how to saute onions without oil.
The brown bits that are left in the pan add a ton of flavor so “deglaze” the pan by adding a little liquid and stirring until the bits lift and flavor the liquid.
Steaming: Steaming is a quick and easy way of cooking veggies without oil. When you steam, rather than boil, your vegetables, you retain more of the nutrients in the vegetables. As far as seasoning goes, wait until after the veggies are steamed before you add any herbs, spices, or sauces.
Depending on what you’re cooking, you can steam these onions in as little as three minutes.
Stovetop Kitchenware Suggestions
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Nonstick pots and pans: In terms of cooking without oil cookware and oil-free cooking appliances, nonstick pots and pans are a necessity. So, what is the best pan for oil-free cooking?
Which type you use is up to you, but do stay away from Teflon – whether it’s anodized aluminum, porcelain enamel, or ceramic titanium, just make sure you use something with a non-stick version.
help choosing the best pans for oil-free cooking, check out this review of 27 different sets by Good Housekeeping. My favorite non-stick pans are from the Scan Pan line. They are a little pricier, but they have a lifetime guarantee. I just had one of mine replaced for free.
- Cast iron skillet is another option for an oil-free cooking pan. Look for one that’s enamel-coated. They are heavier than most cookware and are generally considered safe because they impart very little iron into food, according to testing by America’s Test Kitchen. They discovered that although a seasoned cast iron skillet releases iron, it won’t leach any appreciable amount of iron into food cooked in it.
- . While there are some very pricey options out there, you can also get one at a decent price. Here are a few to choose from.
- A wok is another item you’ll want to consider adding to your oil-free arsenal. Stir-frying without oil is a great option for those eating a plant-based diet, and having a wok on-hand makes for the perfect stir-fry. If you think you can’t use a wok without oil – think again! Check out this quick video tutorial on how to do just that.
- Steamer: For steaming, try this steamer-on-saucepot, or if you’re looking for a more economical choice, choose a collapsible basket.
OVEN COOKING WITHOUT OIL
Roasting: For this method of roasting without oil, non-stick baking sheets work best because you’ll likely need a large space to spread the veggies out. Cover with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat which you also find at this link.
You can either cook at a lower heat (225°-250°) for a longer time (this can be up to several hours), or you can turn up the heat to 400°, and you’ll get that browning and crisping effect in a faster time.
See more roasting recipes here, like my Roasted Cauliflower Chowder, No-Oil Roasted Potatoes, or Roasted Balsamic Vegetables with Polenta.
For making oil-free veggie chips, thinly-sliced veggies, and press them between layers of towels or paper towels to remove some of the moisture before seasoning. See this recipe for oil-free chips and tortillas.
How to fry without oil? Well, if you want to duplicate deep-fried kinds of foods, one choice is to bread and then bake them. Bake your vegetables on non-stick, silicone, or parchment-lined baking sheets to achieve a crispy outer crust. Finish with a couple of minutes on broil for extra crispiness.
It’s not going to be exactly the same when frying vegetables without oil, but it’s a much healthier option that tastes great and satisfies the craving for crunchy food.
To step up your oil-less frying, consider investing in an oil-free air fryer. Technically, they’re air-fryers, and they are revolutionary for oil-free cooking.
There are a lot of choices when it comes to an oil-free fryer, and I encourage you to do your homework and read reviews before deciding which one is right for you. I found this one on Amazon, where it’s reasonably priced and has good reviews.
There’s also a gadget that you can attach to your Instant Pot called a Mealthy. You can read a review of it here at Pressure Cooking Today. From the Facebook forums, I’ve seen reviews from people that love it and others, not so much. Usually, the complaint is that you can make only a small quantity.
OIL SUBSTITUTIONS for BAKING
You have a lot of options for baking without oil or butter. Below are some suggestions for what to use as a replacement, and how to best use them for oil-free baking:
- Unflavored, unsweetened applesauce – equal to the amount of butter, ¾ of the amount of oil that’s called for. This will result in a dense baked good.
- Mashed bananas – equal to the amount of butter or oil that’s called for. This will add the flavor of bananas to your baked goods.
- Avocado puree – equal to the amount of butter or oil. This is a mild flavor that won’t interfere with your baked goods.
- Ground flax or ground chia – 3 tablespoons in 1 tsp water for every tablespoon of butter or oil that’s called for. After mixing, let sit for about 10 minutes before adding to the recipe. Flax is good for heartier recipes, while chia has little to no flavor so it can be used in lighter goods.
- Prune, pumpkin, or squash puree – Use 1/3 cup for every 1 stick of butter. These are good for denser baked goods that are more heavily flavored, such as spice cake or chocolate things.
Keep in mind that because these ingredients don’t add the liquid quality that oil or butter would to the item while baking, you may want to increase the number of wet ingredients in your recipe slightly.
Additionally, you may want to set your oven temperature to 25° less than what’s specified in the recipe and cook for 5-10 minutes less. All these little tweaks will require some trial and error, so be sure to write down what you do for reference next time!
Oven Kitchenware Suggestions
Finally, we can’t forget the bakeware! For this need, you’ll want some nonstick or silicone ovenware.
- Ceramic bakeware: A great option, not only for its non-stick qualities but also for lasting durability. Silverstone provides quite a few colorful, quality choices at reasonable prices. Check them out here.
- Silicone Bakeware: For silicon bakeware, you’ll want to make sure the product is 100% silicon, with no fillers. The products made with fillers can be hazardous, so make sure it’s FDA-approved, food-grade, and 100% silicon.
- Parchment paper: Another baking option is to line your standard bakeware with parchment paper. If you don’t bake frequently, this might be the best choice for you. You can line cookie pans, muffin tins, cake pans, and pie plates with it and not worry about anything sticking or the paper burning in the oven.
SALAD DRESSINGS WITHOUT OIL
Hop on over to this page to read about my Oil-Free Salad Dressing Formula where you can also download and print a handy sheet that will help you make your very own oil-free salad dressings.
One of the main tricks is substituting processed oil for something healthier, like mashed avocado or soaked cashews. These are higher in fat and may not be appropriate for some of you. Cannellini beans are also a great fat-free substitute.
Or, as an oil substitute in dressing recipes, use 4 teaspoons of cornstarch or arrowroot to 1 cup of water, heated. until thicken. Cool the mixture and proceed with this as a substitute for oil.
Hopefully, these suggestions will help you on your way to delicious, convenient oil-free cooking and baking. If there are any items you can’t live without that I’ve forgotten, let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading, and happy cooking to you!
I’d love to hear how cooking without oil is going for you, and if I missed any suggestions, please leave a comment below.
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I like these techniques. But, how do I fry potatoes or okra without oil.
Hi Laura, we probably need to give up the idea that we can somehow substitute for frying and instead find breading and roasting a satisfying alternative. Although, some nonstick pans might brown potatoes or okra without oil. I also mention in the article about air “fryers.” I personally don’t have one but I’ve heard that people love them.
Oh, yes, of course, an air fryer. I’ve never used one but I’ve seen positive reviews from several people in discussion groups.
Try an air fryer
I was looking for ways to cook without using oil, and this was just what I needed. Very informative. Thanks!
Hey Nikki, so glad you found it useful!
“Look for one that’s enamel-coated. They are heavier than most cookware and they do impart some iron in the food, which isn’t a problem if you’re not eating meat. And, they do need to be seasoned with oil so if you are totally oil-free, this may not be the best option.”
Enamel coated cast iron cookware does not put iron into the food, and it also does not require seasoning with oil. This is only true for uncoated cast iron products.
Hi, You’re right, the statement in this article does need clarification. Most of what I’ve read says that enamel-coated cast iron is likely or “generally” considered safe and does not put iron into the food. Thanks for pointing that out.
Hi Diane, thank you for these amazing tips that you have shared with us, indeed it was a total pleasure reading it and could learn many things from it will surely implement them in coming time and also share this with my friends and family as well for their reference.
You’re very welcome. I’m so glad you found it useful!! 🙂
Thank you so much for such amazing information. Actually I’m trying to kick out the oil in my daily cooking but I can’t..but know I got some options for you thank you so much appreciate it.
Angelica, yes, it can be hard to switch out old habits, but I’ve found cooking without oil gets easier. I only saute with vegetable broth or water these days and oil-free dressings are delicious! Good luck with eliminating oil from your cooking!
Thanks you so much for such amizing information.actually I’m trying to kick it out the oil in my daily cooking but I can’t..but know I got some options for you thank you so much appreciate it.
You’re welcome, Lisa. 🙂
Thank you for the wonderful tips. Also thank you for being honest and saying that we simply have to give up eating certain things and perhaps stop trying to duplicate foods and just eat healthy. I have to admit that I get tired of soft food all the time. Plant based eating does not offer much crunch. In my experience, “air-fried” food is only crunchy the minute it comes out of the air fryer, as soon as it is cool enough not to burn your mouth it is mushy. If anyone has a suggestion for something healthy but crunchy please let me know.
You’re so welcome. Thanks! I haven’t tried the air fryer yet but found your feedback interesting. I know what you mean about “soft” foods. You are eating salads and raw veggies, I suppose. Most crunchy foods are raw, it seems, including fruits. My husband and I have been eating more large salads for dinner taking leftover brown rice, beans, or roasted potatoes and adding them to the greens along with crunchy chopped vegetables like bell peppers, carrots, cauliflower, and celery. I’m working on a new post about making salads as it’s is important to eat raw vegetables and greens daily. There are so many options for additions. Maybe someone else will have feedback for you. 🙂