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.
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.
STOVETOP COOKING WITHOUT OIL
Sauteing & Stir-Frying: As simple as it sounds, when sautéing or stir-frying, 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 the vegetables, preferably in a hot, non-stick pan, without water.
They will begin to release their own 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. 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 to cook your 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 in as little as three minutes.
Stovetop Kitchenware Suggestions
Nonstick pots and pans: In terms of appliances, nonstick pots and pans are a necessity. 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 have something with a non-stick design. For some help choosing the right set for you, 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 life-time guarantee. I just had one of mine replaced for free.
- Cast iron skillet is another option for oil-free cooking. 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. 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-fry 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, 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.
Lightly season as you prefer, and evenly spread your veggies out on a parchment paper-covered baking sheet.
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.
For making 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.
If you want to duplicate deep-fried kinds of foods, you can bread them and then bake them. (need recipe for eggless slurry) Bake on non-stick, silicone, or parchment-lined baking sheets to achieve a crispy outer crust. Finish with a couple minutes on broil for extra crispiness. It’s not going to be the same, 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 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.
OIL SUBSTITUTIONS for BAKING
You have a lot of options for baking without butter or oil. Below are some suggestions for what to use as a replacement, and how to best use them:
- 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 or banana to your baked good.
- Avocado puree – equal to the amount of the butter or oil. This is a mild flavor that won’t interfere with your baked good.
- 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 a 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 amount 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: is one 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.
- Silicon 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, 100% silicon.
- Parchment paper: One more baking option is to simply 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 to substitute processed oil for something healthier like mashed avocado, soaked cashews, which are higher in fat and may not be appropriate for some of you. Cannellini beans are also a great fat-free substitute.
Or, use 1 tablespoon of cornstarch or arrowroot to thicken water over heat, then cool and proceed with this as a substitute for oil in a salad dressing recipe.
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 her, 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.