My Plantcentric Journey

(Cathy Fisher from Straight Up Food)

Cooking without Oil

The thought of cooking without oil can be a little mind-bending if you haven’t done it. The mere suggestion to chuck the oil from the kitchen (and the body) usually elicits the responses, “What do you mean?” and “Why?” Because most of us have never heard that oil was harmful to health and because we have consumed it nearly every day of our lives, it can be hard to fathom living without it.

“But what about olive oil?” Whether it is olive oil, canola, corn, flax or any other kind of oil, as a category, oil has some major negatives going for it. For one, oil is very high in calories, about 120 per tablespoon; compare this to maple syrup (52), balsamic vinegar (14), soy milk (8), vegetable broth (2), and water (0).

For the whole scoop on why oil is not healthy, see E2’s “Big Oil” post from last Thursday ( Basically, we want to consume fats that are still in their natural packaging—in the whole food—not fats that have been overly processed into an oil, a substance that our body, given the choice, would say “No thank you” to. Here are a few suggestions that will help you to enjoy your food without the use of oil:

Vegetables: When you are sautéing vegetables on the stovetop, simply replace the oil you normally use with water or vegetable broth. You can use other liquids too, but these are the most common oil replacements for sautéing. Vegetables naturally have a lot of water in them, which releases when they are cooked, so this is why we only need to add a small amount of water or broth. Just keep an eye on your pan so that your vegetables don’t stick; I keep a glass of water nearby so I’m ready. Your food can quickly stick or burn if all the water cooks off and you are not paying attention.

When sautéing vegetables like onions, celery, mushrooms, and bell peppers, heat up your skillet or pot (non-stick or stainless steel) with a couple tablespoons of water in the bottom, and when it starts to crackle, add the vegetables, keeping them moving with a wooden spoons for a few minutes until they soften. Sautéing allows the natural sugars to release and intensify. The nice thing about sautéing in water or broth is that you end up tasting more of the food instead of the oil.

If you are roasting or baking vegetables, you also do not need to use oil. We have been taught that we need to first coat chopped vegetables, French fries, tofu, tempeh, etc. in oil, or in an oil-based marinade, but the oil is simply not necessary. These foods will still cook, and if left in long enough, they will lightly brown. Depending on what you are baking, a little crispiness can be achieved if that is your goal (with something like fries).

Baked Goods: Oil can be replaced in many different ways for baked goods. Oil gives baked goodies a rich taste and also acts as an emulsifier and softener. Instead of oil, use other moist foods, such as bananas, apples/applesauce, soaked dried fruit (like raisins or prunes), dates and tofu. In my cornbread recipe, I use cooked quinoa and banana to provide moistness instead of oil. It takes a bit of practice to determine how much banana, for example, replaces the amount of oil called for in a recipe, but if you keep notes as you go, you can adjust as needed next time. If you don’t want to figure out your own oil conversions in recipes, check out the “Big Oil” post mentioned above to find many plant-based recipe sites that do not use oil.

In preparing your pans for baking cakes, breads, or cookies, you can use parchment paper instead of oil. Parchment is a silicone-coated paper that nothing sticks to and it is disposable. (It’s different than wax paper but is found close to it in your grocery store.) Or you can use silicone bakeware, which is food-grade and safe to use; bread and cupcakes just pop right out of loaf and muffin pans. Silicone baking mats are also available; these are useful for flat baking (cookies and also for roasting vegetables). Both the silicone bakeware and the mats are washable and reusable.

Salad Dressing: For salad dressings, if I am following a recipe, I will simply omit the oil altogether and leave it at that, or then add a little water or juice to make up for the lost volume. Oil and vinegar as a dressing is so traditional, it may be hard to imagine a salad without the oil, but I think you may grow to appreciate the cleaner, fresher taste of the vegetables and greens without the slipperiness.

For quick homemade dressings without oil I like to use prepared mustard, vinegar, water, or juice (lemon, grapefruit, lime, apple, carrot, celery), and if I will be making a blended dressing, I’ll add in some soft fruits or vegetables, such as strawberries, cucumbers, or mango. For creamy dressings, a little tofu, avocado or soaked nuts may be added, however go light on these since these are much higher in calories than vegetables and fruits. A tablespoon or two of minced fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley) are also a tasty addition to homemade salad dressings.

If you’re interested in seeing how oil is made, check out this three-minute video fromScience TV’s, “How It’s Made” ( I recently watched this video on canola oil and couldn’t believe how many steps it takes to make it. By the end I would have a hard time calling this food.

It will take a little time for your taste buds to adjust to no oil, maybe a couple weeks to a month; but give those buds time, they will come around. As someone who does not cook with oil at all nowadays, when I do have a little, it tastes, and feels, somewhat overwhelming, and I don’t care for it. Cheers to you for bidding goodbye to oil! If you have a tip or suggestion for substituting oil, please share it below.

Cathy Fisher teaches cooking classes at True North Health Center and the McDougall Program in Santa Rosa, California. Visit to view more of Cathy’s healthful plant-based recipes.


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