When I first ventured into the world of plant-based eating, I dove headfirst into “buttery” spreads, packaged treats, and foods that are technically vegan, but not health-promoting. Fortunately (and unfortunately), my body responded immediately. My clothes got tighter, my skin got bumpier, and my hair got greasy. It was all ick.
That’s when I discovered a bunch of doctors and researchers promote eating oil-free whole foods, plant-based foods. Their theory made sense to me (that oil is decidedly not a whole food and has all the healthy elements of the original plant removed), but I didn’t know my next move.
Can You Cook Without Oil? Can You Bake Without oil? Is This Possible?
I was worried and skeptical.
I’ve also heard this echoed in conversations with plenty of others. Western culture has had oil so heavily marketed to us we start thinking it is natural and essential.
So, I get it if this feels new or uncomfortable to you. I also understand that some people want to use oil “in moderation”. The tricky thing is that there’s no real rubric for defining what “moderation” means.
“Everything In Moderation”
For me, a small-boned women at 5’4″ tall, I don’t have a lot of caloric wiggle room. I’m not running marathons; I only burn so many calories a day and don’t want to store oil calories for later. And I’m certainly not willing to count calories (ugh, stressful!) in order to make room for oil.
Even a teaspoon is more than I want to use and thankfully my skin, weight, and digestion have all improved plenty with the removal of oil from my diet.
You get to choose what feels right to you. This blog and this post is all about options. If you want to make your recipe without oil and then drizzle a little on top–enjoy! If you want to have a little dipping saucer on the table for dressings–go for it! If using some cooking spray makes you breathe easy–breeeathe.
I will show you how to make satisfying, gratifying, and beautiful food without oil and you can choose the rest.
Note: this is not about living a “fat-free” or extremely low-fat lifestyle. Instead, simply get your healthy fats from whole plant food sources: nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives. This way you get the delicious fat along with all of the phytonutrients, antioxidants, and micronutrients nature packaged with it.
Sautéing and Steaming
Steaming is obvious, right? Just steam up the deliciousness in the microwave or on the stovetop and add a sprinkle of nuts or seeds.
For any item that requires sautéing, I use water or low-sodium vegetable broth. Honestly, 99% of the time I use water because I don’t bother to keep vegetable broth on hand. I may also add soy sauce, liquid aminos (similar to soy sauce), or a vinegar. I use lots of fresh and dried herbs and spices for flavoring.
Roasting with oil does help keep food moist, but such high heat also changes the fats into harmful fats in our bodies. To roast vegetables without oil, you just want to keep the food moist in a different way.
Often I will add a layer of crushed tomatoes to items I’m roasting, such as eggplant. I also enjoy whole-food roasting quite a bit. For example, I often roast or bake butternut squash, acorn squash, and eggplants whole until tender all over. (Just prick the outside of the whole vegetable before popping it in the oven.)
If you slice open the vegetable (i.e., eggplant slices), layer parchment paper and/or aluminum foil (I actually use both) overtop of the tray. That will help to keep some moisture inside of the tray while also making the food all roast-ey.
The Beauty of Parchment Paper
Parchment paper will keep most vegetables from sticking to the pan. For roasting eggplants, I layer aluminum foil and then parchment paper over the tray and under the veggies. Otherwise, it’s a mess to clean up my roasting pan.
Some parchment paper has temperature “limits”. I usually use them beyond the limits written on the box with no issue (up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit). Just keep an eye on it if you test your brand of parchment paper and oven.
Non-Stick Silicone Pads
Many French chefs and oil-free advocates also use Silpat silicone baking/roasting mats (Made in France!). I have not yet done this, but they look great. I expect these will be on my holiday list this upcoming December.
Also on my holiday list are these: non-stick frying pans without the use of chemical coating. Sautéing with water/broth is usually just fine, but if you were inclined to make pancakes you may have difficulty without a good, solid non-stick pan. If you have difficulty in that case (with pancakes, galettes, crepes), consider making the batter sans oil, but lightly spritz your pan with a high-heat cooking spray (like canola oil).
Yummm fresh, homemade bread! When I first made the transition to making homemade bread, oh, it was a good day!
I’ve found it quite difficult to find a whole-grain bread in the grocery store that doesn’t have oils, sugar, and unpronounceable ingredients. One option is Ezekiel Sprouted Whole Grain Bread, which is healthy and tasty and useful, but I wanted something more like a bread loaf.
If you have a bakery that you can request custom loaves through (or if they make oil-free, sugar-free breads, lucky you!)–go for it. However, if you’d like to make homemade bread, it’s totally possible.
I’ll be posting my favorite homemade bread recipe soon, but in the meantime, any bread recipe can be baked in the oven using a lidded dutch oven.
The lidded dutch oven is warmed in the oven to preheat the dutch oven, the dough is added to the dutch oven, and the bread is baked in the lidded environment. That maintains enough steam within the dutch oven chamber to create an incredibly delicious loaf straight out of your home oven. Mind-blowing, really.
I love my ceramic-coated cast iron dutch oven by Lodge. Just to make it extra easy on myself, I also put a layer of parchment paper on the bottom of the dutch oven so that the bread pops out of the oven immediately without the risk of any sticking. I don’t want to miss a CRUMB of homemade bread.
Baking Muffins, Cakes, Pies, and Cookies
Paper muffin cups make muffins a breeze. Same goes for layering parchment paper down on baking sheets and in cake pans. There are also cute silicone muffin cups available now which look absolutely magical, though I haven’t used them yet. For pies, I recommend using a pyrex baking dish so you are serving straight out of the dish itself.
Replacing Oil In Baking Recipes
Fat is a helpful aspect of making dessert recipes for taste as well as holding all the ingredients together. Eggs are easily replaced by mashed bananas, apples, ground flax seeds, tofu, and Ener-G Egg Replacer. Nut butters, ground flax, apple sauce, and nut milks can be used in place of butter/buttery spread and oil.
Most good whole-food, plant-based baking recipes will include at least an element or two of the above list. I’ll be sure to include a combination in all of my recipes here!
Tomato sauce often comes filled with oil, but you will be surprised to know you will absolutely not miss the oil if you make a good sauce. I like a simple mixture of no-salt-added (I like to be in charge of that) crushed tomatoes, fresh and dried herbs, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. So delicious!
If you’re looking to thicken a sauce, consider corn starch or arrowroot powder (sold in most bulk spice sections of grocery stores).
There You Have It!
With these adjustments, my hunch is that you’ll soon be feeling like I did. I looked at those bottles of oil I’d collected and thought, “How silly! I could have been eating and enjoying and benefitting from those calories instead of slathering my insides with this stuff!” Your skin and hair and pant size will thank you, too.
If you have questions or if I missed any element of cooking/baking, just let me know in the comments section and I’ll be very happy to add more tips!