A few months ago when I first heard about a whole foods plant based diet I learned that oil was not part of the diet. “But how do you cook?” I thought. “What about sauteing onions? Or baking bread or muffins? Won’t everything stick to the pan and be dry?”
My mind was blown when I learned that you can cook without oil. I was in shock. Why have I been using it all this time in every dish if I don’t need it to cook? Oil producers are very happy indeed because most Americans think, as I did, that you must use oil to cook, that it is a vital tool for cooking. In reality no oil is “heart healthy.” The studies that show olive oil lowers cholesterol are accurate, but they use patients who switch from using animal fats like butter to using olive oil. Olive oil is the lesser of two evils, because all oil, every single kind, is 100% pure fat. Cholesterol levels would be even better if no oil were used at all.
Here are my top 3 ways to cook without oil:
1. Water Saute
To cook anything in a pan, such as onions and garlic or other veggies, simply put the veggies in the hot pan and then add a little water. About 3 tablespoons, just a splash. Saute the food and when the water evaporates just put a little more in. It keeps the veggies from sticking to the pan, doesn’t make them soggy because the water evaporates, and you end up with nicely browned veggies. The water conducts the heat from the pan so the food cooks evenly. Plus cleanup is a snap because there is no oily residue. Why would you put something in your body that you need a special “tough on grease” soap to clean up from your cookware?
2. In Recipes, Replace Oil or Simply Don’t Add Oil
For moist baked goods like muffins or quick bread you might think that oil is essential because of some chemical reaction that happens when baking, like with baking soda and baking powder. This is not true for oil. Oil will add fat to your baked goods and also make them more moist. You can replace oil in baked recipes with anything moist. I have used unsweetened applesauce, shredded zucchini, pumpkin puree, mashed sweet potato, and even chia seeds soaked in water. For regular bread and other recipes, simply don’t add the oil. The bread comes out fantastic! It just contains less fat. I use a recipe for 100% whole wheat vegan bread that contains no added meat, dairy, sugar, salt, or oil. I make this bread every week for my family’s lunch sandwiches and sometimes toast with breakfast.
3. To Prevent Sticking, Use Corn Meal
I actually used to rub a little olive oil onto my baking sheets with a paper towel to prevent my baked goods from sticking. My husband found out by experimenting that if you sprinkle a little bit of corn meal on the pan before putting your cookies, etc. onto the baking sheet, they will not stick to the pan. It really works! When you use a spatula to pick up your baked food, if there is a little bit of corn meal on the food it will brush right off. That way no oil is being absorbed by the food from the pan during baking. We use this method when we make plant based pizza in the oven. For food like roasted carrots or baked potato wedges, they are usually fine without any oil or corn meal since the veggies contain moisture that helps them not stick to the pan. Cover with tinfoil during the roast to help keep in excess water. For baked whole sweet potatoes I just wrap them in tinfoil and bake them up. No oil needed.
Dr. Esselstyn Jr. says it best in this short video about what foods to eat and avoid on a whole foods, plant based diet: NO OIL!