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June 06, 2016

Oil-Free Cooking: How to Adapt Your Favorite Recipes

Minestrone soup

If you’re looking to cut down on the amount of oil in your diet, you may worry that you’ll be stuck eating strictly steamed vegetables and plain, poached fish. Sure, they’re healthy, but they’re definitely not interesting and probably won’t motivate you to stick with your oil-free experiment for long. Luckily, there are tons of swaps to make cooking oil-free—or simply with less oil—easy and tasty.

Before you begin, make sure you have appropriate oil-free cookware on hand. Non-stick pots and pans are a convenient option, as are heavy-bottomed stainless steel varieties if you’re looking to avoid Teflon. Silicone ovenware, like re-useable silpat mats, or parchment paper will help to prevent baked goods from sticking to the tray without oil.

Oil-free cooking just requires a few alternative ingredients, likely ones you already have on hand. Here’s how to adapt some of your favorite cooking methods.

Ready to start cooking? Create your oil-free menu on PlateJoy.

Sauteing and Stir-frying
Sautes and stir-frys are defined by the oil or fat they use. When avoiding those fats, tour best bet is to use a small amount of water or broth. Start by heating a few tablespoons of liquid in your pan and add 1-2 tablespoons as it evaporates. This will add moisture and prevent sticking through the whole cooking process.

Baking
Baked goods often call for the addition of oil or butter to soften and emulsify the other ingredients: think soft cookies and chewy bars. Luckily, other moist additives can create this same effect. Soaked dried fruit (like cherries, prunes or apricots) pureed into a paste can be used as a one-for-one substitute for the amount of butter called for in baking. (Don’t have time or interest in making your own puree? Baby food works well, too.) You can also swap in unsweetened applesauce 1:1, although keep in mind it will make your baked goods much more dense than the original version. Unsweetened applesauce imparts a pretty neutral flavor, so it shouldn’t impact the final product. When in doubt, save this swap for non-savory recipes.

If you’re making a more savory bake, try using mashed avocado (half the amount of butter called for) or flaxseed meal for a neutral flavor (3 tbsp of flax meal for every 1 tbsp of fat called for). Just watch your bake time: flax will brown faster than butter.

Roasting
Instead of brushing veggies and proteins with oil before spreading on a baking sheet, you can toss them in a simple mixture of broth and herbs or water, soy sauce and garlic. While your produce may take a little longer to cook, their sugars will break down and caramelize into the characteristic brown we love on roasted veg. This is also a great substitute for deep-frying: far less oil, more robust natural flavor.

Sauces
In place of heavy cream-based or oil-based sauces, puree steamed cauliflower, potato, carrot, lentils or beans; add water or nut milk and nutritional yeast or miso to reach your desired consistency and flavor. Chia seeds, cashews or flaxseed meal, stirred or blended with warm water, can also help create the emulsified effect of oil. Add cilantro, dill, lemon or your favorite fresh herbs plus a little sea salt to round out the flavor of your sauce

Ready to start cooking? Create your oil-free menu on PlateJoy.

- Amy Height

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