Cooking Without Oil

Cooking without oil, how in the world do you do THAT?  This is a question I get quite a bit.  The next question is usually, well what about olive oil?  What about coconut oil?  These are "healthy oils" so why not use them?

The Simple Truth
Without getting into a debate of whether or not a "healthy" oil exists, what we can all agree on is that oils contain a lot of calories and are 100% fat.  And those calories add up since it's very easy to overconsume (oil seems to be in just about everything - even dehydrated cranberries and some non-dairy milk!)  So, whether you're trying to avoid extra calories, avoid using oil altogether, trying to save money, or a combination of the three, cooking without using added fats is actually pretty simple to do.

Most of the time...

Here's the thing.  A substitution of water, broth or wine is super simple when sautéing.  What's not as easy, however, is trying to get veggies to caramelize in a pan.  Not impossible, just takes a bit of attention and stirring.  You cannot walk away from a pan of sautéing veggies that you are cooking with water/broth/wine like you can if you use oil.

This is something easy you can do to start saving money you're currently spending on oil.  Even if you choose to continue using oil, just cutting it from stovetop cooking and some baking will make a noticeable difference.

What Pan To Use?
Sautéing vegetables in a liquid other than oil is very easy.  So easy that I was feeling quite confident (perhaps a bit cocky) when I decided to show my husband that yes indeed, I could cook him caramelized mushrooms and onions without butter.  "Just use the butter" he prodded.  "I can do it without" I confidently announced while adding a couple of tablespoons of water to the pan.  "I wish you would just use the butter" he muttered while leaving the kitchen.  Now, I did realize I probably shouldn't walk away, just based on my sautéing experience, but I didn't pay attention the way I should have.  That first try, not surprising at all, was a flop.  They just wouldn't caramelize.  To his delight I ended up adding butter.  Then I started practicing.  When I wanted to make French onion soup I worked with caramelizing the onions.  What I found was it's just much easier if you use a nonstick pan.  Certainly not not a requirement (I've been successfully caramelizing in the stainless steel instant pot), but much easier.  Because you want there to be a small amount of liquid in the pan in order to allow them to caramelize, the nonstick pan allows them to do so minus any fear of sticking.  And, therefore, burning.

A bit on the newer nonstick pans.  Are they harmful or healthy?  I'm not sure but I would personally lean toward harmful based on the research.  That being said, although I've retired all of my older Teflon-based cookware, we do own 2 newer ceramic coated nonstick pans and use them when nonstick would be easier, such as caramelizing onions and mushrooms.....  We primarily cook with cast iron, enamel coated cast iron and stainless steel.  Each has their own pro's and con's so we've slowly added to our collection allowing us a choice depending on what we're cooking.

Back to cooking without oil.  Here's what I find the easiest to do when cooking on the stovetop (we'll cover baking in a separate post):

Sautéing Vegetables Without Oil
Heat your pan on the stovetop and add 1-2 tablespoons of water, broth, wine, or another liquid.  Add the vegetables.  Keep a small glass of water/broth/wine nearby to add as needed.

Just like cooking with oil, overcrowding may cause steaming as opposed to sautéing so pay attention to the amount of veggies versus size of pan.

Stir the veggies around a bit with a wooden spoon as they cook, adding water by the tablespoon (no more or you'll steam the veggies) only when just about all of the liquid cooks off and they are starting to stick/brown.  This can happen quickly so try to pay close attention.  Continue until cooked to your desired doneness.

Vegetables sautéed without the use of oil are delicious!  Their natural flavors really shine.


  1. You've come a long way in your dietary changes. I know it's difficult to do without some things at first, but if it makes you feel better, it's well worth it.
    I've started using ghee lately, and can't say I'll give up butter or olive oil for good. Everyone's body needs something different.

    Enjoy your weekend!

  2. I am experimenting with this a lot since my cholesterol level ( thanks to genetics) tends to run high in spite of vegan lifestyle for over 10 years ( before that vegetarian for 10). I stump all the doctors because they always say I am doing everything right, yet level barely budges. So now following Dr Esselstyn extremely low fat plan-saw about a 50 pt reduction & if I can accomplish a bit more, then I can avoid meds.


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