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Cooking Without Oil: How to Make Delicious Oil-Free Meals

People who stick to a whole-food diet often limit or completely avoid processed oils. In this article, we'll cover how you can cook and sauté without oil, while still making delicious meals.
Zeynep Ozdemir, RDN

Written by Zeynep Ozdemir, RDN. Updated on December 4, 2022.

If life has brought you to read this article, let’s draw a simple scenario together:

You have all the ingredients for your plant-based recipe. You just aim to make this recipe simply without oil.

And no matter what recipe or cooking video you enter, the beginning is the same: “Sauté your onions (or other vegetables) in oil…”

Oil is an ingredient that enhances the nutritional value and taste of food and is often used in recipes. Another purpose is simply to prevent sticking.

This allows you to select a wider variety of cookware and easily change the cooking temperature. It is often used in cooking techniques for these purposes.

So, if you can’t find a recipe that does not use oil or you can’t find a guide on what steps to follow when you eliminate oil, is it because there is no oil-free cooking?

Absolutely not… You’ll probably be surprised how you can get the taste of vegetables into food despite cooking without oil. There are just a few rules you should follow for perfect lean cooking.

In this article, we’ll cover how you can cook and sauté without oil.

Why Oil Is Used In Cooking?

There are several main reasons why oils are often used in cooking.

1. The oil in the pan acts as a conductor between the heat and the food. When we cook food without oil, we can talk about the obvious heating of only the part in direct contact with the heat, rather than the heating of the entire food. The oil contributes to the homogeneity of this heating.

2. It is anti-sticking. It will prevent the food you want to cook with oil and especially the foods with low or insufficient moisture from sticking to the pan.

3. Oil is actually a flavor carrier. Almost every kind of oil has its own unique flavor and the use of these oils according to the appropriate dishes can support the taste.

Why Oil-Free Cooking is Supported?

Diets vary depending on individual needs, tastes, culture, religion, ethics, health, and many more. Plant-based nutrition can be divided into many different branches in itself.

It is not because removing fats from the diet is contrary to veganism. This initiative is actually about whole food consumption. This is not a completely defined diet, it is actually a lifestyle.

The reason why oils are sifted in cooking is that the oil has been processed. Instead of the liquid oils used for cooking, it is desirable to completely consume the foods that make up these oils.

What is the Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet?

The fundamental concepts of a whole foods plant-based Diet include the following:

  • Focuses on minimally processed, minimally refined foods
  • Eliminates animal products
  • Emphasizes plant-based foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, seeds, legumes, and nuts, which should comprise the bulk of your diet
  • Not included are refined foods such as added sugars, white flour, and processed oils
  • Pays great attention to food quality, with many proponents of the whole diet advocating organic and locally produced foods wherever feasible

This diet is often mistaken for a vegan diet for several reasons. Nonetheless, despite certain similarities, these diets are distinct.

Why Are Oils Limited?

Foods such as olives, corn, and sunflower seeds have a high-fat content. Vegetable oils are obtained by processing these foods.

During processing, fiber, pulp, amino acids, and many vitamins and minerals are separated with this part.

Usually, vitamin E remains, and the calories in oils come entirely from fat (no carbohydrates and protein). So it is a completely concentrated form.

The fiber and nutritional values lost in the production of liquid oils cause the limitation of liquid oils by whole foods diet consumers.

Instead, all oil sources such as olive, walnut, and sunflower seeds can be consumed.

Is Oil-Free Sautéing Possible?

The absence of oil in most cooking techniques is not a problem. Especially types such as boiling and steaming are already made without oil.

Not using oil in juicy dishes such as soup or pasta will not make a big difference.

The part that individuals have the most difficulty in eliminating the oil is the sautéing process. In fact, lean sautéing is possible with the right steps and techniques.

Step 1: Pan selection and starting temperature

Pan selection and starting temperature are important.

If we want to sauté at the beginning of any meal, we want to start with a hot pan.

Although pan selection is not mandatory, it is mostly a material that makes your work easier. Generally, non-stick pans should be preferred.

Bonus: A cast iron skillet can help, as it holds heat well and stays hot. In addition, thanks to this feature, when you add vegetables to it, it does not get cold and supports the cooking process.

Step 2: Dry start

Cooking begins with a dry frying pan. I know your question mark: if we don’t use oil then don’t we have to cook with water?

Yes, you can. But if you add water directly to the pan with your vegetables, what you’re doing is steaming, not sautéing.

When you add your pile of vegetables to a hot pan, you caramelize the vegetables. This means you can get most of the flavor from your stack of vegetables.

Step 3: Caramelize

When you start to see the vegetables browning in the pan, this is an indication of the caramelization process and the changing of their flavor.

If you’ve ever tried steaming or boiling, you’re probably familiar with the flavor difference between them and caramelization.

Step 4: Be in control when adding water

Usually sautéing starts with the onion first, so I’ll give the example with onions (but simply the same rules apply to other vegetables too).

When you see your onions start to brown in the dry pan, you can tell the caramelized texture is starting to form.

Since we don’t have oil, we have to shine the pan to prevent the vegetables from sticking and burning. This is where we add water. But only as much as is needed.

Never try to add as much as a glass, add no more than two tablespoons of water at a time to make the pan shine.

You probably don’t want too much water left in the pan while you cook your vegetables. Because this will again reduce the flavor of the vegetables.

What we need to remember when trying to eat healthily is that we want flavor in our health journey.

We want our food to taste good, and the more we like the taste, the longer we can maintain our diet.

Step 5: Service

You can use this technique for any vegetables the recipe allows. Carrots, green peppers, broccoli…

Then you can use your sautéed vegetables to make soup or on top of your rice.


Vegetables such as onions, peppers, and carrots have higher water content than some other vegetables and they do not tire you in cooking.

But if you are going to cook vegetables with a low water content such as broccoli, it is recommended that the initial temperature is lower.

Another thing to note is that herbs cannot be sautéed in large dry pans. Some leafy herbs, such as basil, will burn very easily.

Garlic is also flammable. If you are going to add garlic during sautéing, you can save it for the end.

We don’t want to overcook the food we’re going to sauté.

Therefore, care should be taken, but it should be ensured that they do not spoil the bright color while still providing the caramelization flavor. It is possible with this technique, just do not leave the stove and do not overcook.

Is Oil-Free Baking Possible?

Yes, it is possible.

Some fruit purees can be used as an oil substitute in baking. We’ve listed some of the substitutes you can use:

Apple Sauce Without Sugar

This may be used in place of oil in baked goods such as muffins, cakes, and cookies that are soft-baked. Substitute every half cup of oil with one-third of a cup of unsweetened applesauce in the recipe.

It will not assist you in achieving the correct consistency in thin or crisp cookies; rather, we strongly suggest using whole butter from nuts in their place for this purpose.

Whole Nut Butters

Cookie recipes benefit tremendously from the use of nut butter including almond, sunflower, and cashew. Keep in mind to opt for versions that do not have any added oil.

If a recipe calls for oil, you may substitute an equivalent quantity of nut butter instead.

Before you use the nut butter, mix one or two teaspoons of soy milk with the quantity that has been measured out. This is only necessary if the nut butter is especially thick.

Because it has a flavor that is not overpowering, cashew butter performs very well.

Almond and sunflower butter also are wonderful additions, but the finished product will have a flavor that is reminiscent of nuts.


This is the fluid that comes from white beans or chickpeas that they have been cooked or canned in.

The flavor is really rather unremarkable, and the consistency is quite similar to vegetable oil.

This works well in a wide variety of baked goods, including muffins, bars, cookies, cakes, and slices. Any recipe that calls for oil may have an equivalent quantity of aquafaba used instead.

Aquafaba is very versatile, you can use it as an egg replacement or make a cream using beater or whisk.

Silken Tofu

Cookies, cakes, muffins, and brownies may all benefit from using silken tofu, which can be blended and used in place of oil in the recipe.

It works particularly well in baked goods that have strong flavors like banana or chocolate and is best suited for usage in more substantial items.

To replace every half cup of vegetable oil, use one-third of a cup of silken tofu that has been pureed.

Do You Need Oil For Roasting?

Actually, prior to roasting your veggies or other items in the oven, there is no need that you to cover them with oil beforehand.

They may need a little more time, but in the end, they will turn a wonderful brown and become perfectly roasted.

Before putting veggies in the oven, you can flavor them with herbs, spices, and either a little bit of a light water-soy sauce or vegetable stock combination. Either of these two options would work well.


Today, although many individuals are starting to eliminate vegetable oils from their lives, some recipes, especially vegetable-based ones, often call for oil.

This is not really about whether you eat a plant-based diet or whether you consume fat or not. The basis of the view supporting the elimination of oils from the diet is based on the whole food diet.

In this view, it is emphasized that foods should be consumed in their whole form rather than in processed forms that have lost many nutritional values.

Since liquid oils lose fiber, vitamins, minerals, and many nutrients during processing, they are not included in this diet.

Oil-free cooking is possible. The most problematic part is the sautéing.

By following some simple steps, you can make a perfect sauté without the need for oil. The thought of adding water instead of oil will lead you to boil or steaming.

That is why adding water for sautéing should be done in a particular kind of way.

In baked goods, there are substitutes where you can replace the oil. Depending on the product you want, you can use fruit purees, whole nut butter, and even silken tofu in cooking.

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