How to Cook Without Oil

Oil-Free Cooking might seem difficult, or even crazy. But who needs all of those empty calories? It’s not necessary to use oil to saute, bake, or roast our food. Here are some tips on how to cook without oil.

Images of fajitas, salad dressing, chocolate cupcake, and waffle fries, with Pinterest text overlay saying Oil Free Vegan Cooking TIps.

We’re all used to cooking using lots of oil. We learned to saute or roast vegetables with oil, use butter or oil in our baked goods, and use oil based dressings and sauces to top our foods.

Cooking without oil can seem mysterious at first. But it’s really not that difficult.

I’ve been cooking oil free for several years now, and I’ve learned several methods for creating tasty recipes without the use of oil. While I am not a nutritionist and am not qualified to give medical advice, I find that I feel much better on an oil-free diet.

Why cook without oil?

While some oils are advertised as being healthy, all oils are a highly processed, extracted food. They are the most concentrated source of calories there is, while providing almost no nutritional value. They are stripped of all fiber, protein, water, and nutrients.

Yes, our bodies do need some fat, but it is much better to receive them in their whole food forms such as nuts, seeds, avocados. These foods contain their complete nutritional package – vitamins, mineral, protein, fiber, etc.

Oil has also been shown to damage the endothelial lining of our blood vessels, leading to heart disease.

Studies have shown that heart disease and diabetes are reversed on an oil free plant based diet. Many plant based professionals (Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, and others) promote an oil free diet for optimum health. I agree with this, and have learned to cook without oil.

More information on reasons to adopt an oil free diet:

Dr. John McDougall’s article on When Friends Ask:  Why Do You Avoid Adding Vegetable Oils? 

Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s article: Olive Oil is NOT a Health Food

Video by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, No Oil – Not Even Olive Oil

How to cook without Oil

Cooking without oil is easier than you might think, and oil free recipes can be just as delicious as those cooked with oil. Here are some of my top tips!

Sautéing without oil

Instead of sautéing your onions and vegetables in oil, use water, balsamic vinegar, citrus juice, or organic low sodium vegetable broth. You can use a good quality nonstick skillet, or a stainless steel skillet.

When looking for a nonstick pan, you should avoid pans coated with Teflon. I use this Ozeri Stone Earth Pan. It has an amazing non-stick surface.

There are many brands of stainless steel pans. I love my All Clad pans, but there are less expensive pans out there. Look for pans with a thick base for more even cooking.

If you heat your stainless steel pan properly, it will behave like a nonstick pan.

Begin with a hot pan. You want your pan hot enough that a small amount of water will ball up and roll around on the surface of the pan like a ball of mercury.

Place your vegetables in the hot pan and move them around. As the vegetables begin to cook, they will release their juices keeping the vegetables from sticking.

As this liquid begins to evaporate and the vegetables start to stick, add a bit of water, broth, or balsamic vinegar a tablespoon or so at a time, and stir the vegetables around to deglaze the pan.

To brown the vegetables, allow them to sit in the pan for a few minutes without stirring. When they begin to brown, add a little liquid to the pan and loosen the vegetables. The brown bits will melt into the liquid you’ve added to the pan, adding delicious flavor to your vegetables. You can repeat this process a few times until the vegetables are cooked to your liking.

One of my recipes that uses this method of oil-free sauteing is this Mexican Vegetable Saute:

Plate of Mexican vegetable saute with sour cream and toftilla chips, vegetables in background
Mexican Vegetable Saute

Oil free cooking tips for roasting vegetables

To roast vegetables without oil, line your baking pan with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Without the oil to keep the moisture in, the vegetables can become rather dry when roasting. To prevent this from happening, toss them in a liquid like vegetable broth, lemon juice, or balsamic vinegar before roasting.

The liquid also helps flavor the vegetables, as well as helps seasonings to adhere to them. If the vegetables seem to be getting too dry before they are completely cooked, brush or spray more liquid over the vegetables.

The roasted vegetables can also be finished with a citrus juice, vinegar, or sauce after roasting.

The onions and peppers in this recipe for Soy Curl Fajitas are a delicious example of roasting vegetables. The veggie broth that the soy curls are soaked in helps the seasonings stick to the vegetables.

Two fajitas in corn tortillas on a red plate.
Vegan Soy Curl Fajitas

Oil free baking

There are a few substitutes for butter or oil that can be used when baking. Which substitute to use depends on what recipe you’re making.

When making cake or muffins, you can often use organic unsweetened applesauce, banana, or pumpkin puree to replace the oil. Banana or pumpkin will change the flavor of your baked good, so be sure that the flavor of your substitute is a good match for your recipe.

The hidden ingredient in these chocolate cupcakes is pumpkin puree. The cocoa powder masks the flavor of the pumpkin so well, you’d never know it was in there.

Chocolate cupcakes on a wooden tray.
Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

Peanut butter, cashew butter, and almond butter are great butter substitutes for baking cookies. Use a 1:1 ratio for this substitution. Again, note that peanut butter will have a stronger flavor than cashew butter or almond butter, so keep that in mind when deciding which to use.

These amazing Double Chocolate Chip Cookies were made using almond butter.

Platter of double chocolate cookies.
Vegan Double Chocolate Chip Cookies – Oil Free!

Dressings, sauces, and dips without oil

There are several ways to substitute for oil when making dressings, sauces, and dips.

To achieve the creamy dressings, raw cashews are absolutely amazing! Raw almonds or walnuts can also be used to add a creaminess to your dressings. My Vegan Caesar Dressing is made with cashews, and my Savory Garlic Dressing is made with a base of almonds.

Closeup of picture of bowl of Vegan Caesar Salad
Vegan Caesar Salad
Jar of oil-free Savory Garlic Dressing and bowl of salad
Savory Garlic Dressing

Nuts are high in fat, so if you’re wanting a lower fat dressing, cannelini beans can be substituted for the nuts. The result will not be quite as creamy.

Tofu is also a good base for some dips and dressings. This Tofu Cashew Mayonnaise is the base for my Vegan Ranch Dressing, Vegan Potato Salad, and Vegan Coleslaw. It’s also great as a sandwich spread!

Jar of Tofu Cashew Mayonaise with spoon of mayo resting on rim of jar; wooden cutting board, tomatoes, and lettuce in background
Tofu Cashew Mayonnaise

Alternatives to deep frying food

There are no deep fried foods in this eating plan. Instead, foods are baked to achieve a crispiness. Breading before baking can add an extra bit of crispiness.

A tool that really helps with crisping foods is an air fryer. I love using it to crisp up burritos, make oil free tortilla chips, crunchy taquitos, crispy spring rolls, and fat free french fries.

Bowl of waffle fries with dipping sauce in the background.
Seasoned Waffle Fries

Not ready to adopt an oil-free diet?

Not everyone is ready for an overnight switch to an oil free diet. But why not try oil free for a few meals a week? Or, instead of sautéing in 3 tablespoons of oil, reduce it to one tablespoon. Look for ways to reduce your oil consumption. You’ll soon come to see that oil free cooking is easier than you thought.

Are you new to a plant based diet. My 5 Day Plant Based Starter Guide has helpful tips and printables to help you start your plant based journey.

And come join my Oil Free Vegan Recipes and Support Facebook group, where you can share your favorite oil free vegan recipes, and give and receive support on your plant based journey.