How to cook without oil

Cooking onions and spices without oil is the the thing that stumps most people new to a whole food plant-based diet. Once you try it you’ll see how easy it is and wonder why you ever thought you needed oil! There seems to be two camps regarding cooking onions – the ‘water first’ and the ‘dry saute’ method. The ‘water first’ method is to heat a pan with about 1/4 cup water (or vegetable stock) and when hot add the onions and cook for quite a few minutes until almost dry, being ready to add more water if needed.

Our preferred method is to ‘dry saute’. We start with onions in a dry hot pan (NB we often forget to heat the pan and put onions in before turning the jet on and find it works just as well) and cook over a medium-high heat for several minutes, stirring regularly. We keep watch for that “moment” when the pan starts to look really dry and some onions and/or the pan is beginning to look brown then tip a splash (up to 1 tbsp) of water in.


If its the right moment the onions will sizzle and turn brown and you can add another tbsp or two over the dry areas of the pan – this is called deglazing. If its not the right moment then the onions may steam a little and so you just keep dry cooking for another minute or three before adding another 1-2 tablespoons water.



Once the onions are browned you are ready to add other spices or flavours, e.g. fresh garlic, ginger, chilli or dry spices, each time adding a splash more water to stop them burning. When you add dry spices you need to splash some more water around the pan stirring constantly. You are then ready to add the rest of your stir-fry, curry or stew ingredients.



If cooking eggplant you will need to do that next (or even before the onions) so that you can brown them, but now we have an air fryer we pre-roast chopped eggplant in the air fryer for about 7 minutes whilst cooking the onions on the stove top.



At our 7-day immersion retreat Anita Rickey from Diggers Vegie Kitchen shows attendees how to cook without oil.

More information aboutour Immersion Retreat




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Page created 25 January 2020 (transferred from No Oil! page)
Last updated 24 September 2021 (resource added)