I am not a chef by any stretch. I am actually a mom who switched her family over from a VERY meat-based diet to a plant-based diet over 2 years ago and hasn’t looked back. I love to share what I have learned so I can make it easier on anyone trying to add more plants to their diet, or anyone going all the way to a whole food vegan diet. Especially when trying to cook without oil.
Switching over from a diet including meat to a plant based-based diet can be daunting. When I did it 2 years ago, I definitely felt a little lost. I was making the switch for myself and for my family and realized that making plants the centerpiece, and not the side dish, was going to be a challenge.
First of all, it is definitely true that plant-based meals are a little more labor-intensive in that you usually have to cut up veggies, but what they offer in terms of nutrition makes up for the little bit of added effort.
I feel that we need to go back to our “roots” a little more and spend more time thinking about our food, and more time preparing it. Get in that mindset and take the delivery services off of your speed dial!
There are ways to make sure that your experience starts out right and since I have been living the life for a while now, I would love to share some of the cooking techniques that have helped me stay sane and keep my family well-fed.
Consider these beginner suggestions, because as you go on, you can get quite creative with plant food! For me, it has been 2 years and yes, it is still a process. Cooking is a lifelong journey. An important one to take on, because if you want to stay healthy and avoid sickness and disease, you need to know what is going into your body.
Restaurants do what they have to in order to make food taste good. Butter, oil, bacon fat, they do whatever it takes to make vegan dishes taste good. What a restaurant considers “a little oil” in a dish is often as much oil as I have in a few days! So, it’s good to know how to cook without oil at home to make up for the special occasions.
When cooking, I always chose techniques that keep the maximum amount of nutrients in the food. You will want to prepare yourself and buy some of the tools that it takes to make cooking easier and allow you to vary your diet.
Learn How to Cook Without Oil
These are the techniques and “shortcuts” in the kitchen that I use most often to produce beautiful meals and ensure that I don’t spend the better part of my life in the kitchen! Hope they help you to feel more comfortable in your kitchen.
It is ideal to prep lots of veggies at once and have them in bowls ready to go. The last thing you need is to be trying to cut carrots into your stir fry once everything is well underway. I always cut extra too, so that I can store them in the fridge and use them again in a day or two. It helps to have a great set of glass bowls with tops to keep everything fresh, and easy to store.
These are the techniques and “shortcuts” in the kitchen that I use most often to produce beautiful meals and ensure that I don’t spend the better part of my life in the kitchen! Hope they help you to feel more comfortable in your kitchen.Our Favorite Plant-Based Kitchen Tools →
2. Knives and Knife Cuts
Cutting veggies is easier when you have a sharp knife. Get those knives sharpened and learn how to use them! I like this set of tutorials. I also love this veggie prep from Sur La Table and use mine all the time! While you are at it, get a salad spinner too. Nothing is worse than a puddle of water in your salad bowl.
3. Food Processing/Blending
I like to have both, as my Vitamix is a lot harder to clear of blended black beans and I can really get the consistency I want with a processor versus a blender. You may want things less blended and a food processor is great for this. A blender tends to blend everything on the bottom more, so if you want everything partly blended or chopped a processor is so much better. A blender on the other hand rocks the smoothie world and my Vitamix is my favorite appliance of all time! It also works great for blending soups.
4. Hand-Held Immersion Blending
Have to give a shout out to my immersion blender. I know there are tons of uses for these, but I mostly use mine for blending soups. I can dip it into a hot pot and partially blend my soups which is how I like a lot of them.
5. Water/Broth Sautéing
If you have explored the whole food plant-based diet you know that cooking with oil should be avoided. It is not a whole food (in fact it is highly processed), not nutritionally dense, and very caloric. Best to get your fats from whole food sources, so learning how to broth sauté is a must! You use water or veggie broth and heat that up in the bottom of your pan then add your veggies to that instead of vegetable oil. If you continue to add a little at a time as it is used up, the veggies caramelize just as they do with oil. They are every bit as delicious as with oil. Here is a nice tutorial of broth sautéing.
Stir frys are delicious and easy. I find that the key is to have to right pan. A wok shaped pan works great, but you can get away with a large sauté pan which will serve more uses. I love my Scan pans. They are ridiculously non-stick and work great with no-oil cooking. The company put a lot of research into these pans to ensure that the coating stays on the pan and not in your food. Non-stick pans have gotten a bad rap, but I trust these and use them all the time. Using broth instead of oil ensures that your arteries continue to flow freely and keep inflammation at bay. My favorite stir fry is this Asian one with rice noodles. You can play around with different veggies, noodles and sauces to make them different every time.
7. Pressure Cooking
We had a stovetop pressure cooker when I was growing up and my last memory of it was a thunderous clank, my dad yelling words I had never heard him say, and beans sliding down the walls and dripping off the ceiling. Fortunately, there are digital models now that have dozens of safety features and virtually can not blow up! Yay! I recently got an Instant Pot and am in love with it. Yes, I’m in love with a pot. Why? Because it cooks things so fast and the flavors meld together beautifully! There are hundreds of recipes online for pressure cookers. I like the ones on hip pressure cooking, and the cookbook Vegan under pressure is great too.Instant Pot Pressure Cooker Review →
8. Slow Cooking
As opposed to fast cooking with a pressure cooker, there is the slow cooker. The “throw it all in before you leave to work and dinner is ready when you get home cooker” rocks. Again, search vegan slow cooking and hundreds of recipes reveal the deliciousness of what is out there. It is amazing to leave in the morning and come home to the heavenly smells of dinner. Soups, stews, and bean dishes are what I have had my best slow cooker success with. Some great recipes to rock are right here,
I find myself baking less than a lot of other techniques as I am not much of a baker, but our favorite recipe is baked quinoa stuffed peppers. It’s fun to get creative with baked dishes like enchiladas, quinoa stuffed peppers, veggie burgers and baked tofu. Since I cook without oil, the best way to get a veggie burger to stay together is to bake versus frying.
Roasting is definitely not just for meat, my veggie-loving friends! Vegetables are delicious and sweet once roasted. Most people use some oil when roasting, but I’ve found that they turn out nicely even if you don’t use any. Fall squashes of all different varieties sing when roasted. Roasting is how I got my squash hater of a husband to eat butternut squash! And since then he has learned to like beets as well. He swore when we started eating this way that he would never eat them.
Who can resist a slightly crisp steamed asparagus? Get a steamer basket and get at it! It’s so easy, simple and tasty. I love to throw a little tofu savory sauce on my steamed veggie bowls to give them a kick of flavor. Steam up some broccoli, chard, and carrots, add some beans and brown rice, drizzle on a bit the savory sauce and enjoy! There are many ways to steam, from $8 steamer baskets that you place in a pot to steamers that are designed just to steam.
Gone are the days of charred bacon burgers and NY strip steak in our house. These were a few times a week occurrence. Guess what? No one misses them! I never thought I would say it, but we just don’t. Veggies do taste incredible grilled, as do peaches and pineapples and other fruits. Marinated tofu is another big win on the grill. My personal favorite are veggie burgers. If I don’t bake them, I grill them on some foil and they are a crowd-pleaser for sure. Pair a beet burger with some grilled zucchini and potatoes and we are a happy bunch.
13. Rice Cooking
I had a couple of these and they broke (probably because I cheaped out and got a lousy one), but I know a lot of people swear by these! Lately, I have used my pressure cooker to make rice and it works great. Now you can see why I have big love for this appliance.
Over to You
Don’t feel overwhelmed by the variety of ways there are to prepare plant-based meals. Instead, feel inspired to dive in and try what works for you. Maybe the Instant Pot (they are not paying me to promote. I just love it, promise) is the only thing you buy and you try hundreds of recipes in it.
Maybe you get in deeper than that. All good. Please do cook. It is very satisfying putting a meal that you have prepared on the table. I definitely worked up to using all of these cooking techniques. It has taken years.
Yes, it is a little more work than picking up a rotisserie chicken or burgers on the way home, but the health benefits are unparalleled, no animals had to die, and the environment is way better off. Win, Win, Win!
Have you had trouble preparing healthy food at home? What are your favorite cooking techniques and kitchen tools to make your food taste amazing? Let us know in the comments below.
Chrissy Roth is a physical therapist, mom of two teenage boys and wife of a husband who only liked to eat meat. She has certificate in plant-based nutrition and both her and her husband have been fully plant-based for over two years – the boys have come around nicely. They all have boundless energy and haven’t been sick in years. She loves to share what she’s learned so other families can feel great, aid the environment, and protect animals too. You can follow her work here.