When I started cooking without oil about a month ago, I held a silent memorial for roasting: one of my favorite, most satisfying, and easiest vegetable preparations that appeals to non-vegans and is the perfect base for a variety of dishes. Over many years of mindless late-night roasting, I realized that this simple technique actually required some thought: I couldn’t just throw veggies on a tray, chopped any old way, drizzle with oil (I was very conservative at first), and wait for the oven to do its thing. My best friend shared with me her mom’s trick of pouring the oil on the pan first, which changed the game entirely. Eventually, I got my perfect combination of moderate oil + small chop veggies + high heat (at least 400 degrees) + 25-30 minute roast time. Each bite was soft on the inside yet crisp and charred on the outside; i.e., vegetable perfection. Without oil, however, I was sure that outer level of crisp could never be attained. Steamed vegetables are just as good, too! I told myself, and I went on my merry way. Many meals of either soggy or undercooked veggies ensued. Suddenly, the foods I loved most became sad and disappointing. This situation just wouldn’t do, so I started experimenting with the amount of water I needed to roast my veggies without oil. (Yes, this is still considered “roasting,” since the foods are already in a solid state and cooked at a high heat; “baking” is when the food is not in a solid state, such as the ingredients in a cake, and typically cooked at a lower heat with the fat content within; broiling is the highest heat, 550 degrees-plus, and used to sear foods for a short amount of time.) Naturally, nature works much more easily than I gave her credit for, and the perfect roast couldn’t have been simpler!
Why oil-free, you may ask? While many tout the nutritional benefits of plant-based oils like olive, sesame, and coconut, especially those referred to as “cold-pressed” or “unrefined,” oil is nonetheless a processed food. Creating oil requires stripping away many of the micro- and macro-nutrients found in the original plants (the olives, sesame seeds, coconut, whatever your choice), leaving behind a fatty concentration. Fats in their original, whole form, like an avocado, contain fiber and other essentials for proper digestion and metabolization. I was turned on to these facts in the eCornell Plant-Based Nutrition Course I enrolled in this summer, where I was presented with numerous alarming studies about how a low-fat diet can radically change the course of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses—a fact that the meat and dairy industries don’t want to be known by too many folks. This does not mean, however, resorting to the non-fat SnackWell packs I and many enjoyed in the ‘90s and 2000s. Those guys replaced the taste and substance fat provides to foods with sugar, which was great for their bottom line since we all had the munchies all the time and grabbed more and more wafer cookies every 2-3 hours to fuel ourselves. And guess what? It was super hard to maintain a healthy weight like this, let alone stay truly healthy.
Instead of jumping on this roller coaster, I’m taking the easy route and letting my food do its job as it was designed. Not only does it taste better, but it works with my body better for meals that are as functional as they are flavorful.
Perfect Oil-Free Roasted Vegetables
- 4 cups chopped carrots about 3 large carrots, ~1/4-inch thick coins, Julienne style
- 5 cups chopped broccoli about 2 medium stalks
- To serve:3 teaspoons dry basil
- 3 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 cup prepared kitchari see below
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. 2. Divide your chopped vegetables onto two baking sheets (carrots on one, broccoli on the other). 3. Add 1 cup of water to each pan. 4. Cook for 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through (see tip), and checking after the 30-minute mark. Depending on the heat distribution of your oven and the size of your chopped veggies, you may have a shorter cook time. 5. Combine as many veggies as you like with 1/3 cup kitchari and 1 teaspoon basil and garam masala, according to taste.
- An Ayurvedic staple, this whole-food powerhouse of carbs and protein is the ultimate balm to your digestive system—I dare you to eat just one serving! Don’t cheat on the ingredients: Yellow split peas are not the same as moong dahl, as I found out in my early kitchari days. When eating kitchari as a full meal, I will cook it with vegetables as well—the ones above work great, plus spinach, sweet potatoes, beets . . . anything your vegan heart desires. Prep time: Overnight soak Cook time: 30 minutesServes: 5-6 Ingredients: 1/2 cup white basmati rice1 tablespoon each whole coriander seeds, ground cumin, whole fennel seeds, fresh grated ginger1 teaspoon cinnamon¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper1 cup moong dahl 1. Soak the rice in a bowl covered with water by 2 inches in the refrigerator overnight. Drain and rinse when you’re ready to cook. This removes any starchy outer coating and make the rice cook faster.2. Combine the spices in a dry medium pot on the stove over high heat. Let the spices cook for 2-3 minutes, or until they are fragrant and the whole seeds begin to pop. Immediately reduce heat to low.3. Off the heat, add the rinsed rice and dahl to the pot. Stir to coat in the spice mixture.4. Add 3 cups of water. Return to medium heat, bring to a boil, then simmer with the lid on for 20-25 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed and the grains are soft.5. Store extra kitchari in a covered container for up to a week, or freeze for later use.