How to saute or stir-fry without oil

Given that oil is a highly refined ingredient, I think it’s best to use it sparingly. In nature, fats come in a packaging of fibre and nutrients, such as in the form of nuts, seeds, olives and avocados. Removing the fibre and nutrients then consuming just the fat isn’t a recipe for healthy eating.

It’s still important to consume fat, and it’s true that consuming unsaturated fats (plant fats) are better for you than saturated fats (animal fats). Trans fats, which don’t even occur in nature, are about as harmful a substance as you could possibly consume – just don’t eat them – ever.

So without taking an extreme standpoint, I think it’s a good idea to avoid using oils in cooking whenever you can, while at the same time appreciating their use when oil really contributes to the flavour and quality of a dish. Roasted vegetables, some salad dressings, and sesame oil used in Asian flavour profiles are just some places where oil plays an integral role. And if you generally go without it, eating well with lots of vegetables, a tablespoon here or there shouldn’t do you any harm.

Sautéing and stir-frying without oil is easy and doesn’t compromise the flavour. So save your oil consumption for special occasions!

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of water
  • A skillet, wok or pot, heated on the stove to a high heat

What to do:

  1. Splash 2 tbsp water into the skillet. It should steam up and bubble immediately, so if it doesn’t, wait until it is. You should have just enough water to swill around and coat the bottom of the skillet.
  2. Throw in your prepped veggies, e.g. sliced onions and carrots.
  3. Sauté (or stir fry) until veggies are ready for the next step of whatever you’re cooking (i.e. onions are translucent, mushrooms are coloured, whatever). As you’re sautéing, you’ll need to be adding more water, a small splash at a time, and scraping the bottom of the pan to stop it sticking.


My favourite variation is 1 cup of water with 1 tbsp soy sauce. It’s so flavoursome and you don’t taste the soy, it just makes the flavours of whatever you’re cooking jump right out, especially mushrooms.

Otherwise, you can use combinations of water and vinegar, or water and wine.

Any flavoured stock works well too.

Yesterday morning Ash sautéed onions and mushrooms in water/soy sauce, and served it on toast with fresh tomato, avocado and baby salad leaves – we still ate fat, but it was in the far more enjoyable form of avocado, and the mushroom mix still tasted fantastic!

9 thoughts on “How to saute or stir-fry without oil

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