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Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking

Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Cooking and Salad Oils

A good chef will always have a selection of oils in the pantry for a variety of uses. Oils have different flavors and qualitites that can make all the difference when deciding which oil to use, and when.

For cooking, I basically use only two oils: ghee and olive oil.

Ghee is "clarified" butter that has had many of its impurities and milk sugars removed, and is a saturated fat that is very stable at high temperatures. This means that the chemical structure of the fatty acids stay relatively unchanged by heat, leaving it an ideal cooking fat. I use ghee 1-2 times per week for ethnic foods, which flavors may not mingle well with the distinctive taste of olive oil. I also use it when I want the richness of butter and nothing else will do.

Olive Oil has high amounts of mono-unsaturated fats. Although not as ideal as saturated fat for cooking, mono-unsaturated fats remain more stable when heated as compared to the more delicate fats in most nut and seed oils. When used for sauteeing, keep the heat at low to medium. Robin Keuneke, author of the best-selling book, Total Breast Health, recommends adding a tablespoon or so of water into the pan to help buffer the oil from the heat.

Since there have been so many studies of raw olive oil's proven health benefits, make sure to consume plenty of raw olive oil on salads and drizzled over vegetables, meats, dips and sauces.

For vinaigrettes and flavor enhancers, I have all differnt kinds of oils in my pantry. Here are two of the staples I recommend:

Walnut Oil has a rich, yet delicate taste when used alone or with other oils for salad dressings and sauces. I use it mostly for Mediterranean-inspired dishes and dressings. Since walnut oil can be a little pricey, I usually blend it with olive oil. Since it consists of delicate fats that can have harmful effects when heated, it is not recommended for cooking and should be stored in the refrigerator.

Toasted Sesame Oil is a very flavorful, roasted seed oil that is used in small amounts to enhance the flavors of Asian foods. It is a favorite of mine in gingery dressings and drizzled over Japanese soups and stir-fries. I use it in moderation, as this oil has been heated to high temperatures to give it its distinctive toasty flavor. It should be stored in the refrigerator.

Most oils, with the exception to olive oil which thickens when cool, should be stored in the refrigerator, or at the very least in a dark cupboard or pantry. If you notice that an oil is starting to go rancid, throw it out. Try to buy cold-pressed, unrefined and organic oils.


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