I have to confess that the very first recipe I tested for the next Happy Herbivore cookbook (featuring mostly fat-free recipes) I didn't like. Like other HH recipes, this one called for sauteing onions and garlic not in oil but in broth or water. I thought I didn't like the recipe because it lacked the flavor from sauteing in oil.
I'd just finished making recipes that I loved from Appetite for Reduction, which stressed low fat but not no fat. From the book: "If you remember that diet craze of the '80s, where people ate nothing but sugary cardboard cookies and didn't even lose weight, you'll know that zero-fat diets aren't a good thing. In fact, the truth is your body needs fat. You need it to properly absorb vitamins, and you need it to keep your body working as it should. Beyond health reasons, fat is a crucial component. Even minimal amounts of fat help you feel satiated. It brings out the flavor of foods and aids cooking by caramelizing and browning."
But Happy Herbivore author Lindsay Nixon posted a controversial blog post that said there is no such thing as healthy oils: "...oil is a highly processed junk food full of fat and calories and lacking nutrition." She also says on her blog that, "A wholly fat-free diet deprives the body of necessary nutrients. I don't add any fats -- such as nuts, seeds, shortenings, butter/margarine, oils, coconut or avocados to my recipes. However, I do use wholesome ingredients that contain a little fat naturally such as beans, wheat, cocoa and tofu."
I was skeptical of fat-free cooking but went on to test dozens of HH recipes....and absolutely loved all of them except for that very first one. Lindsay's recipes proved to me that fat-free doesn't have to be flavor-free.
Here were two vegan chefs I admired and respected, both with fantastic recipes I loved but with two different approaches to cooking. Who was right? I think both are.
The photo at the top is one of my very favorite recipes that I make all the time. It's a Quiche with Greens, a Happy Herbivore recipe. Garlic and onion powder give it the flavor you'd get from sauteing garlic and onion in oil, but with no fat. At just 78 calories and 6.7 grams of protein, it's a delicious, low-cal, filling meal. And because it's so low-cal, I can easily have a handful of nuts or few slices of avocado or toast with peanut butter to get the nutrients from fats that my body needs without worrying about gaining weight from a lot of added fat.
I love HH recipes and will continue to make them. Making these recipes taught me that you don't always need oil to make a dish flavorful, and the calories I save I can use to eat whole foods that have healthy fats.
I'll also continue to make low-fat recipes like Appetite for Reduction that often call for a little (usually one teaspoon) oil, because I do agree that sometimes a little oil goes a long way. I wouldn't not make a dynamite recipe just because it called for oil.
I think mixing up no-fat and low-fat recipes--with occasional full-fat meals or treats like cupcakes thrown in because I don't believe any food I love should be off limits--is the key to staying satisfied and maintaining a healthy weight.
If you're watching your weight, which approach--no fat or low fat--do you use most in cooking?