Cook with water to create ‘clean cuisine’
Food for thought

Cook with water to create ‘clean cuisine’

Try this culinary challenge: Use H2O rather than oil to fry your food

Phyllis Glazer is an American-born food journalist based in Tel Aviv, Israel. She is the author of several cookbooks that have been published in Hebrew, German, and Italian, and appears frequently on television and radio in Israel.

Baby spinach, chickpeas and tomatoes on a base of water-sauteed onions and spices (Courtesy Phyllis Glazer)
Baby spinach, chickpeas and tomatoes on a base of water-sauteed onions and spices (Courtesy Phyllis Glazer)

My weeks have undergone an upheaval during the last month, with cooking seminars on Friday mornings and 6:30 a.m. wake-ups on Saturday mornings for my cooking piece on “Haolam Haboker” (“The World This Morning” with Avri Gilad and Hila Korach) on Channel 2.  My challenge each week is to create a new recipe live in the studio that lacks a kitchen; I even have to shlep the salt from home.

Phyllis Glazer explaining her water sauteeing method on Haolam Haboker (Courtesy Reshet screengrab)
Phyllis Glazer explaining her water sauteeing method on Haolam Haboker (Courtesy Reshet screengrab)

On last week’s program, I made a recipe using a technique called “water-sautéing” that appeared in my book “Hamitbach shel Phyllis” (Phyllis’ Kitchen), published more than a decade ago. I had let this excellent method fall by the wayside for a while, but in the last few weeks I’ve been rediscovering it given my limited kitchen tools at the studio, and have been improving water sautéing with impressive results and far-reaching implications and applications.

I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but since adopting this technique again, I seem to feel better. Like most people, I had become accustomed to starting almost every dish by heating (olive) oil in a pan and adding something to sauté to make the final dish more flavorful. It didn’t occur to me that I could actually cook without doing that and still get excellent results.

I’m not suggesting that you should give up frying entirely; but what I am saying is that we’d be much better off using the water-sautéing technique as often as possible. While cold-pressed olive oil is very healthy, you gain more by adding it as a flavoring ingredient just before serving the dish.

In time, water-sautéing can limit your exposure to free radicals (created by oils degenerating), help reduce or eliminate all processed oils from your diet, and act as an aid in losing weight. If you do get a hankering for something fried, do it in butter, clarified butter (ghee, that you make yourself or buy), or extra-virgin coconut and avocado oils that can be heated to higher temperatures without oxidation.

In the course of my recipe testing for the show, various articles and my workshops, I’ve given myself a challenge: To see how long I can go without frying or using oils. I’m proud to report that I’m doing well so far. I have hot oatmeal in the mornings, make sandwiches with that wonderful spelt bread recipe I gave here some weeks ago, and managed to develop hors d’oeuvres, main courses, cookies and even double chocolate cupcakes all made with healthy ingredients, so delicious that no one would ever believe they don’t contain a drop of oil, dairy products or even eggs. It can be done. I call it clean cuisine.

To introduce you to the water-sautéing technique, try the recipe for baby spinach, chickpea and tomato cooked in Indian spices that follows. If you need visual aids, watch the clip from last week’s show to give you a sense of the process.

Chana Saag: Baby spinach, chickpeas and tomatoes cooked in Indian spices (serves 4)

  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced small
  • 1 small fresh green hot pepper minced (optional)
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1.5 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, or 3/4 cup canned tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 800 grams or around 14 ounces spinach
  • 1.5 cups unsweetened rice, soy or almond milk
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1 tablespoon honey or more to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
  1. Heat a heavy frying pan on medium heat and add the onion in a single layer, stirring often. You’ll soon see the tips of the onions starting to release their juices and stick to the bottom of the pan, creating a brown “stain.” Add a tablespoon or two of water on those “stains,” and stir to mix the browned juices into the onion. Repeat this procedure, adding just a little water at a time, until the onion turns brown.
  2. Reduce heat to medium low and add the green hot pepper (if using), garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric and pepper flakes. Stir and cook the mixture together for three minutes, then add the tomato and a little water if necessary to prevent sticking
  3. Now add the rice milk, spinach, chickpeas and honey. Cover and cook over low heat until the spinach is wilted, about 10-15 minutes. If the mixture is watery, remove the cover and continue cooking until the liquids are reduced, or add a tablespoon or two of ground almond flour (found in health food stores). If too thick, add water, white wine, or more tomatoes.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and serve over brown rice or other grain. The combination of grain (rice) and legume (chickpeas) creates complementary proteins.
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