Sauteing in flavor, keeping out the fat

Creating low-fat recipes that tasted rich and satisfying was the challenge I took on when hired as a chef for a heart-disease-research study in the 1980s. Here's one of my first assignments: Could I make an Italian pasta sauce that would satisfy a Sicilian grandmother, have it ready in 30 minutes, and use no olive oil?

After five inedible tomato sauces even the dog wouldn't eat, I hit upon the secret: Substitute a small amount of simmering sherry, wine or broth for the oil.


The sweetest substitute for oil in a saute is dry cocktail sherry or fruit juice. White and red wine are more salty. Red wine, the stronger of the two, is better for tomato sauces or herb-flavored sautes. Defatted broth and tomato juice are good options for avoiding alcohol and work well if the saute will be well seasoned.

How much liquid to use depends on how hot the cooking fire will be. A stir-fry at high heat will evaporate liquid faster, so I use a 4-1 ratio: 4 tablespoons liquid for every tablespoon of oil replaced. Slower sauteing requires a 2 to 1 ratio.


One rule: Let the liquid simmer 30 seconds (let small bubbles appear) before adding the saute ingredients.

Oil-free pasta sauce

Makes 8 servings.

1/2 cup dry red wine, tomato juice or defatted broth

1 cup chopped onions

2 teaspoons minced garlic

5 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes, drained and chopped

2 tablespoons tomato paste


2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt, optional

1 teaspoon honey

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

freshly ground black pepper


Bring wine to simmer in heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in onions and garlic and saute quickly, stirring frequently, 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, salt, honey, basil, thyme and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool, then puree in blender.

John's bean chili

Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 1/4 cups defatted broth

2 large onions, minced

5 large cloves garlic, minced


1 to 2 teaspoons minced canned jalapeno pepper

1 sweet red or green pepper, seeded and minced

2 teaspoons chili powder, or to taste

2 teaspoons ground cumin, or to taste

4 cups canned pinto or kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes


3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

salt, pepper

1/2 cup crushed no-oil baked tortilla chips (available at health food stores)

Bring 1/4 cup broth to simmer in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and saute slowly 5 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently, or until onions are soft. Add garlic, peppers, chili powder, cumin, 3 cups pinto beans and remaining broth. Bring to boil. Puree remaining cup pinto beans with tomatoes in blender on high speed. Add to chili with half the cilantro. Reduce heat. Cook until thick, 30 minutes. Stir in remaining cilantro. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with tortilla chips.