Essential cooking oils

A high-quality oil can take any dish from so-so to spectacular. Every well-stocked kitchen should have at least three different selections, in addition to olive oil: a sturdy oil for high-heat cooking, a neutral oil for dressings and baking, a flavorful oil for international dishes, and a cold-pressed nut or seed oil to drizzle on finished dishes. Try some of these essential oil selections:

RICE BRAN OIL: Rice bran oil is known for its high smoke point, but its neutral flavor and high monounsaturated fat content also make it a great heart-healthy choice for salad dressings, honey-roasted nuts, or other applications where you don’t want the flavor of the oil to take center stage. In the recipe below, massaging raw cabbage with rice bran oil also softens the assertive texture and flavor. Soaking the cashews overnight yields greater creaminess in the dressing; if you haven’t soaked your cashews, just add a little extra water and rice bran oil instead. Dried mango makes a beautiful, colorful addition to this salad as well.

Rainbow Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing and Spiced Pecans
Serves 4 to 6

1 small head purple cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)
2 teaspoons rice bran oil
6 cups baby spinach leaves
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 large Asian pear, cored and diced
Spiced pecans
1 tablespoon rice bran oil
1/4 cup pecans
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 teaspoons coconut sugar or unrefined cane sugar
1/2 cup cashews, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons rice bran oil
1 medium lime, juiced
2 teaspoons honey

  1. Place cabbage in a mixing bowl and drizzle lightly with 2 teaspoons rice bran oil. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and massage with hands. Set aside.
  2. Make spiced nuts: heat 1 tablespoon rice bran oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add pecans and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden and fragrant, tossing and stirring almost constantly. Sprinkle with cumin, cayenne, coconut sugar, sea salt and black pepper; toss to coat, and cook for a few seconds longer. Transfer to a sheet of parchment or a baking sheet, and spread in a single layer to cool.
  3. Make dressing: combine cashews with oil, honey, lime juice and 2 tablespoons water. Starting on low, puree mixture, gradually increasing speed until dressing is smooth and creamy (2 to 3 minutes), scraping down sides as needed.
  4. To assemble salad, add spinach, scallions and dried cranberries to bowl with red cabbage, and toss to mix. Add just enough dressing to lightly coat ingredients, and mix well. Gently fold in Asian pears. Divide between individual plates, scatter pecans over, and serve immediately.

AVOCADO OIL: Avocado oil has a light, clean flavor and an extremely high content of monounsaturated fats, and is a great choice for salad dressing when the taste of olive oil would overwhelm. It also has an extremely high smoke point, making it a good candidate for high-heat cooking as well. This recipe uses macadamia nuts, but if they’re pricey or hard to find, substitute cashews or walnuts. Scatter edible violas over the top of this beautiful salad for an extra touch.

Endive, Avocado and Ruby Grapefruit Salad with Avocado-Berry Dressing
Serves 4

1 medium ruby grapefruit
2 large heads Belgian endive
2 cups packed baby arugula leaves
1/4 cup unrefined avocado oil
3 tablespoons blackberry fruit spread or preserves (substitute raspberry)
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 large ripe but firm avocado, pitted, peeled and sliced lengthwise
1/3 cup toasted macadamia nuts

  1. Grate 1 teaspoon zest from grapefruit skin; set zest aside. Supreme the grapefruits: using a sharp knife, cut off the peel and all of the white pith from one grapefruit. Holding the grapefruit over a bowl to catch the juice, cut segments away from the membrane and transfer them to a plate.  Once all segments have been removed from membrane, squeeze any remaining juice from the membrane into the bowl. Repeat with second grapefruit.
  2. Remove any blemished exterior leaves from endive. Cut off 1 inch from the bottom and separate leaves (when you reach the small interior where leaves no longer separate, quarter it). Combine in a bowl with arugula.
  3. Combine 3 tablespoons grapefruit juice with reserved zest, avocado oil, jam and shallot in blender. Puree until smooth. Season with sea salt, white pepper and cayenne pepper.
  4. To serve, add grapefruit sections, avocado and nuts to salad; add enough dressing to lightly coat and toss gently to mix. Divide salad between four plates and serve.

COCONUT OIL: In this creamy vegan soup, coconut oil adds richness without dairy and blends perfectly with coconut milk and the flavors of curry, ginger and lemongrass. Refined coconut oil also has a high enough smoke point to stand up to light roasting. When you roast the mushrooms, be sure to spread them in a single layer on the pan, so they crisp up nicely instead of steaming.

Red Curry Cauliflower Soup
Serves 6

4 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons minced ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
2 to 3 cups vegetable broth
3 cups chopped cauliflower (substitute frozen and thawed)
3 small carrots, chopped
2 kafir lime leaves (substitute 2 teaspoons lime zest)
1 4- to 5-inch lemongrass stalk
2 cups shiitake mushroom caps, sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped basil leaves

  1. In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan, heat coconut oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened but not browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and curry, and cook for 1 minutes, stirring. Stir in coconut milk, 2 cups of broth, cauliflower, carrots and lime leaves. Cut stem end from lemongrass and remove outer layer. Smash lemongrass with a knife to slightly crush it, and add to pot. Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, until cauliflower is soft.
  2. While soup is cooking, preheat oven to 400. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons coconut oil. Arrange mushrooms on a baking sheet and pour oil evenly over. Mix with hands to coat and spread in a single layer; sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Roast until browned and crispy, 12 to 15 minutes, being careful not to burn. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
  3. Remove and discard lemongrass and lime leaves from soup. Puree soup in batches, until creamy and smooth, adding remaining stock as needed to reach desired consistency. Return to pot and stir in cilantro and basil.
  4. To serve, divide soup between four individual bowls. Garnish with mushrooms, and serve hot.

PEANUT OIL: Peanut oil  is the classic choice for Chinese stir-fry dishes. Its high smoke point and heat-stable monounsaturated fat profile make it an ideal candidate for high-temperature wok cooking. Chinese long beans are available at Asian and international markets, and at some large grocery stores. If you can’t find them, green beans make a good substitute.

Spicy Beef and Chinese Long Beans
Serves 4

1 pound Chinese long beans (substitute green beans)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 pound beef fajita strips
4 medium red Fresno peppers, sliced crosswise (substitute 1 small red bell pepper, cut into strips)
1 small Thai chili or 1 serrano pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 small shallots, thinly sliced crosswise
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium tamari
1/3 cup skinless roasted peanuts, chopped

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and fill a large bowl with cold water and ice. Drop beans into boiling water and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until crisp-tender. (If you’re substituting thin green beans, cook them for 2 to 3 minutes, depending on thickness.) Remove beans with tongs and drop into a bowl of cold water; drain and pat dry, then cut into 2-inch pieces on a strong diagonal.
  2. Heat oil over medium-high in a wok or deep saute pan; add beef and brown on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes. Add beans, Fresno peppers, Thai peppers, garlic, shallots and tamari. Cook for 2 minutes, until beef is cooked through and vegetables are hot, turning with tongs. Taste and adjust tamari, and season with pepper.
  3. To serve, divide mixture between four plates, and sprinkle with peanuts. Serve hot, with cooked brown rice on the side.

GRAPESEED OIL: Grapeseed oil is the classic neutral oil for mayonnaise, and this vegan version lends itself to many variations. Chipotles mask the green hue of grapeseed, but you can play up the color as well: eliminate the chipotle and substitute tarragon or basil leaves instead, or make a citrus mayonnaise by using lime juice in place of the vinegar. Or thin this version with additional oil and vinegar to make a creamy salad dressing. In spite of its high smoke point, grapeseed oil shouldn’t be heated to high temperatures; it’s high in polyunsaturated fats, which are easily damaged by heat.

Vegan Chipotle Mayonnaise
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8 ounces silken tofu
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon honey
1 small chipotle pepper
1 garlic clove, pressed in a garlic press

  1. Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor, and puree until very smooth and creamy, scraping down sides as needed (2 to 4 minutes).
  2. Taste and adjust honey and/or vinegar if needed, and season to taste with sea salt and white or black pepper. Store in a small glass jar for up to 10 days.

SESAME OIL: The light, nutty flavor of sesame oil pairs perfectly with the Asian flavors of sesame seeds, cilantro and tamari, and has a moderate smoke point that stands up to quick sautéing.This recipes also uses toasted sesame oil (also called Asian sesame oil), which is made from toasted sesame seeds and has a strong, rich flavor; use it sparingly, to avoid overpowering the sauce. You’ll find rice paper wrappers and red chili oil in the international section of your grocery store, or at Asian markets. Rice paper wrappers can be tricky to work with, so make sure you have enough to discard any that tear.

Spring Rolls with Sesame-Orange Dipping Sauce
Serves 4 to 6 (makes 12 rolls)

3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 pound medium (40 to 50 count) shrimp, peeled, deveined and halved lengthwise
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili oil
1 orange
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons grated ginger root
1 teaspoon tamari
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds (substitute brown sesame seeds)
2 small carrots, shredded
1 1/2 cups shredded green cabbage
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 small bunch scallions (white and pale green parts), chopped small
12 8-inch rice paper wrappers

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp, garlic and red chili oil; toss to mix and cook, stirring and tossing, for 1 to 2 minutes, until shrimp are just cooked through. Remove from heat, season to taste with sea salt and pepper, and set aside to cool.
  2. While shrimp are cooling, make dipping sauce: zest one teaspoon of zest from outside of orange and juice orange. In a small bowl, whisk together juice, zest, remaining 2 tablespoons sesame oil, honey, ginger, tamari, toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds. Set aside. Combine carrots, cabbage, cilantro and scallions in a bowl; set aside.
  3. Fill a bowl with hot water and, using tongs, dip one rice paper wrapper into the water for 30 seconds to soften. Remove wrapper from water and place on a clean, lint-free towel. Repeat with remaining wrappers. (If wrappers stiffen before rolling, dip again in hot water to soften.)
  4. To assemble rolls, stir cooked and cooled shrimp into the bowl of cabbage and carrot mixture, scraping oil and garlic from the bottom of the pan and into the bowl. Mound about 1/3 cup of the mixture in the center of one wrapper. Fold bottom edge of wrapper over filling, roll halfway up, fold sides in, and continue rolling. Arrange, seam side down, on a serving platter. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. Serve immediately, with dipping sauce on the side.

ALMOND OIL: The light, clean flavor of almond oil makes it a great substitute for canola oil in baking; it also has a high smoke point that makes it a good choice for sautéed foods as well. Use a little almond oil to coat your knife before chopping the figs, to prevent them from sticking; when the cookies have cooked, dip them in melted bittersweet chocolate for an extra-special treat.

Almond-Fig Soft Biscotti
Makes about 12 biscotti

1/2 cup chopped almonds
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup coconut or palm sugar (substitute brown sugar or Sucanat)
3/4 cup evaporated cane juice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 eggs
2 tablespoons almond oil
2 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1/2 cup dried figs, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces

  1. Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet or jellyroll pan with parchment Heat a small skillet over medium heat and toast almonds for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden. Transfer to a plate to cool.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugars, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat 2 of the eggs with almond oil and almond extract. Stir wet ingredients into dry to make a thick batter (batter should be very stiff, but still sticky); stir in figs, but don’t overmix.
  3. Roll batter into two logs, about 5 inches long by 2 inches wide, and arrange on baking sheet, leaving 2 to 3 inches between. Bake until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for 5 minutes. Using a very sharp knife, cut on a slight diagonal into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Serve warm, or let cool completely and store in an air-tight container.

TEA SEED OIL: Long used in Asian cooking, tea seed oil comes from the seed of the Camilla sinensis plant—the  tea plant. It has the highest monounsaturated fat content of any plant oil, and a smoke point that withstands frying and other very high heat applications. It’s gaining popularity, but if you can’t find it, rice bran oil is a great substitute. In this recipe, ice water and minimal mixing are key to a light, crispy batter that doesn’t get oily or soggy; if you don’t think you’ll work fast enough to keep the batter cold, mix half at a time. Pressing the tofu removes excess water, but be careful not to add too much weight on top of the tofu or you’ll crumble it.

Tofu and Vegetable Tempura with Ginger-Lime Dipping Sauce
Serves 4

8 ounces extra-firm or hard tofu
2 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped ginger
2 large garlic cloves, chopped small
1 serrano pepper, chopped small (remove seeds for less spiciness)
2 limes
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons tamari
1 head broccoli
1 medium red bell pepper
1 medium yellow bell pepper
2 large carrots
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 cups ice water
1/8 teaspon sea salt
1/4 teaspon black pepper

  1. Place tofu block on a wooden cutting board lined with several layers of paper towels. Cover with several more layers of paper towels. Place a weight (about a 2-inch-thick cookbook or a heavy skillet) on top of the tofu and let stand for 1 hour.
  2. Make dipping sauce: combine ginger, garlic, serrano pepper, lime juice, honey and tamari in a blender. Puree until well-blended and finely chopped, about a minute. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate.
  3. While water is pressing out of tofu, cut stem from broccoli and reserve for another use. Cut broccoli into large florets. Cut peppers into strips about 1 1/2-inches wide. Cut carrots crosswise into pieces 3 inches long, then quarter each of those pieces lengthwise.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large mixing bowl with ice and water. Drop broccoli into boiling water for 1 minute to blanch; remove with tongs and drop into ice bath. Repeat with peppers and carrots. When all vegetables have cooled in ice bath, strain and pat dry. Remove tofu from pressing board, and cut into 1-inch cubes. Line a baking sheet with paper towels nod set aside.
  5. Pour 3 inches of oil into a deep skillet and heat until temperature reaches 325. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine flour, ice water, salt and pepper, and stir until just mixed; don’t over mix (some small lumps will remain). Working quickly and using tongs or chopsticks, dip vegetables one at a time into batter, letting excess drip off, then carefully lower into hot oil. Cook, turning occasionally, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes, and transfer to prepared baking sheet to drain.
  6. To serve, arrange all vegetables on a platter and serve immediately, with dipping sauce on the side.

HEMP OIL: Hemp oil has a rich, nutty flavor and beautiful green color that make it the perfect counterpoint to this creamy, spicy polenta. It’s high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, but has a very low smoke point, and should never be heated. Reserve it for drizzling over cooked foods. For more color and nutrition, “saute” shredded spinach in a tiny amount of broth, then toss with hemp oil and serve on top of polenta.

Pumpkin Polenta with Pumpkin Seeds and Hemp Oil
Serves 4 to 6

4 cups chicken broth
1 cup polenta
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (substitute canned)
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 chipotle chili, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2  teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
2 to 3 tablespoons hemp oil

  1. Bring broth to a boil in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan. Add polenta in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Reduce heat and cook, covered, until polenta is tender, 15 minutes.
  2. Stir in pumpkin, garlic, chipotle, onion, cumin and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes longer, until polenta is very thick and creamy. Add additional broth or water if needed. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
  3. To serve, stir 2 tablespoons hemp oil into polenta. Drizzle with additional oil just before serving, and serve hot.

FLAX OIL: Flax oil adds a nutty flavor and lots of omega-3 fats, in this simple, nutty take on Waldorf salad. Flax oil has a very low smoke point and should never be heated, so it’s great for salad dressings and paired with grains. When you’re toasting the seeds, residual heat from hot skillet is sufficient to toast the seeds, without damaging the oils. You can also use pears, dried cranberries and basil in this salad, for a different but equally delicious flavor profile.

Wheatberry, Walnut and Flaxseed Salad
Serves 4 to 6

1 cups uncooked wheat berries
1/4 cup flax seed oil
1/2 lemon, juiced and zested
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons flax seeds
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 celery stalks, cut in a small dice
1 small red-skinned apple, unpeeled, cored and cut in a small dice
1/3 cup dried currants
1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons minced tarragon
2 ounces goat feta (optional)

  1. Combine wheat berries and water to cover by 2 inches in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook on a high simmer, partly covered, for about 1 hour. Drain and set aside to cool.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flax seed oil, lemon juice and honey. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a small skillet over medium-low heat and toast walnuts, shaking and stirring frequently until lightly toasted. Transfer walnuts to a plate and add flax seeds to hot skillet (don’t return skillet to the stove); shake skillet until flax seeds begin to pop. If the pan has cooled down, put it on the stove on the lowest possible heat, and remove immediately when flax seeds start to pop. Transfer flax seeds to plate with walnuts.
  4. In a large salad bowl, combine cooled wheat berries, scallions, celery, apples, currants, parsley and tarragon, if using, and stir to mix. Pour dressing over, and mix well. Stir in walnuts, flax seeds and goat cheese, if using
  5. To serve, divide salad between individual plates and serve immediately, or refrigerate for 2 hours and serve chilled.