Well oiled

2011-09-03 13:44

What began as an impulse foodie buy at a food expo, was the start of an ongoing kitchen experiment – cooking in an array of unusual fruit, seed and nut oils.

Best of all it was discovering that each adds a unique twist to a dish – infused avocado oils for salad dressings and to brown meat, coconut oil to lay down the foundations of a fresh coconut stir-fry with coconut rice, apricot kernel oil for a fruity hint in a cabbage and sausage casserole, and sesame oil for that eastern flavour, especially when paired with hot chilli and macadamia nut oil over salad or vegetables for a robustnutty flavour.

Here are five oily options to get you started:

Avocado oil is thick and unctuous, delicious in salad dressings as a substitute for the now ubiquitous olive oil.

The best thing about it though is that it has a very high smoking point, which means that you can get your wok or frying pan really hot before cooking, so it’s an ideal stir-fry oil.

Also, it is a great carrier of flavour, which is why the ones in my cupboard are all infused.

The chilli-infused one is surprisingly hot and I have learned to use it sparingly, especially if the recipe also calls for fresh chilli.

I also never go without the garlic-infused oil, which I use liberally for everything.

For those who worry about the health implications, the good news is that it is low in saturated fat, has no cholesterol and is high in vitamin E.

As a child I remember slapping coconut oil all over my hair, wrapping it in a towel and sleeping like that. I never thought the stuff was edible.

In India, the southerners cook with it while the northerners laugh at them and put it on their hair.

Having recently discovered how delicious it is, I too now cook with it. The smell of coconut fills the air as dinner cooks.

The oil comes in a jar as a white-coloured solid and to melt it, you have to put the jar in a cup of hot water, or add it by the spoonful to a hot pan. Its high smoking point makes it ideal for stir-frying too.

As far as the health benefits go, they are huge, due – according to organicfacts.net – to a trio of acids that provide it with its antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal and antibacterial properties.

Apricot kernel
I picked up the apricot kernel oil on another food shopping whim. It turned out to have a fruity echo at the back of the palate and works well with the cabbage dish I regularly cook.

It lays down a slightly sweet tang that permeates the meal and adds an extra taste element to what is effectively a sausage and cabbage casserole.

As for the health benefits, you guessed it, they are also phenomenal. The oil is good for earache, weirdly enough, though organicfacts.net doesn’t say how you administer it.

Also, you can rub the oil into your skin to soften it. It’s easily absorbed and relieves ailments such as eczema.

According to Wikipedia sesame oil is one of earliest known crop-based oil, which isn’t very surprising given how delicious it is.

It’s also very versatile. Most associated with Japanese and Chinese food, it immediately gives dinner an Eastern bent as soon as you get a whiff of it. It works well for dressings and marinades, especially the oil made from roasted sesame seeds.

It too has a high smoking point, making it good for stir-frying.

Both the seeds and the oil have a long history in medicine and Ayurvedic drugs make use of the oil.

It is also used extensively for massage and there are claims it might help with lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, though the jury’s still out.

Either way the culinary gains are so vast, that the health benefits need only be a cherry on top.

Macadamia oil is made from the nut of a native Australian tree.

There’s nothing more delicious than a bag of salted macadamia nuts and the oil is another that works well as a salad oil alternative as well as for frying.

If you are making something that requires a nutty flavour, then a nut oil is what you want.

Full of monounsaturated fats, it also has a high smoking point and a shelf life of a couple of years – all of which have made it a favourite with chefs, especially the hoard of Australian ones.

You can get all these oils fairly easily in the supermarket and at the Good Food and Wine show from September 22 to 25, in Joburg.

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