OIL WATER SPRAY
Fill a clean, new plant mister or small plastic scent spray seven eighths with water and one eighth with good oil. To use, just shake and spray. This gives you a light even misting of oil and water (in the heat of cooking the water evaporates, leaving a hint of oil), just enough to do the job. Keep a spray bottle for olive oil, one for sunflower oil, and one for sesame oil (for seasoning Oriental dishes).
Roasted Aubergine: Use the roughly chopped pulp of an aubergine to "stretch" very lean ground meat in meatballs, chilli, lasagne and so on, and to improve its texture. Very lean ground meat can be dry and bitty; the aubergine makes it moist and juicy.
1 Preheat the oven to 400F, 200C, Gas Mark 7.
2 Pierce the aubergines in several places with a fork or thin skewer. Roast directly on the oven rack for 30-40 minutes, until soft and collapsed. Cool.
3 Cut away the stem, strip off and discard the skins, and roughly chop (If the clumps of seeds are large and tough they may be discarded.)
How to sauté without fats and oils (especially butter and olive oil)? Substitute good stock - or even better, stock and wine - for the fat or oil. Make your own fat-free stock (chicken, vegetable or fish - depending on the recipe) or buy those excellent little pots of stock now available in the chill cabinet of many supermarkets. The little pots can be diluted with water to 3 times their volume. Keep in the freezer, then defrost (approx. 5 minutes in the microwave) when needed. An alternative is excellent quality Swiss Bouillon powder, available in many whole food and health food shops. Do avoid stock cubes. Their fat content is too high, and they tend to be salty and overseasoned.
To sauté, put onions and garlic in the pan, pour in about 300 ml (1/2 pint ) stock and a few ounces of dry wine (red, white, vermouth or sherry, depending on the recipe) and bring to a boil. Simmer briskly, covered, for 7-10 minutes, then uncover and simmer briskly for a few minutes more, until the onions and garlic are meltingly tender, and "frying" in their own juices. If they catch and brown a bit, deglaze the pan with a splash of stock and wine and scrape up the browned bits with a wooden spoon or spatula - this deepens the colour, and intensifies the flavour. Red onions, yellow onions, leeks and spring onions (for speed and great delicacy) can be sautéed this way.
FLAVOUR INFUSION for deep taste make a flavour infusion of the basic sauté, by adding flavour ingredients - chopped dry-pack sundried tomatoes (for ease, chop them with kitchen scissors), slivered black olives (use vacuum- packed or brine-packed black olives - not oil-packed - and always on the stone. Pre-stoned olives tend to be flabby, and canned olives are invariably tasteless). Two or three olives add glorious flavour for a fraction of the calories and fat grams of olive oil, 4 olives will provide 2 grams of fat and 19 Calories, a tablespoon of olive oil contains 120 Calories and 14 grams of fat. To your flavour infusion, you can also add spices, chopped chillies or dried red chilli flakes, or a dash or 2 of Tabasco, as well as a dash of Worcestershire sauce, or - for mushroom cookery (see below) - a dash of Teriyaki or soy sauce. And various extra vegetables can be added to the basic sauté: chopped carrots, peeled, chopped peppers, chopped fennel, and so on.
COOKING WITH YOGURT
Very low-fat yogurt separates when heated - if you try using it in a sauce, you invariably end up with a curdled mess. I've seen recipes that suggest that the yogurt be stabilized with corn flour or egg white but I find the finished sauce unsatisfactory with these methods. One way of reducing the yogurt's tendency to curdle is to drain it: Line a sieve with a double layer of muslin (cheesecloth), a blue J cloth or a jelly bag, and place over a deep bowl. Pour the yogurt into the sieve, fold the cloth over the top and refrigerate overnight. (If you are draining yogurt for use in a raita or a dip, refrigerate for 2-3 hours only). The next day, drain the liquid from the bowl (it can be used as part of the liquid in bread baking), and rinse and dry the bowl and scrape the drained yogurt into the bowl. Refrigerate until needed. Another trick is to stir mustard into yogurt, (and sometimes - for colour and smoky flavour - a pureed grilled pepper as well). The mustard stabilizes the yogurt so that you can stir it into a sauce at the end of a recipe and simmer it gently until smooth and thickened. Also, yogurt/mustard makes a wonderful coating for pork cutlets, fish, aubergine (egg plant) and courgette (zucchini) slices; they can then be grill-"fried". Dredge in the yogurt/mustard (mixed with pureed grilled pepper if you wish), coat with crumbs (or crumbs and Parmesan cheese) and grill until golden. The yogurt protects the meat, fish, fowl or veg and keeps it moist, the mustard keeps it from curdling and adds delicious taste. For a sauce, blend the yogurt, mustard, pepper in the blender. Blending thins it down to a good consistency for finishing sauces. For coating, just whisk it lightly together with a fork, so that it stays nice and thick.