Topic 3 Cooking with Vegetable Fats: Sofrito and Sautéing

Another way to cook vegetables in a healthy way is to use the sofrito technique. This is a long cooking technique. The vegetables are cooked gently in a little fat until they are cooked through and take on some colour. An example is the sofrito of tomato and onion, with or without garlic. This sofrito serves as a base for many preparations. Making a sofrito with extra virgin olive oil is part of the Mediterranean diet. It is a very healthy technique as it increases the availability of phenolic compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Sometimes aromatic herbs, such as thyme or rosemary, are added to this stir-fry, which further reinforces its healthy potential.

Activity: Try to make a sofrito at home with olive oil, tomato, and vegetables such as onion, garlic, red pepper and green pepper.

Extra virgin olive oil improves taste and acceptability and this may be an important reason for the high levels of vegetable consumption in Mediterranean countries. Olive oil is also rich in polyphenols with anti-inflammatory properties. However, the variety and quantity of these polyphenols depends on the type of olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil contains up to 36 types of phenolic compounds in much higher levels than olive oil. Phenolic compounds are affected by their exposure to heat. For example, oleuropein can be reduced by up to 80% when fried with EVOO. However, hydroxytyrosol or oleocanthal are quite resistant to the high temperatures reached when frying with EVOO (up to 180ºC).

QUESTION: Is raw olive oil healthier than cooked olive oil? A) Yes B) No

Most prospective epidemiological studies have not distinguished between raw and cooked olive oil. The PREDIMED study, a pivotal intervention study on the beneficial effect of the Mediterranean diet, promoted the consumption of both raw and cooked extra virgin olive oil and demonstrated a 30% reduction in cardiovascular risk compared to a control group. However, the type of olive oil, the frying technique, the duration and temperature of frying and new or reused oils should be controlled.

Another technique for eating vegetables is sautéing. Sautéing is a quick cooking technique that requires high heat, low fat, and small amounts of vegetables cut into similar sizes. The aim is to keep the vegetables juicy, so they are subjected to high temperatures for a relatively short time. It is also important to keep the vegetables constantly moving so that they cook evenly. Normally a wok is used as it has higher sides than a normal frying pan. In addition to the fat, you can add some sauces such as soy sauce, preferably low in sodium.

Oven roasted vegetables can also be delicious. It is a technique that uses dry heat so the important thing is that the moisture is kept inside the vegetables. Let’s not forget that vegetables have a very high percentage of water. For example, around 90% of carrots are water. If they lose too much water, the vegetables dry out and shrivel. Sometimes they are first subjected to a pre-cooking technique such as steaming or simmering (45 and 65ºC) to prevent the vegetables from losing water and wilting. One way is to cover them during cooking in the oven to prevent moisture loss for about 10-15 minutes and then roast them uncovered until they are tender and their edges begin to brown (for another 35-40 minutes or so).

Recipes: These videos show how to make a sofrito, a wok with vegetables and roast pumpkin

1. Sofrito

2. Wok

3. Roast pumpkin