When It Comes to Oils, Be Unrefined!

walnut-oil-salad-with-onion-beet-and-figYing and yang, night and day, refined oils and unrefined oils. They’re all polar opposites. But while ying and yang are equal halves of a whole and night is just as beautiful as day, refined oils are nowhere near the equivalent of their unrefined counterparts, neither in terms of flavor nor nutritive value. Refined oils have been harshly treated and have therefore lost their flavor, aroma, and much of their positive nutritional attributes. Unrefined oils are so flavorful and aromatic that a few drops of them goes a long way. Unrefined oils also have a wealth of macro- and micronutrients to offer, from the omega 3 fats in flaxseed oil to the sky-high levels of beta-carotene in red palm oil. (An “oil,” by the way, is defined as a fat that’s liquid at 76ish degrees F. “Fats” are solid; think butter and lard.)

Here’s a simple way to remember what type of oils is suited to do what, bearing in mind that all oils are a combination of types of fats. When I’m referring to an oil as a “type” of oil, I mean that particular oil is mostly made up of either polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, or saturated fat. One quick glance at the fat information on an oil’s Nutrition Data label will tell you what “type” of oil it is.

  • Polyunsaturated fats like walnut and flaxseed: use for salad dressings, finishing touches, dips for bread, topping on pancakes/waffles, or any cold-temperature setting; do NOT cook with these oils!
  • Monounsaturated oils like extra-virgin olive oil and peanut oil are suitable for cold settings or for medium-low cooking (generally up to 350F).
  • Saturated fats like butter, ghee, and coconut oil are suitable for low-, medium-, or high-heat cooking. Ghee (essentially clarified butter) is your best best for high heat – not only can it handle some serious stove action, it also imparts a lush extra-buttery flavor to whatever you’re making.

Always be sure to check the label to make sure the oil actually IS unrefined. It will either say “extra-virgin” (mostly in the case of olive oil, although I’m seeing that designation used with coconut oil as well) or “unrefined.” Oils that are expeller- or cold-pressed may or may not go on to be further refined, so that’s not a 100% sure way to tell.

For this salad, I drizzled it with unrefined walnut oil. Talk about an easy way to add the rich flavor of walnuts to your salad! The nuttiness was the ideal backdrop for the sweetly caramelized onions, the juicy fresh figs, and the spicy gingered beets.

Beet & Fig Salad Dressed with Walnut Oil
Serves 2, but can be easily doubled or tripled.

1 medium onion (yellow, white, or sweet), sliced into thin rounds
Fresh mixed greens
Unrefined walnut oil
Cider vinegar
2 fresh figs, quartered
About 2 medium beets, sliced and boiled/roasted (either jarred or roasted in a 350F oven for 30 minutes or until they’re soft in the center and beginning to brown and crisp around the edges); I used pickled jarred beets that were spiced with ginger

Sautée onions in a pat of butter or ghee (or a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil) over medium-low heat for a good 20 minutes – you want them thoroughly browned and softened. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.

When the onions are ready, toss greens with a dash of walnut oil and vinegar. I like to use my biggest mixing bowl and a pair of wooden spoons to give myself plenty of room and make the tossing fun instead of awkward. Plate the greens and then top them with the figs, beets, and caramelized onions, adding a dash of sea salt and a few grinds of pepper if you like.  (If you’re using spiced beets, that may be all the seasoning you need.)


Courtesy of Cultured Cook.

You may also like:

Making Baking Even Easier

A Toast to Coconut

The Magic of Beetroot Juice

© Copyright 2011  Allison Stuart Kaplan  www.Askinyourface.com LLC

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  1. I am wondering where do you find unrefined oils. I shop at Publix’s and I am sure that they do not have it on their shelves.

    • You are probably right about Publix. I have the best luck at a Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Wild Oats or any other health food type of market. If all else fails you can always purchase what you need online. Hope this helps. Thank you for your comments and question! ASK

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