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How to make your own oil-free marinara

Marinara is a staple in our kitchen. We eat it every single day with pasta, rice, or potatoes. It’s that good!

Instead of buying pre-made marinara, I prefer to make it myself. This way I can ensure the sauce is oil-free and free from refined sugar. A healthy homemade marinara is quick and easy, I promise you. In under 30 minutes, you can have homemade marinara and pasta (or rice) ready to go for your lunch or dinner, and you’ll even have leftovers for the following day.

Let’s get cooking

To create your own marinara, you need:

  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • Fresh or frozen vegetables. Try bell pepper, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, or winter squash. You can use any veggies you like. Lately, we’ve been using a 450-gram bag of frozen carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower. Easy!
  • Your favourite seasonings. Usually, I use a bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, and freshly cracked black pepper to season our sauce. Any seasoning will work, though. I even tried throwing in some ground cumin and coriander and it tasted good too.

The following ingredients are optional but very tasty. Feel free to include some or all of them depending on how hungry you are. 😉

  • Diced onion or garlic (minced fresh or powdered). – We like to include onion in our sauce every few days or so.
  • Sliced mushrooms. – If you love mushrooms, cool! If you don’t, you can omit them. They make the sauce rich and add a nice texture.
  • Canned corn or peas. – You can use fresh ones if you prefer, but canned ones are quick and delicious.
  • Beans, crumbled tofu, or if you’re feeling extra fancy, try a few veggie beanballs. To me, the sauce is filling without these, but beans can make a nice variation.

Most pre-made marinaras contain a sweetener to offset the acidity of the tomatoes. I prefer using naturally sweet veggies, like corn, peas, or winter squash instead. If the sauce is still too acidic for your palate, try adding a 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of unrefined sweetener to it. A little sweetener goes a long way.

Keep it oil-free

To keep the sauce oil-free, use water or veggie broth to keep your veggies from sticking to the pan. Heat up half a mug’s worth of water in a large, wide-bottomed pan (or a wok, in our case) along with the herbs and seasonings. Once hot, add the onion and mushrooms. Stir them around for a few minutes until the mushrooms shrink and release water, and then add the frozen or fresh veggies, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste. Mix them well and let them simmer on high heat.

Stir them occasionally and let the sauce reduce (i.e. let the water evaporate so it isn’t so juicy) for 10-15 minutes. Add canned peas at the very end, just before you turn off the heat because they are delicate. Otherwise, they’ll be smashed if added in too early. Canned corn can be added in with the other veggies since corn is hearty and won’t break down easily. If you are using something like mashed butternut squash, stir it in with the rest of the veggies as well. If you are using roasted butternut squash chunks (like in my roasted winter squash marinara recipe) and want the chunks to keep their shape, add them in near the end so they don’t break down too much.

So in sum, to make your own oil-free marinara you really just need canned diced tomatoes, a can of tomato paste, your favourite veggies and seasonings. Saute the veggies in a bit of water or veggie stock, stir everything together and simmer for 10-15 minutes. That’s it!

Serve it with pasta, rice, oven-baked chips, boiled or baked potatoes. Garnish it with fresh basil, black pepper, or nutritional yeast. Delicious!

Using these guidelines, we usually end up with enough marinara for four servings. That gives us plenty for lunch AND dinner, or we’ll save the last two servings for the following day. The next day, I usually mix in more veggies (like a can of corn) to fill it out even more. This saves me time so I can work on other things, like writing blog posts or baking cookies…the important stuff!

Feel free to check out my mushroom-pea marinara and my roasted winter squash marinara if you’d like some more guidance before you create your own. Keep in mind, it’s rare that I follow these recipes verbatim. I tend to use whatever veggies we have on hand, and I’ll even change up the seasonings just to try something new. So don’t be afraid to try new things. 🙂

What are your favourite homemade marinara combinations?

By Lisa

In Oct. 2014, I quit my job and started downsizing my life by selling and rehoming all my belongings. Even though I’ve moved around all my life, I officially left the States in Dec. 2015 and have been travelling abroad ever since. I hope to inspire you to simplify your life so you live with intention. I’m an avid writer, videography enthusiast, and a major foodie with a passion for sustainable living.

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