How to Make Good Substitutions

Aug 22

Often a recipe will call for an ingredient that you either don’t have or cannot find. Then you are faced with a perplexing challenge. Do you still make the recipe or do you jump ship and find something else to make? I say, make the recipe. There is always a way to make a recipe with substitutions and still come out with something great to eat. Certain items are easy to replace. Leeks for instance or shallots can always be replaced with onions. Look for an onion with a high sugar content, like a red onion or a vidalia and you’ll still end up with the sweet onion flavor appropriate for a dish. Don’t have garlic around, use some garlic powder and you’ll be just fine. Something call for Herbes de Provence but you can’t find it, use Italian Seasoning. It’s always available at any grocery store and it’ll still give you a complexity of flavor you are looking for. Fresh herbs can always be replaced by dried in a smaller quantity. Generally the ratio is to use half the dried in relation to the fresh recommended. Don’t have heavy cream?? You can use sour cream or you can use milk. Don’t have buttermilk?? You can take a cup of milk and add 1 Tbl of distilled vinegar and let it sit for 10 mins. Don’t have butter, you can substitute shortening or olive oil and vice versa. Don’t have chilli paste or Tabasco, use Cayenne Pepper and vice versa. The key is to determine what purpose the ingredient serves in the dish. Is it a flavor component, like an herb or spice?? Is it an acid component, like vinegar or lemon juice?? Is it a thickener, like flour or cornstarch?? Is it intended to make something creamy, like milk or sour cream?? Asking yourself these questions when you approach a recipe can make all the difference in finding an appropriate substitute. And if all else fails, you can always send me a note and I’d be happy to offer some good suggestions. Bottom line, don’t ever be scared. Cooking should be fun and easy. If you are intimidated by a recipe, find ways to make it less intimidating by using ingredients you are familiar with and never be afraid to try something new. The worst that can happen is that you learn something new in the process and have some fun doing it!

2 Responses

  1. Dennis says:

    Monica,

    This entry brought to mind a cook book that was reviewed on NPR earlier this year. It is called “Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking” by Michael Ruhlman. His premise is that there are certain ratios that are constant for cooking.

    For example: 3:2:1 — three parts flour, two parts fat (like butter) and one part water — makes a basic pie crust. Add a dash of salt, and it’s a savory base for a quiche. Add some sugar, and you’ve got a shell for cherries, chocolate cream or fresh peaches.

    The ratio for bread: 5 parts flour : 3 parts
    water.

    Among the most common ratios is that for a standard vinaigrette. Couldn’t be simpler: 3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar.

    Later,
    Dennis Hall

  2. Michael was just on the Food Network as a judge for one of the competitions. He is a legend in food writing. I’ll have to pick this one up. Thanks for the info.

    Monika

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