The next time you’re missing an ingredient in a recipe, don’t panic.
The next time you’re missing an ingredient in a recipe, don’t panic. Many recipes are flexible and will still come out delicious when you improvise. Plus, many non-vegetarian recipes can be tweaked to create a new veg version.
Use our chart below as a starting point, and start asking yourself questions such as: What do I really want this dish to taste like? What textures do I like? Why did the recipe developer put all of these ingredients in here, anyway? Here are some general guidelines about making substitutions in recipes:
Try to keep ingredients within the same ethnic category. Ethnic flavor combinations have been developed over centuries and blend together naturally. If you are making over a Mexican dish without meat, use traditional Mexican proteins and starches such as pinto beans, black beans, and posole (hominy), not Asian mung beans or Indian lentils.
Dissect the basic flavors of the dish. If you’re missing a certain flavoring, ask yourself if it is basically sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or spicy? Think of something from your cupboard in the same category.
Substituting starches and proteins makes less of a difference in overall taste than spices and flavorings.
Try the pantry approach to cooking: If you find yourself continually missing key ingredients, analyze your pantry and consider restocking it.
Assemble complementary herbs, spices and flavoring in groupings in your pantry. That way, when you are experimenting with a dish—Italian, for example—your Italian seasonings such as basil, parsley, garlic, and oregano will be grouped together, and you can substitute accordingly.
Keep staples such as flours, oils, beans, and grains on hand so you don’t have to run out to the store at the last minute.