We are all cooking from our pantries right now, avoiding the grocery store if at all possible. Most of us are in some kind of forced isolation at home, cooking many more meals than before. Some of you may even be cooking for the first time. How are you doing? If you don’t live in a Fresh Foods or equivalent delivery area, you may have difficulty finding a recipe that exactly matches what you have in your cupboard or pantry. Or your pantry doesn’t contain the exact ingredient you may need for a recipe. Do not despair, there are substitutions that can be made. The recipe will still be delicious if you don’t have creme fraiche and substitute yogurt or half and half with a teaspoon of vinegar.
Sam Sifton from the New York Times has a wonderful article on their blog this morning. It admonishes us to be confident. When it comes to cooking, be brave and inventive. If a recipe calls for an acid you can substitute almost any acid…lemon juice, vinegar of almost any kind including unsweetened rice-wine, lime juice, or orange juice. For maple syrup, you could deploy honey or molasses, agave nectar or corn syrup. They all taste different, to be sure. But they act the same. If you need a bitter green such as escarole, any other bitter green will can fill in…arugula, watercress, or any other member of the chicory family. Kale, chard, and baby spinach are all interchangeable and only the cooking times are different.
Do not worry greatly about making the one correct substitution. Instead, think generally and taste as you go. Acids swap for acids. Sweets for sweets. Fire for fire. Texture for texture. The results of substituting ingredients can be magical, and they make the recipe your own.
Who knows, you may come up with a new family favorite.
If you have any substitution questions, email me or comment on this blog and I will come up with some ideas for you. Don’t let the lack of an ingredient keep you from a recipe you want to try.
And if you are wondering what you should stock in a basic pantry, this post might give you some ideas.
Be safe, be well, stay in touch.