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Smart Substitutions

When you’ve run out of an ingredient—and run out of time to go to the grocery store—turn to these simple substitutions.

In a pinch? Or just looking for a switch? These substitution ideas are great for when you want to mix things up, or you just don’t have an ingredient on hand.

 

Meat, Poultry, Fish

  • If you're having trouble locating veal, other mild tasting meats, such as pork loin or chicken, may be used in its place. Cooking times will be about the same.
  • Although pork loin and pork tenderloin are different cuts of meat, they are quite similar and can often be used interchangeably. However, because tenderloins are smaller, they don't take as long to cook. Adjust the cooking time accordingly.
  • In recipes calling for catfish fillets, it's fine to use an equal amount of other mild white fish fillets, such as tilapia or red snapper. The cooking times will be the same.
  • Meat labeled "beef for stew" is often the trimmings from cutting steaks and roasts. As an alternative, you can also cut a chuck roast into pieces.
  • For recipes calling for cooked chicken, use a rotisserie chicken or turkey breast from the store.
  • Ground beef is classified according to fat content. "Ground beef" is the least expensive and contains up to 30% fat. Flavorful "ground chuck" has 15-20% fat and is great for hamburgers. "Ground round" and "ground sirloin" are the leanest options with about 11% fat.
  • Prosciutto is an Italian air-dried and salt-cured ham. If you have trouble finding it, very thinly sliced deli ham may be used instead.
  • Some old-fashioned recipes call for salt pork, a fatty, salt-preserved portion of pork belly. You can use bacon, ham, or a ham hock in place of the salt pork.
  • If a meat or vegetable marinade calls for 1/2 cup wine and you don't have any, use 1/4 cup red or white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup water and 1 tablespoon sugar.
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Dairy

  • If you only need 1 cup of buttermilk and don't want to buy a whole carton, pour 1 tablespoon distilled or cider vinegar into a measuring cup, then add enough milk to make 1 cup. Let stand 5 minutes before using.
  • If you're out of milk for a recipe and in a pinch, substitute 1/2 cup whole evaporated milk mixed with 1/2 cup water.
  • If you're out of half-and-half, use 1 cup whole milk and 1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter for every cup of half-and-half called for (this substitution is not suitable for using in coffee).
  • Short on an egg for a baking recipe? Substitute 3 tablespoons vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon water for a whole large egg.
  • Use an equal amount of whole milk or half-and-half in place of evaporated milk.
  • One cup of sour cream or buttermilk may be used in place of one cup plain yogurt.
  • If a recipe calls for 1 cup whole milk and all you have is skim milk, combine 1 cup skim milk with 2 tablespoons melted butter.
  • When a recipe calls for Swiss cheese, any of the following may be used: Emmenthal, Gruyere, Swiss, or French Comte.
  • When a recipe calls for Cheddar cheese, any of the following may be used: Colby, Monterey Jack or American.
  • When a recipe calls for Parmesan cheese, any of the following may be used: Pecorino Romano, Asiago or Spanish Manchego.
  • When a recipe calls for Feta cheese, any of the following may be used: Italian ricotta salata, Mexican cotija or a crumbly blue cheese (blue cheese will make the flavor somewhat more pungent).
  • When a recipe calls for Muenster cheese, any of the following may be used: Monterey Jack, Havarti, farmer cheese or Provolone.
  • Substitute sour cream with an equal amount of plain yogurt to cut down on calories and fat.
  • Mascarpone is a mild, creamy cheese used to make tiramisu. If you can't find or don't have it, blend together 1/2 cup softened cream cheese and 1/2 cup sour cream or heavy cream for every cup of mascarpone called for.
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Liquids, Alcohol

  • Apple juice or white grape juice plus a splash of cider or white wine vinegar to taste makes a good stand-in for dry white wine when deglazing pans after searing meat.
  • In recipes calling for dry white wine, use a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris. If a recipe calls for sweet white wine, try a Riesling or Gewürztraminer.
  • In recipes calling for dry red wine, use a Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon or Burgundy.
  • Port's distinctive flavor makes exact substitutions tricky, but if you don't have it, use an equal amount of Madeira or dry vermouth. For a nonalcoholic substitution, use equal parts grape juice and apple juice with 1 or 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar.
  • If a recipe calls for beer, you can use an equal amount of nonalcoholic beer, apple cider or chicken or beef broth instead.
  • Use 1 cup boiling water mixed with 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules in recipes calling for 1 cup brewed coffee.
  • Marsala and Madeira, wines often used in Italian and Spanish cooking, have distinct flavors but can be used interchangeably in recipes. If you don't have either one, substitute with dry sherry.
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Baking

  • Run out of baking powder? Combine 1/4 teaspoon baking soda with 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar.
  • Cornstarch is often used as a thickener for fruit cobbler and pie fillings. If you don't have it, all-purpose flour or quick-cooking tapioca may be used. For each tablespoon of cornstarch called for in the recipe, use 2 tablespoons flour or tapioca.
  • To add a little more fiber to baked goods, it's fine to replace up to one-third of the white all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. (For example, if a recipe calls for 3 cups all-purpose flour, use up to 1 cup whole wheat flour.)
  • To add interesting flavor to French toast or sweet breakfast casseroles, substitute 1/4 cup orange juice for 1/4 cup of the milk used to make the soaking liquid for the bread.
  • If you're out of unsweetened baking chocolate, use 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil for a 1-ounce square of chocolate.
  • If you have a cupboard full of spices, there's no need to buy a special container of pumpkin pie spice. Use 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves for 1 teaspoon pie spice.
  • No need to buy apple pie spice for a recipe. Instead, for each teaspoon of pie spice called for, substitute 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves.
  • Make your own self-rising flour by blending 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour with 1½ teaspoons baking powder and 1/8 teaspoon salt.
  • Use 1 to 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract to flavor recipes calling for a whole vanilla bean.
  • Some cake recipes call for cake flour. If you don't have it on hand, blend 1 cup minus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour with 3 tablespoons cornstarch. The cake won't be quite as tender as it would be with cake flour, but it'll come close.
  • Many old-fashioned pie recipes use lard in the crust, making it super-flaky and crisp. An equal amount of vegetable shortening makes a fine substitute, or half shortening, half butter.
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Vegetables Herbs and Spices

  • You may use dried herbs in place of fresh herbs—simply add about half the amount of dried herbs as fresh (for example, 1 tablespoon fresh herbs equals 1 to 1½ teaspoons dried). The flavor of dried herbs is more concentrated so you don't need as much.
  • Blend 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder with 1 teaspoon white vinegar or water to use in place of 1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard.
  • If you don't have fresh ginger, use 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger for each tablespoon fresh ginger called for in the recipe.
  • Two teaspoons dried Italian herb seasoning equals 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, 1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves.
  • If a recipe calls for tarragon, it's fine to substitute the same amount of basil. They both have a similar, licorice-like flavor.
  • Parsnips are a root vegetable that looks like a white carrot. Although parsnips are sweeter, it's fine to use an equal amount of carrots in place of parsnips in recipes.
  • There are two varieties of parsley: flat-leaf and curly. Flat-leaf is milder tasting than curly, but they may be used interchangeably.
  • Dried sage comes in two forms: rubbed, which is crumbled pieces of dried sage leaves, and ground, which is powdery. They may be used interchangeably, but crush the rubbed sage with your fingers to break up.
  • If a recipe calls for crystallized ginger, substitute an equal amount of minced fresh ginger root or half the amount of ground ginger.
  • Shallots look like small, torpedo-shaped red onions. They have a mild onion flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked. If you don't have shallots, use finely minced red or yellow onion.
  • To make your own version of Cajun or Creole seasoning, combine equal parts paprika, ground black pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano leaves and dried thyme leaves. It's usually fairly spicy, so add cayenne to taste depending on how hot you want to make it.
  • Although the flavor of different dried herbs varies, most can be used interchangeably with each other. So don't worry if you don't have dried basil—swap it out with dried oregano, thyme or marjoram. The dish will still taste terrific.
  • It's fine to use 1/2 a sweet yellow onion in place of 1 bunch of green onions (scallions) in recipes. It's a good idea to sauté the onion in a little vegetable oil first to eliminate any strong taste.
  • Some stew and soup recipes call for adding a bay leaf to the liquid for flavor. But other hearty herbs work well too—try fresh rosemary or thyme sprigs. The flavor will be a little different but still good.
  • Lemongrass is a long, reed-like herb used extensively in Thai cooking. In place of 1 lemongrass stalk, use the minced zest of 1 lemon and 1/8 teaspoon minced fresh ginger.
  • For each teaspoon of poultry seasoning called for in a recipe, substitute 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves and 3/4 teaspoon dried (rubbed) sage.
  • Generally, it's okay to use different hot fresh chiles interchangeably in recipes. Depending on the variety, heat levels vary so you may need more or less than the recipe calls for. Jalapeños and serranos are the mildest (but still spicy); habaneros are the hottest.
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Other Ingredients

  • To make 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, process 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cornstarch in a food processor until sugar is fine.
  • Here's an easy solution if you don't have tomato juice for a recipe: Use 1/2 cup tomato sauce mixed with 1/2 cup water for each cup of tomato juice called for.
  • Don’t have a can of sweetened condensed milk? Mix together 1 cup nonfat dry milk powder with 2/3 cup sugar, 1/2 cup boiling water, and 2 tablespoons melted butter.
  • When a recipe calls for 1 cup light brown sugar, use 1/2 cup dark brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar, or 1 cup granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons molasses.
  • Instant coffee granules may be substituted for instant espresso powder. Use about twice as much coffee granules as espresso powder in the recipe (for example, 2 teaspoons coffee granules in place of 1 teaspoon espresso powder).
  • Out of sugar? Use an equal amount of light brown sugar instead. The flavor of the dish will be a bit deeper and, in the case of baked goods, the texture will be moister.
  • In recipes calling for 1 cup maple syrup, use 1¼ cups granulated sugar flavored with 1/2 teaspoon maple flavoring. In recipes for baked goods, reduce the amount of liquid called for by 1/4 cup.
  • Out of salt? If you're making something savory (not sweet), use a little soy sauce to add salty flavor.
  • Arborio rice is traditionally used to make creamy risottos. If you can't find it, use medium-grain rice. The final dish won't be quite as creamy but it'll still be good. Check for doneness often—medium-grain rice cooks quicker than Arborio.
  • Many Asian stir-fry recipes call for frying in peanut oil—its high smoke point makes it perfect for the high temperatures required. But if you don't have peanut oil, it's okay to use canola or vegetable oil instead.
  • No champagne vinegar? Use an equal amount of white wine vinegar or rice vinegar, then add a pinch of sugar to cut the acidity a little bit.
  • If you run out of ketchup for cooking, use 1 cup canned tomato sauce, 1/4 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons cider vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon salt (this isn't a good substitute for spreading on hamburgers or hot dogs).
  • One standard slice of bread will make about 1/2 cup soft bread crumbs or 1/3 cup dry bread crumbs. Finely crushed crackers, cornflakes or crisp rice cereal may also be used in place of dry bread crumbs.
  • Use 3/4 cup dark brown sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water for each cup of molasses called for in a recipe. The flavor will be milder but still deep and rich.
  • Don't worry if a recipe calls for old-fashioned oats and all you have are quick-cooking—they can be used interchangeably. Do not use instant oats, though; they won't produce the same results.
  • You can use lemon juice in recipes calling for vinegar. Simply add twice as much lemon juice as vinegar called for (for example, 1 teaspoon vinegar equals 2 teaspoons juice).
  • If a recipe calls for 1 cup orange juice, you can use 1/3 cup orange juice concentrate mixed with 2/3 cup water instead.
  • Out of honey? For each cup needed, blend 1¼ cups sugar with 1/4 cup water until sugar dissolves. (The flavor of the dish will be altered somewhat.)
  • Many dried fruits can be used interchangeably, although the end flavor of the dish will be different. If you're out of raisins, try using dried cranberries, blueberries or cherries (chop the fruit smaller if necessary).
  • In most recipes calling for grated lemon peel, it's perfectly fine to substitute orange peel. And in the case of lemons and oranges, ½ teaspoon lemon or orange extract can be used in place of 1 teaspoon grated peel.
  • To make tomato sauce, blend 1/2 cup tomato paste with 1/2 cup water or puree 1 cup canned tomatoes in a blender until smooth, adding some of the canning liquid to thin out if necessary.
  • If you're out of Worcestershire sauce, use 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice,1/4 teaspoon sugar and a dash of hot sauce for every tablespoon Worcestershire the recipe calls for.
  • There are many varieties of rice available that can add interesting flavor to dishes. Try using jasmine or basmati rice whenever a recipe calls for long-grain white rice. Follow package instructions for cooking times as different varieties can vary slightly.
  • If a recipe calls for kosher salt and all you have is table salt, use half the amount called for in the recipe. For example, 1 teaspoon kosher salt = ½ teaspoon table salt.
  • Mafalda pasta looks like bite-size lasagna noodles with ruffled edges. If you can't find it, any small pasta will work fine. Try corkscrews (rotini) or penne.
  • Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds. If you don't have it on hand, you can get a similar flavor with toasted sesame oil. A little goes a long way so start with a teaspoon and adjust to taste.
  • Honey may be used in place of maple syrup in many sauce and vinaigrette recipes. The flavor of the dish won't have a maple taste, but the recipe will work fine.
  • Matzo meal is an ingredient often used in kosher cooking. If you don't have or can't find matzo meal, plain saltine cracker crumbs make a good (but non-kosher) alternative.
  • Canned chipotles in adobo sauce give dishes a spicy, smoky flavor. Look for chipotles in the Latino section of grocery stores. If you can't find them, use chipotle chile powder, but only use half the amount—the chile powder is quite hot.
  • Dried tart cherries are a good substitute for dried cranberries. Because cherries tend to be larger than cranberries, chop the cherries a bit before adding to recipes.
  • In many cases, different types of vinegar can be used interchangeably. For instance, if you don't have sherry vinegar, try using red wine or cider vinegar with a touch of sugar.
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