It’s a rainy Tuesday night. You’re home late. You’re tired and hungry but it’s OK.
You have a plan for what to cook for dinner. But then as you’re getting out the ingredients, you realize there something missing…
What do you do?
a. Freak out. Get back in the car to buy missing ingredient.
b. Freak out and decide screw it, I’m having toast instead.
c. Keep calm because you know there’ll be something you can substitute
d. All of the above.
OK. So option ‘d.’ All of the above really doesn’t make sense in this example. But I do love a good option ‘d’ so I’ve included it anyway ;)
But whatever your natural response, I’m sure you would prefer it to be option ‘c.’
I often get emails from people saying they wish they were better at finding substitutions. So today I thought I’d share my approach to ingredient substitution.
3 Easy Steps to Substituting Ingredients.
1. Trust your instincts.
Remember Henry Ford… ‘
If you think you can or think you can’t you’re right either way’.
A positive mindset is key to figuring out your best substitute.
Even if you aren’t an experienced cook, you are an experienced eater! You know what you like so you can figure out what will work best for your taste buds.
2. Think about the key ‘function’ of the missing ingredient first.
So is your ingredient providing protein? Like salmon in a salmon salad.
Or is it a flavour highlight? Like a grating of lemon zest in the salad.
Or is it a textural highlight? Like a sprinkling of pine nuts in said salad.
Or is it providing some acid? Like lemon juice in the salmon salad.
Or is it keeping everything moist? Like olive oil in the dressing.
Or is it providing bulk / carbs? Like a handful of sourdough chunks in the salad.
3. Choose a substitute ingredient which also fills that function. Or ditch it all together.
So back to our salmon salad example…
Alternatives to the salmon might be cooked chicken, canned salmon, canned tuna, hard boiled eggs…
Flavour higlight / Lemon zest alternatives? Skip it. Add some lime zest, or roast peppers. Or add some fresh thyme of a completely different flavour highlight.
Textural highlight / pine nut alternatives? Skip it. Add other nuts. Add some croutons for crunch. Add some snow peas or red capsicum (bell peppers) for crunch.
Acid / lemon juice alternatives? Lime juice, vinegar.
Moistness / olive oil alternatives? Natural yoghurt, macadamia or other oil, mayonnaise.
Bulk / Carbs? Cooked couscous, cooked quinoa, pasta, barley, lentils, beans, noodles, chickpeas, roast veggies…
Still not convinced you can substitute?
The you could, of course, just stick to cooking Stonesoup recipes so you always know there will be the ‘variations’ section to help bail you out. But even as much as I love my own recipes, that does seem a little dull.
There’s another alternative!
If you join my Soupstones Meal Planning service, you’ll also get a free bonus ‘Ingredient Thesaurus’ to download and keep forever. It’s a go-to reference for substitutes for most common ingredients (and some not so common ones as well).
For more details, go to:
These were inspired by one of my favourite breakfast sides at Hotel Hotel in Canberra. Their ‘meaty beans’ are usually a combo of chickpeas and other dried beans slow cooked with pulled pork. So good! For my meaty beans though I prefer to use beef (for the extra iron pregnant ladies need!). And I used minced (ground) meat because it’s inexpensive and then I don’t have to worry about it getting tough during the cooking process.
enough for: 4-6
takes: 2.5 hours + soaking
500g white beans
500g (1lb) minced beef
2 tins tomatoes (400g / 14oz) each
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
baby spinach or other greens, to serve
1. Place beans in a large bowl. Cover with water and stand for as long as you’ve got (8 hours is ideal but no longer than 48).
2. Drain beans and place in a large oven proof dish with the beef, tomatoes, paprika and 2.5 cups water. Cover with a lid or foil.
3. Bake 180C (350F) for about 2 hours or until beans are tender.
4. Season generously with salt and pepper. Serve with baby spinach leaves on the side and a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
short on time – skip the soaking but be prepared for extra ‘gas’. Or use drained canned beans (about 4 cans) instead and skip the water. Just cook in the oven for 20-30 minutes or until the beef is cooked through.
more mexican – add some dried or canned chipotle chillies and serve with sour cream.
hot! – add fresh or dried chilli.
vegetarian – skip beef or use some dried lentils instead. And don’t forget to change the name!
paleo – use fresh shelled borlotti or broad beans instead. Reduce the amount of water (1 cup should be fine) and reduce cooking time to 30 mins or 1 hour or however long the beans take!
lower carb – use puy lentils instead of the beans. Skip the soaking time and expect the cooking time to be about 45 mins.
richer – add a few tablespoons butter with the paprika.
no smoked paprika – it’s worth seeking out but you can use regular paprika. Or use cayenne pepper (1tsp) instead. Or just skip.
different meat – any ground meat like lamb, pork, chicken or turkey would work. OR use diced meat off the bone like chicken thigh fillets or chuck steak – anything you’d normally put in a curry or stew.
ps. Not sure if a meal planning service will work for you?
The only way to find out is to try it! You can cancel your membership at any time with one quick email.
For more details, go to: