Substitutions for Cooking

      One of the main problems with certain recipes is when they ask for an ingredient you don't have at that moment. In culinary school I learned several substitutions to adapt when the recipe calls for something I don't have. During a research, I stumbled upon a list on the NYT by Alexa Weibel that is just PERFECTION. I will share it here and add things that I think is important from my own experience. Enjoy it and create magic in your kitchen, always! 



Flavor and texture are important considerations when substituting dairy products. When working with liquids, you can easily doctor consistency, thickening milk with a little flour or cornstarch to mimic half-and-half, or thinning out Greek yogurt with water to replicate milk. The ingredients below are ordered from thinnest to firmest; if you don’t have the desired substitute for a specific item, move up or down the list.


Substitutions for cooking - Lello Petrelo



There are so many cheeses it’s impossible to cover them all. When substituting, think about its purpose: Will it melt evenly in a pasta sauce, or spread easily on toast? If cooking, swap in one with a similar texture, but if using as an accent, there’s much more flexibility. Here are widely available cheeses (predominantly cow’s milk) broken into broad categories:

Substitutions for cooking - Cheeses - Lello Petrelo


Oils and Fats

Oils and fats all have a temperature at which they begin to burn, called a smoke point: Neutral oils with high smoke points won’t burn when exposed to high temperatures (as in deep-frying or pan-frying), whereas butter and other solid fats (with low smoke points) burn easily. Here, oils and fats have been grouped into three categories with that in mind. While many of the oils and fats in each category are interchangeable, you’ll want to consider flavor and smoke point when choosing a substitute.


Substitutions for cooking - Oils - Lello Petrelo



Though stock improves flavor, its primary purpose is to add liquid. If the recipe calls for a little stock, you can substitute water. If the recipe calls for a lot of stock, use water seasoned with one of the ingredients below, keeping the flavors of your recipe in mind. Start small and taste as you go, especially since some items skew significantly sweet, salty or condensed. Substitutions include water seasoned with beer or white wine, juice (such as orange juice or apple juice), melted butter, milk (dairy, coconut, nut or soy milk), miso paste, mushroom stock (liquid from soaked dried mushrooms), olive oil, soy sauce or tea.



Most greens can be defined by their flavor and texture: Are they bitter or mild? Sturdy or tender? When choosing a substitute, consider how the greens are being used. Tender greens are often consumed raw while sturdy ones might need to be cooked longer; simply add the greens earlier or later in the cooking process as needed.


Substitutions for cooking - Greens - Lello Petrelo



Substituting vegetables can be tricky, and depends largely on taste. But some can definitely step in for others: say brussels sprouts for broccoli. Just bear in mind texture, moisture content and density. We’ve broken common vegetables up into two categories, based on cook times: Many in the same category cook at a similar rate, but if you’d like to substitute a firm vegetable for a quick-cooking one or vice versa, increase or decrease cook time by adding the ingredient earlier or later in your recipe.


    Asparagus, cabbage (bok choy, broccoli, broccolini, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale), celery, corn, eggplant, fennel, mushrooms, peas, peppers, summer squash, zucchini.

    Root vegetables (beet, carrot, celery root, parsnip, potato, sweet potato, turnip), winter squash (such as butternut squash, delicata, kabocha, pumpkin).


    Leeks, onions (red, white or yellow), scallions, shallots and spring onions are largely interchangeable. (Garlic’s pronounced flavor makes it difficult to find an exact substitute.) Garlic and onions are available in dried form (powdered, granulated or dehydrated as flakes), which are infinitely more potent — and can skew bitter if overused. Substitute dried ingredients in place of fresh with moderation, and only when the fresh is called for in smaller quantities rather than bulk.


Fresh herbs fall into two categories: tender, bright herbs (basil, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, parsley and tarragon), which are most flavorful when fresh, or woody, savory herbs (bay leaves, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme), which are better dried. Since dried herbs are more potent, substitute 1 teaspoon dried for 1 tablespoon chopped fresh. In general, you can swap one tender herb for another (or vice versa), but substituting a woody herb for a tender herb (or vice versa) works less well. Rely on preference and availability when picking a substitute.


Substitutions for cooking - Herbs - Lello Petrelo



When swapping spices, think about what will work in your dish. Most spices can be grouped into four flavor profiles: earthy, floral, peppery and warm. You’ll often be able to substitute a spice that hits the same notes by picking one with the same qualities.


Substitutions for Cooking - Spices 1 - Lello Petrelo


When it comes to spice, there is ample room for experimentation. Consider layering flavor carefully by seasoning lightly at the start of cooking so the end result is subtle, that way you can increase the spice to taste, if desired, once your dish is fully cooked.


Substitutions for cooking - Spices 2 - Lello Petrelo


Meat and Seafood

While many home cooks plan meals around a protein, even that’s flexible. Make protein substitutions according to preference and what you have on hand, and shift cook times accordingly. Or adjust the size of the protein by cutting it into smaller pieces (or remove the meat from the bones) so it cooks faster, or leaving it in larger pieces so it cooks at a slower rate. Thinking broadly can expand your options even further: Tofu, lentils, beans and other vegetarian options can make excellent substitutes.


  1. BEEF

    If swapping one cut of beef for another, try to substitute tough cuts (like chuck, brisket or round roast) for other tough cuts, and tender cuts (like strip steak, flank steak or filet mignon) for other quick-cooking cuts. You can also use lamb in place of beef in many recipes, though its flavor is more assertive.


    Both can be used interchangeably. You can remove sausages from their casings, and cook them as ground meat, or flavor plain ground meat with red-pepper flakes, fennel seed, Italian herbs and other seasonings. You can also substitute ground meat of any kind, swapping in ground pork for ground beef in meatballs, or ground chicken for ground turkey in a larb, for example. But bear in mind the fat content of whatever you’re using: Ground pork is the fattier option; if cooking with ground beef, chicken, turkey or veal, you might want to add extra oil to provide extra fat

  3. PORK

    Bone-in pork chops cook in roughly the same time as steaks of similar thickness, but you will want to use a meat thermometer to check the temperature to achieve desired doneness. If working with diced pork stew meat, cubed beef stew meats will cook at a similar rate. Cubed chicken will also work, but you’ll need to reduce cooking times.


    You can substitute whole boneless, skinless breasts for boneless, skinless chicken thighs: Just butterfly the breasts or pound them thinly to achieve a similar thickness of thighs. (You may also need to adjust cook time.) If substituting bone-in, skin-on thighs, increase the cook time. Ground turkey or turkey breasts also achieve similar results as their chicken counterparts


    Most fish fillets are either lean (bass, catfish, cod, flounder, halibut, monkfish, red snapper, skate, sole, tilapia) or fatty (char, mahi-mahi, salmon, swordfish, tuna). Substitute lean for lean, and fatty for fatty.

    Fresh or frozen shrimp cook very quickly at similar rates and benefit from quick, high-heat cooking methods. Depending on your recipe, fish fillets or small pieces of meat or poultry also might be suitable substitutes.

Create Magic In Your Kitchen!