Things are getting dire in the kitchen.
Grocery-store shelves are increasingly empty of important ingredients for bored cooks on coronavirus lockdown, and more shortages could be on the way for foods including meat. Fearful of venturing outside, many are stretching out their trips to the store — and ending up with way too many dried beans and mysterious alternative flours.
Desperate times call for ingredient substitutions — the riffing of recipes based on what you have on-hand. Amanda Frederickson, author of the new cookbook “Simple Beautiful Food: Recipes and Riffs for Everyday Cooking” (Ten Speed Press), is a seasoned pro at making do. Take her Easter Sunday dinner. When she realized she didn’t have the cornmeal required for a fresh polenta dish, she had a stroke of kitchen genius.
“I just took some frozen corn and [boiled] it off, then pureed it,” the Nashville-based recipe developer tells The Post. “Then I added in a little bit of butter and water, and it got this really great, thin texture, and it just kind of became polenta.”
The ingenious trick, she said, could be applied to many a frost-bitten bag of frozen vegetables to make a quick, healthful sauce or spread.
“Just cook them off a big pot of boiling salted water and then puree,” says the 38-year-old mom of two. “It’ll either become some sort of, like, a mashed potato substitute, or a dollop of [creaminess] that you could add to your dishes.”
“Having that kind of extra flavor is something I always look to when I make any type of protein,” she adds.
Proceed with caution when it comes to baked goods and desserts, which is “basically a science,” says Frederickson.
One of the most popular questions submitted by readers to Frederickson asks how to make things with gluten-free flours, such as buckwheat. Aim for a recipe “that doesn’t need to be kneaded” she says, because that means it doesn’t rely on the building of gluten — which you won’t be able to do. Quick breads or cake are a safer bet, but you’ll be sacrificing that “crunchy, chewy, crusty” bite of a pizza dough.
Whole wheat can often be swapped in for all-purpose flour as a 1:1 ratio, but “you might need to add a couple extra tablespoons of liquid” to the recipe, since wheat flour absorbs more water, Frederickson says.
Bread flour and all-purpose flours can also be used interchangeably in many recipes.
One of Frederickson’s favorite egg replacers, borrowed from the vegans, is the “flax egg,” made by combining about 1 tablespoon of flax seed plus 2 ½ tablespoons of water. “You’re not gonna get the same texture,” she warns, but it will help stabilize pancakes, quick breads, brownies or muffin batter, in a pinch.
For a recipe that calls for eggs whites, she’s found similar success with aquafaba, or that “thick liquid in a can of chickpeas.” This stuff can be whipped up into “hard peaks” in the same manner as meringue.
When it comes to using milk alternatives, such as almond, oat or coconut, “the most important thing . . . is to ensure that it’s not sweetened because you don’t want to add more sugar.” The rules of fat content apply in baking, too. For best results, sub with a milk mixture that closely matches in fat content, such as combining equal parts whole milk (about 3.5% milk fat) with half-and-half (about 12% milk fat) to produce something similar to evaporated milk (about 7% milk fat). Keep in mind, though, only heavy or whipping cream will produce whipped cream.
Yeast and leaveners
It would take a science project to try and create your own yeast, but Frederickson wouldn’t fool with it: “I would encourage you to look at other types of breads” such as a quick breads or biscuits, “which are leavened by baking powder or baking soda.”
What else can I substitute?
You probably can’t switch out everything in a recipe — as then it becomes an entirely different dish. But virtually any single ingredient can be substituted, according to Alice Henneman, a registered dietitian with the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Baking powder, 1 teaspoon
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda plus ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
Buttermilk, 1 cup
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar plus enough whole milk to make 1 cup. Allow to stand for 5 minutes.
- 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
Ketchup (for cooking), 1 cup
- 1 cup tomato sauce, ½ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons vinegar
Mayonnaise, 1 cup
- Same volume of sour cream, yogurt or pureed cottage cheese
It’s not just the ingredients
When attempting to make your own ingredient swaps, try to mimic the properties of the food you’re replacing. That means paying closest attention to texture, flavor and fat content, Frederickson says.
Vegetables, for instance, can produce vastly different textures, which is why you wouldn’t want to swap, say, cucumbers for potatoes. Turnips, celery root or yucca might be a better choice. Stay on track by sticking with vegetables in the same family: dark leafy greens, brassicas, root and tubers, legumes, bulbs and “fruit” vegetables — plus a few more that defy a clean label.
She says gets a lot of questions on swapping fresh herbs — for example, cilantro for parsley.
“The answer is always yes, in my book,” she says. “I think any kind of soft herb can be used interchangeably,” including mint, basil and tarragon, too. “As long as you [enjoy] the flavor of what you’re swapping in,” she adds, you’ll get a palatable result.
Garlic adds a lot of flavor, so make sure you keep a dried version on-hand when you’re out of fresh. For 1 to 2 cloves of garlic, Frederickson swaps 1 teaspoon of garlic powder. A teaspoon of onion powder can flavor as much as a medium-sized onion. And, to replace a tablespoon of fresh ginger root, she uses about a ½ teaspoon of powder. Keep in mind that “dried herbs and spices are a little more potent than the fresh version,” she says, so a little goes a long way.
Dealing with fat in recipes can get “scientific,” says Frederickson. That’s why 1% milk makes a poor swap for whole milk, or why you can’t always replace butter with olive oil. But there are some quick and dirty switches that she can count on.
“If you don’t have butter, vegetable shortening or even coconut oil, will work,” she says, as well as vegan butter, lard or tallow (beef fat). The trick here is to pay attention to how the fat behaves at room temperature — in this case, as a solid — which can make all the difference the food’s structure.