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Since moving about 20 minutes outside of town (and the nearest grocery store), a common question I mumble to myself in my kitchen is, “Can you substitute…?” Today I’m sharing my tried and true common cooking substitutions with you.
Some of these common ingredient substitutions are for baking and some are for cooking, but all will help you get a meal on the table for your family without having the stress of finding recipes for the ingredients you have.
In this article about how to substitute ingredients, you’ll learn:
- what swaps work
- what swaps don’t work, and why
- common cooking substitutions
- healthy ingredient substitutions
- how to substitute ingredients with examples of specific recipes
Ground Meat: Ground meat can be easily swapped out in any recipe. Ground beef might require more draining than ground turkey or ground chicken due to the higher fat content, but I’ve swapped ground meat successfully in all recipes for years.
Substituting cuts of chicken (breasts, thighs, drumsticks, wings) is fairly easy when they’re being cooked by themselves (on the grill, baked in the oven, etc.) Usually these types of recipes make some sort of marinade or sauce that can be applied to any cut of meat.
You can also use canned chicken or rotisserie chicken in some recipes, as long as you take into consideration that these types of chicken come to you precooked and most recipes call for uncooked chicken.
- Buffalo Chicken Dip You can use breasts or thighs for this recipe.
- White Chicken Chili Breasts or thighs are great for this recipe.
- Cilantro Lime Drumsticks I’ve use this marinade for breasts and thighs and it’s delicious.
Swapping out types of beef is a bit tricky because different cuts of beef have different properties, if you will.
Stew meats and roasts are tough, lean cuts. The collagen in these cuts helps to break down the meat so it’s able to be cut with a fork. Stew meats become more tender the longer you cook them. The best stew meats are:
- Chuck: Shoulder, Roast, Chuck-Eye Roast, and Top Chuck
- Roast: Bottom Round, Top Round, Rump, Eye Round, Pot Roast
Skirt steak is a marbled and tough cut of meat that is flavorful. We use it a lot for fajitas, Asian dishes like Beef and Broccoli, and Steak with Chimichurri. Different cuts that work well for these recipes are:
- Flank steak, Top Loin, Flat Iron, Fajita Steak, Beef Plate Steak
- Mississippi Pot Roast Any type of roast will work for this. I’d even reduce the cooking time and use skirt steaks if that’s all I had.
- Healthy Beef Stroganoff I’d use any type of skirt steak for this, or even ground meat.
Tempeh, Tofu, Seitan, Textured Vegetable Protein, Jackfruit, Mushrooms, meat substitutes, and lentils.
Plant based is a buzzword right now, but it has meaning beyond someone not eating meat. Plant based substitutes are whole foods that are minimally processed and most often–plants!
I’ve found that hearty vegetables such as portobello mushrooms, zucchini, and cauliflower work well in recipes when I don’t have meat to add.
- Miso Mushroom Soup This recipe calls for tofu, but I’d use tempeh, textured vegetable protein, or even more mushrooms in a pinch.
- Calabacitas Tacos Of course zucchini and yellow squash are the norm in Calabacitas, but in a pinch I’d use other types of squash or even potatoes.
I’ll swap vegetables in a recipe for several reasons–if it’s something my family doesn’t care for, if it’s not something I use or have in my house, or if something is super expensive at the store I’ll use something else.
When subbing vegetables, so do at a 1:1 ratio, one cup vegetable A to one cup vegetable B.
- Size: Look for another vegetable that is similar in size, or can be cut to a similar size. Don’t try to swap button mushrooms for stalks of asparagus. Instead, cut a zucchini or broccoli to a similar size.
- Density: Vegetables that are similar in density will cook in the same amount of time as the original recipe. Don’t use cauliflower instead of kale, for example.
If you need to use a different vegetable in your recipe, you might have to pre-cook it a bit so it’s done at the same time as your meal. It’s ok to start cooking with your vegetables that need more time and add on the lighter vegetables as your meal progresses.
- Minestrone Soup If you don’t have any of the vegetables in this soup, you can leave them out or swap them with one you like. This recipe is very forgiving.
- Vegetable Fajitas If you don’t have any of the fajita vegetables on hand, swap with others. We often use zucchini, broccoli, and even green beans in these in a pinch!
Dairy substitutions can be a bit confusing, but I’m hoping to help make it easier. If you don’t have common dairy items on hand, most often they can easily be swapped with another ingredient.
Baking Substitutes for Eggs:
Eggs are used for binding, leavening (expanding), moisture, and flavor and appearance.
- Vegan egg replacement options:
- 3 tbsp aquafaba
- 1 tbsp ground flaxseeds or chia seeds and 3 tbsp water
- 1/4 cup silken tofu
- Other easy options:
- 1/4 cup applesauce
- 1/4 cup mashed bananas or pureed pumpkin
- 1/4 cup carbonated water.
Sour Cream Substitute:
I love using plain, 2% Greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream. As a bonus, it’s a healthy ingredient substitute!
If you don’t love the tang that Greek yogurt can sometimes have, blend it together with an equal portion of cottage cheese–they balance nicely!
Cream Cheese Substitute:
For recipes where the cream cheese is baked in or cooked in the dish, I use a 1:1 blended cottage cheese and unflavored yogurt mixture.
Ranch Dressing Substitute:
Instead of bottled ranch dressing, I use one cup of yogurt, blended ricotta or cottage cheese, or sour cream along with 1/2 teaspoon each of black pepper, parsley, and dill, and 1 teaspoon each of garlic powder and onion powder. Add a touch of salt if you’d like.
Take a one cup measuring cup and add one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Fill the rest of your measuring cup with milk to make 1 cup.
Substitute for Butter:
If you need to swap butter or margarine in a recipe you can easily use another fat, like a healthy oil or vegetable oil can be used in a 3/4:1 ratio, so 3/4 cup oil in place of 1 cup of butter.
Other butter substitutes are:
- Greek yogurt at a 1/2:1 ratio
- Pureed back beans at a 1:1 ratio (best for cookies, cakes, and breads)
- Peanut butter or almond butter at a 1:1 ratio
- Applesauce at a 1:1 ratio, but beware of your recipe tasting a bit dry
These items can easily replace missing or unavailable items from your pantry!
Baking Powder Substitute:
Baking powder is used to help foods rise. To keep your breads, muffins, and other meals light and fluffy, you can use any of the following:
- For every teaspoon of baking powder, add 1/2 cup buttermilk and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda.
- Use one teaspoon of cream of tartar for every 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder called for in your recipe.
Cornstarch is often used to thicken recipes. There are several swaps you can use! For every tablespoon of cornstarch, you can use:
- three tablespoons of white flour
- one tablespoon of arrowroot flour
- two teaspoons of instant mashed potatoes
Maple Syrup Substitute:
In a recipe, you can swap maple syrup with honey, molasses, or agave syrup at a 1:1 ratio. One cup honey for one cup maple syrup, for example.
As a breakfast topping, use brown sugar and water at a 1:1 ratio and allow it to simmer in a pot on the stove until the sugar is liquified. Other pancake toppings you might enjoy are melted butter, peanut butter, diced fruit, or powdered sugar.
Canned Beans Substitute:
In most recipes you can easily swap one type of canned bean for another. I often use black, cannellini, and kidney beans interchangeably in recipes.
For dried beans, each type cooks a little differently so I’d be wary of swapping them.
Chicken Broth Substitute:
Use water and poultry seasoning in place of chicken stock, or just water if you need to!
Tomato Sauce Substitute:
If you’re needing canned tomato sauce and have a can of diced or crushed tomatoes, use the blender or food processor to turn them into tomato sauce!
Pasta Sauce Substitute:
If you’re needing a jar of pasta sauce, you can make that with canned tomato sauce and spices. For 2 14 oz cans of tomato sauce, I add the following seasonings: 1 tablespoon each of oregano, thyme, parsley, onion powder, and garlic salt, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper.
When you’re out of soy sauce, you can use Worcestershire sauce or Fish sauce as a replacement.
Teriyaki Sauce Substitute:
For one cup of teriyaki sauce, use one cup of soy sauce or aminos along with 1 tablespoon each of ginger, garlic, and honey.
Substitutes for fresh spices:
Use dried spices (1/3 of the measurement of fresh) if you don’t have fresh fresh on hand.
You can most often swap pasta shapes without issue, but note that they all expand to different amounts when cooked. For example, white penne pasta doubles and elbow pasta cooks to 2.5 times it’s size.
With regard to wheat vs white vs gluten free vs chickpea, cooking times are completely different, as is the amount of liquid they absorb.
Real Life Examples of Common Ingredient Substitutions that Work:
In this recipe for Sweet Potato Chili, some ingredient swaps I’d use without hesitation are:
- I’d leave out the chipotle peppers in adobo sauce if I didn’t have them. The recipe won’t be spicy, but it’ll still have a great flavor from the spices.
- Swap regular potatoes instead of the sweet potatoes.
- Use any type of canned beans if you don’t have black beans, or leave them out.
- Use water instead of the chicken stock.
- Any ground meat will do if you don’t have turkey.
- I would not omit the potatoes in this recipe, as they absorb a bit of the heat from the peppers.
- I would leave out the celery, carrots, or onions if I had to.
In this recipe for Mini Meatloaves, some ingredients I’d use when I don’t have others include:
- Swap any ground meat you have on hand in place of the ground turkey.
- I’d use any of the egg replacements listed above if I didn’t have eggs, or leave them out entirely.
- Use homemade breadcrumbs if you don’t have them or crackers.
- I would not leave out the breadcrumbs or crackers, as they help the meatballs form together.
- You could leave the sauce out of this recipe if you’d like.