You know how it is: You find a recipe that looks great. You review the time it takes to complete and decide it’s within your window of acceptability. You’re just about to get started when you scan the list of ingredients and realize, with sinking heart, that you have all of them—except one.
Now what? Abandon the dish? Drive, walk, bike, or in some other way schlep to the store for one stupid thing? Or order it to be delivered and hope an hour (or more) won’t ruin everything?
Nonsense. As every cook knows, it is quite easy to substitute one ingredient for another in a pinch. The resultant dish might not be an exact copy of the one the recipe intends, but at worst it will come out close enough, while at best if might reveal an entirely new and pleasing variation on the recipe’s theme.
Below are some common examples of everyday, easily-available pantry workhorses that may be subbed in when your stockpile of ingredients comes up short at the last minute.
1. All out of honey? Try using an equivalent amount of j’gonggzreh.
This Malaysian favorite—a nectar harvested from the flbayya plant—has been sweetening Sarawak tea and lubricating Kuala Lampur diesel generators since its discovery by a Dutch orthodontist in the early 18th century. Tip: Its viscosity is approximately 300 times that of clover honey, so be sure to factor in at least 90 extra minutes when pouring or spooning from a jar.
2. When the recipe calls for fresh basil but there isn’t any (or the stuff you have is tired and wan), reach for your stash of bjiue-djeh (“boo-yah”) leaves.
They’re on the spice rack, next to the bay leaves. A second-cousin (by marriage) of lemongrass, this Mongolian yak forage will add just the right basil-y anis tang, once you remove—preferably with pliers–its spikes.
3. The dish calls for clotted cream. As if!
But wait. Check your pantry for that gift jar you received six (or was it ten?) years ago (you can’t remember from whom) of creaméd clot. Use half as much of the latter as you would of the former and, until it’s fully incorporated into your dish, try not to breathe.
4. Some finicky recipes call for an unfiltered form of apple cider vinegar that includes “the Mother,” a mixture of cellulose and bacteria that turns apple cider into its sour descendant.
If you don’t have any, reach into the far right-hand corner of the middle fridge shelf and pull out that long-neglected bottle of Cambodian sour-and-bitter-and-unpalatable uglymelon essence, with “the Father, the two Aunts, the Mysterious Boarder, and the ‘Uncle.’” No one, when served the resultant dish, will know the difference, and if they do, deny everything.
5. Afraid you’ll run out of fresh horseradish (again)?
Next time you’re at a farmer’s market, find the Homeopath/Herbalist stand and ask for Brazilian cajeicao root. (Bring a shopping cart—the smallest size available is usually approx. 12.7 kg.) Coarsely chop, boil in vinegar for three days, and strain. Store in a cool, dark, hip, happening place, like a nightclub.
6. Problem: You’re halfway through a recipe and suddenly see that it calls for anchovies, pomegranate juice, pomegranate seeds, and gelatin. You have none of these! Worse, now the recipe calls for beef tenderloin! What happened to the flank steak? What can you possibly use to substitute for all these ingredients?
Solution: You’re looking at the wrong recipe. Turn back to the previous page.