Vegetarian Food Substitutions
The next time you want to substitute an ingredient in a recipe, don't panic. The originator of the recipe will never know! When you substitute, you improvise, you create, and you are the artist in charge.

Use the chart below as a starting point for brainstorming alternatives. The process might look a bit intimidating but is easy once you dive in and start asking questions such as: What do I really want this dish to taste like? What textures do I like? Why did the recipe writer put all of these things in here, anyway? Here are some general guidelines about making substitutions in recipes.

Try to keep ingredients within the same ethnic category. Ethnic flavor combinations have been developed over centuries and blend together naturally. If you are making a Mexican dish and don't want to use meat, use traditional Mexican proteins and starches such as posole (hominy), pinto beans and black beans, not Asian mung beans or Indian lentils.

Dissect the basic flavors of the dish. If you don't have a certain flavoring, ask yourself if it is basically sweet, salty, sour, bitter or spicy? Think of something in your cupboard from the same category.

Substituting starches and proteins makes less of a difference in overall taste than spices and flavorings.

Try the pantry approach to cooking. If you find yourself continually missing key ingredients, analyze your pantry and consider restocking it.

Assemble herbs, spices and flavorings which are complementary in groupings in your pantry. That way, when you are experimenting with a dish, Italian, for example, your Italian seasonings such as basil, parsley, garlic and oregano will be grouped together, and you can substitute accordingly.

Keep staples such as flours, oil, beans and grains on hand so you don't have to run out to the store at the last minute.

back to the top Meat-free
Ingredient Substitute
Gelatin Agar-agar (sea vegetable powder or flakes), arrowroot (starchy powder from tropical tuber), ground nuts and seeds, gums (guar gum is from an East Indian seed, xanthan gum is from corn), kudzu (starchy powder from tropical tuber)
Meat Beans, cheese, seitan (wheat meat), tempeh (cultured soy food), textured vegetable protein (TVP), tofu
Meat, chicken or seafood stock Apple, cranberry, orange or pomegranate juice, beer, Dr. Bronner's mineral tonic, garlic broth, miso (fermented soybean paste) diluted with water, sherry, vegetable bouillon cubes, vegetable stock, water in which beans, pasta or vegetables have been cooked, wine
Seasoned or smoked meats For sausage, substitute crumbled tofu seasoned with fennel, parsley and garlic. For smoked meats, substitute canned chipotle chilies, oven-roasted vegetables, toasted nuts, smoked tofu or smoked cheeses

back to the top Vegan
Ingredient Substitute
Buttermilk Clabbered soymilk (to clabber, mix 2 tsps. lemon juice or white vinegar per cup of soymilk)
Cheese Soy- and nut-based cheeses
Cottage cheese/ricotta Crumbled tofu
Eggs Crumbled or pureed tofu
Mayonnaise Tofu mayonnaise
Milk Nut milk, rice milk, soymilk

back to the top Low fat
Ingredient Substitute
Creamed soups and sauces Arrowroot (starchy powder from tropical tuber), kudzu. Use roasted, pureed vegetables as a base, then finish the soup or sauce with nonfat strained yogurt
Oil in baked goods Applesauce, pureed bananas, pureed stewed prunes
Oil for sauteing Apple juice, sherry, vegetable stock, wine
Salad dressing Citrus juice or cider vinegar thickened with pureed roasted red peppers, carrots, onions or garlic
Sour cream Strained nonfat yogurt
White sauce Pureed white beans

back to the top Yeast-Free
Ingredient Substitute
Bread Baking soda breads (quick breads), flatbreads, muffins, sprouted breads
Salad dressing (wine-or vinegar-based) Puree citrus juice and avocado
Puree citrus juice and oil
Mix peeled, cubed fruit such as mango, oranges and papaya into green salads
Vinegar Cranberry or pomegranate juice, lemon or lime juice, mango powder (amchoor), tamarind paste or pulp, vitamin C powder (ascorbic acid)
White sugar Bananas, barley malt, brown rice syrup, date sugar, dried fruits, fruit juices, maple syrup

back to the top Allergy
Ingredient Substitute
Butter Clarified butter (milk solids have been removed), olive oil, sesame oil
Chocolate Carob
Cow's milk Almond, goat, rice and soymilk
Cow's milk cheese Cheeses made from soy, nuts, goat or sheep milk
Eggs Egg Replacer; liquid lecithin with 2 tsp. guar gum; baking soda plus pureed fruit or vegetables; and flax seeds pureed with water
Peanuts Almonds
Wheat flour (for baking) Barley, buckwheat, corn, kamut, oats, rice, rye, spelt
Wheat pasta Corn, kamut and spelt pasta, rice noodles

back to the top Ethnic
Origin Ingredient Substitute
Americas Cactus pads (nopales) Green beans, okra
Chayote squash Yellow or green pattypan squash or zucchini
Masa flour Mix corn flour with lime juice
Poblano or Anaheim chilies Minced jalapeno chili and green bell pepper
Posole (dried hominy) Canned white hominy
Asian Bok choy (Chinese white cabbage) Beet greens, kale and Swiss chard
Chinese cooking wine Dry sherry
Chinese five-spice powder Anise seed or star anise, fennel seed, cinnamon, black peppercorns and whole cloves. (If you have a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder, use whole spices, otherwise use ground dry spices.)
Galangal (Thai ginger) Fresh ginger
Lemon grass Lemon zest
Lotus root Jicama or water chestnuts
Mirin (Japanese rice wine) Sweet white wine
Nam pla (Thai fish sauce) Soy sauce and lime juice
Rice wine vinegar Cider vinegar, white wine vinegar
Sesame oil 1 Tbs. sesame seeds fried in 1/2 cup vegetable oil
Thai basil Italian basil
Water chestnuts Jicama
Indian Atta (chapati flour) 1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour plus 1/2 cup sifted whole wheat flour
Chana dal Split yellow peas
Curry powder Mix together to taste ground ginger, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, turmeric and fennel
Garam masala (mixed spices) 1 tsp. cardamom seeds, 1 Tbs. cumin seed, 1 Tbs. coriander seed, 2 tsp. black peppercorns, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. cloves, 1 tsp. nutmeg. (If you have a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder, use whole spices, or mix together ground dry spices.)
Jaggery (coarse palm sugar) Date sugar or brown sugar
Toor dal, urad dal, mung dal Red lentils
Mediterranean Broccoli rabe (rapini) Broccoli plus arugula or dandelion greens
Cannellini beans Great Northern beans, navy beans, red kidney beans
Fava beans, dried Butter beans
Fava beans, fresh Fresh or frozen lima beans
Fennel Celery plus some fennel or anise seeds
Parmesan cheese Any hard, aged grating cheese such as Asiago or Romano or aged Monterey jack
Pine nuts Walnuts or a mixture of walnuts and almonds

back to the top Alcohol-Free
Ingredient Substitute
Red wine Pomegranate juice; 1/2 cup water plus 2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
White wine Apple, carrot or bell pepper juice, vegetable stock
Wine or beer Non-alcoholic wine or beer

This is based on an article by Gigia Kolouch. She specializes in creating and cooking vegetarian fare, especially low-cholesterol and allergy-free foods. She is based in Denver, Colorado.

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