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Hear me out: I don't consider myself an expert at cooking, by any means, but I do love to cook. I used to be such a stickler for following a recipe exactly, down to the last teaspoon or even milligram when measuring, and making last-minute grocery store runs just to get one final ingredient or garnish. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with that or that I don't still try to follow a recipe to a T (especially when it comes to baking).
However, the joy that I get from cooking now is being able to make a dish truly my own and allowing myself to make conscious swaps of ingredients based on what I like, what's in season and readily available, or what I already have in stock. And now that grocery store runs are occurring fewer and farther between, it's as important as ever to use up what you do have and get a little more creative in the kitchen. More often than not, the dish will end up being tastier than you think!
Some of our favorite chefs and food personalities have taken to social media to help home cooks do just this. Cookbook author and New York Times Cooking columnist Alison Roman (who was also a recent guest on Second Life) regularly puts out a call on Twitter and Instagram for people who need help with ingredient substitutions or with general cooking questions. Similarly, the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten, has been posting ideas and tips on what you can make using what you already have in your pantry and fridge. Internet favorite Chrissy Teigen is also helping her followers craft simple dishes using just a photo of their pantry over on her food account, @cravingsbychrissyteigen.
Need a nudge in the right direction when it comes to swapping ingredients in a recipe? Below are some common substitutions you can make.
Lemon Zest or Juice
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You can use limes and vice versa for a similar acidity.
Swap perishable herbs (mint, parsley, rosemary, etc.) for their dried counterparts.
Try using onions, leeks, or other produce in the allium family.
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For a similar flavor profile, you can use yogurt or sour cream.
There are several ways to swap this ingredient, depending on dietary restrictions (opt for a gluten-free version like coconut flakes) or taste preferences. Some of the most common subs are matzo meal, ground oats, and cracker crumbs.
Silken tofu is a solid vegan sub for the beloved dairy ingredient.
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Depending on your dietary needs, you can incorporate the same creaminess and a similar flavor into your dish with peanut butter or another type of nut butter.
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This umami-packed ingredient is a staple in many Asian dishes, but if you find that your pantry is lacking in this liquid condiment or want to make your meal vegetarian/vegan, you can opt for a combination of soy sauce and vinegar with a pinch of salt instead.
To emulate the tanginess, you can sub for yogurt or mix a little bit of lemon juice in milk.
Butter (for Baking)
For a similar consistency, you can sub butter in 1:1 ratio for applesauce or another fruit purée.
And if you do find yourself cooking a lot more at home and wanting to expand your cookware inventory, take a look at some of our favorites.