Our Food Editors' Favorite Ingredient Substitutions
Out of buttermilk, herbs, flour, or other staples? Try these tried-and-tested swaps.
Looking for ways to become a more confident cook at home? Our food editors are here to help. Each week, we're shining a spotlight on the exciting things happening in the Martha Stewart test kitchen. Our editors will share their best cooking tips, favorite products, new ideas, and more in our weekly series, Out of the Kitchen.
We've all been there—you get your heart set on baking a batch of cookies, a delicious casserole for dinner, or a family-friendly breakfast recipe, only to find that you don't have all of the ingredients you need. Rather than abandoning ship completely, our food editors are here to save the day with some clever ingredient substitutions. From making a quick homemade buttermilk using just whole milk and lemon juice to whirring together breadcrumbs in a food processor, there are so many quick ways to manage a recipe without a perfectly stocked pantry.
Our food editors also have some clever ways to build flavor in the absence of herbs or spices. "I like to add things like a dash of Worcestershire or a little spoonful of mustard to a meaty stew if I don't have some of the ingredients in the recipe and feel like it's lacking in flavor," says senior food editor Lauryn Tyrell. If a recipe calls for a specific variety of fresh herbs, editorial director of food Sarah Carey says you can swap for something complimentary, such as thyme for rosemary or Marjoram for sage. She avoids swapping in two totally dissimilar herbs, such as basil for dill or vice versa.
In many cases, our food editors find that all-purpose flour truly is just that—all-purpose. If you're short on cake or bread flour, you can always use all-purpose flour, which most home cooks are likely to have on hand.
Ahead, our food editors share their go-to ingredient substitutions for when you're in a pinch.
"If I don't have buttermilk, I will thin yogurt or create slightly sour milk by adding an acidic ingredient, such as lemon juice," says Sarah. A good ratio is one tablespoon of lemon juice per cup of milk.
Our food editors are fans of making their own breadcrumbs if they're all out of store-bought. Place chunks of stale or toasted bread cubes in a food processor and grind until they become a coarse crumb. Feel free to add one to two teaspoons of dried herbs and spices such as paprika, ground thyme, or oregano for flavor.
"If I don't have cake flour, I use all-purpose and a bit of cornstarch. Subtract one to two tablespoons of flour per cup and replace it with the same amount of cornstarch," says Sarah.
If a recipe calls for pickles—such as our Spicy Turkey Medianoches—you can swap in something else briny, such as capers, and vice versa, says Sarah.
In a pinch, Sarah blends up cottage cheese but you can also make your own ricotta in about 30 minutes using whole milk, buttermilk, and salt.
Looking for a healthier swap for sour cream or mayonnaise? Lauryn likes to use labneh, a Middle Eastern ingredient similar to Greek yogurt that is just as rich and creamy, but much lower in calories.
If you want the decadent texture of a creamy soup without the added calories and fat, Lauryn adds a chopped, peel potato to the soup as it cooks. "Blend everything together and stream in olive oil until it's silky," she says. See how this technique works in our Creamy Ginger-Asparagus Soup or this Gingery Beet Soup.
Oil or Butter
"It depends on the recipe, but sometimes you can swap mayonnaise for oil or eggs in a recipe, such as these Chocolate-Mayo Cupcakes, which swaps in the creamy condiment in lieu of oil or butter," says Lauryn. Our test kitchen is also a fan of mixing mayonnaise and softened butter for a grilled cheese spread that results in a golden brown sandwich.
Wine for Cooking
If making something like risotto or a braise that calls for deglazing the pan with wine, substitute anything acidic such as another kind of booze (think cognac or brandy), vinegar, or lemon juice. In a pinch, Lauryn will also use water or chicken stock.
Batter for Frying
In place of the usual flour and water batter, Lauryn has another clever swap. "I thin out mayonnaise with a little water and use it to dredge things like chicken tenders or shrimp before breading and frying, such as these Quick Shrimp Po'boys," she says.