Like life itself, cooking at home is likely to change radically in the coming months. It will be a sanctuary for some and a chore for others, but in an era of lockdowns, we will all sometimes be frustrated by not having this or that ingredient to hand – and no longer being able to pop out to get it.
How you work around that lack of ingredients may determine how well you eat in 2020.
To help, here are some tips on how to best substitute in and swap out key ingredients while still creating delicious meals.
The simple substitute, is digging out a crushed stock cube from the back of the cupboard. Alternatively, Soy sauce is a direct replacement that gives better flavour.
Salty staple ingredients such as capers, parmesan and anchovies, together with the brine from tinned pulses can do the trick.
Most lacto-fermented vegetables have a good amount of salt. They can be added to stews or sauces if you’re looking for a multilayered addition of acidity, salt and funk.
But do you need salt? Spices can create a richer flavour profile.
You can substitute most fats for other fats. You can make biscuits with vegetable or olive oil. Cheaper neutral oils are best. Fancy olive oil would make it a bit funky.
A few drops of vinegar will lend the required acidic edge to sauces and salads.
Given that oranges, lemons and limes go off fairly quickly in the fridge, it us recommended freezing the juice in ice cube moulds in the freezer, ready to be used when needed.
So you can zest all the lemon rinds, freeze this citrus snow and use it to season as you would salt and pepper. Freeze the zest on baking parchment and, once dry, place into a sealed bag. It’ll last six months.
UHT soy milk be stick-blended into a mayo using vinegar and rapeseed or sunflower oil (125ml soy milk, two teaspoons vinegar, 250ml oil, seasoning). Dips are going to be a pivotal part of isolation cuisine and, if you add miso paste, it’s pretty compelling.
You can use any alcohol to deglaze pans or make a stew. I’ll be saving my wine for drinking, so I may be experimenting heavily with those dusty bottles in the back of the cupboard.
In braises, stews and ragouts, you can replace wine with a gastrique. It’s a technique of acidulating caramelised sugar to boost the balance of sweet and sour umami in a dish. I do a shortcut at home of one tablespoon of sugar melted into two tablespoons of vinegar. I use sherry vinegar, but use whatever you have. Reduce that down to about one tablespoon of syrup and add it to the dish. It’s amazing something simple can do so much.
Most baking requires flour. But if you are using it to thicken a soup or a sauce, you have options. Adding a few slices of potato during cooking helps thicken a stew. As does rice, grind it into powder in a food processor and substitute.
For a béchamel, dry bread crusts, biscuits, crackers or anything of that ilk and crush them into a fine powder, then mix that with butter to create a roux.
More generally, do not waste bread. It can be stretched out as breadcrumbs for topping oven bakes or as croutons to bulk out salads. I like to blend torn stale bread into soups to thicken them, like our garlic soup. It is four main ingredients: chicken stock, a garlic bulb, bread, olive oil.
Retaining and/or repurposing liquid from a jar of something pickled, such as ginger or cornichons can replace vinegar. Even high-acidity apple juice will do a similar job to vinegar in your cooking.
You can use maple syrup, honey or golden syrup pretty much anywhere you’d find sugar. You could also use waste syrup from tinned fruit, intensify sweetness in desserts by adding a pinch of cinnamon, or deploy vegetables with a higher sugar content (parsnips, beetroots, carrots, sweet potatoes, courgette) in your baking as a way to build in sweetness.
Look for alternatives: ancient grains and pulses such as pearl barley, buckwheat, bulgur wheat, millet and lentils.
Without getting bogged down in the effectiveness or, in this crisis, the availability of meat substitutes (tofu, jackfruit etc), what you certainly can do with dishes in the cottage-pie-to-ragout sphere is bulk out what meat you have.
You can lengthen bolognese sauce with bread. Barley, chickpeas and lentils will do a similar job.
The shortage of spaghetti has made the idea of using a spiraliser to craft courgetti or other vegetable noodles less a clean eating fashion statement and more a necessity. If you crave the real thing, you can make a rudimentary pasta, such as the tiny, Sugar Puff-shaped cavatelli, with flour and water. Use some semolina flour, which has a lot more protein and nutritional value.
For a little more deliciousness make some fresh spätzle or eastern European-style hand-cut noodles, which cook like pasta. You will need eggs and some patience.
Other big root vegetables can work as well, such as celeriac or swede, and can often offer better flavour. Spuds will keep for months if left in the dark in a sack or other breathable, dry container.
Roasted jerusalem artichokes, swede boulangère or carrot and cauliflower mash all give you that comforting texture and, arguably, have more flavour.
In a chicken tray bake or a casserole, beer is a great alternative. It often brings more flavour – certainly richness and sweetness. You cal also use Marmite, Worcestershire sauce, miso or tomato puree to add umami.
Will the aquafaba cult now cross over? Chefs love the viscous water that tinned chickpeas sit in and its ability to double as egg whites. Two tablespoons equals one egg; a 400g can is the equivalent of six egg whites.
Google can provide you with numerous other replacements for eggs in baking, from milk to fruit purees, depending on how you are using them (leavening agent, binding etc). Most people don’t know you can make a beautiful egg-free cake. Use 50ml of milk or 70g of plain yoghurt to replace the moisture one egg would normally impart.
In a food processor, blend a handful of cashew nuts, the juice of a lemon, sea salt and a few tablespoons of water until super-smooth. You won’t believe how it resembles sour cream.
If you don’t have onions, always use bacon. The taste is very similar when you cook it until crispy.