It never fails — when you’re ready to cook a recipe that you’re really excited about, you’re inevitably missing one crucial ingredient. To find out that you’re missing the tomato paste for your chili or the eggs needed to wash your pie crust is incredibly disheartening, and often results in giving up on the kitchen and calling up the pizza delivery guy. But it really doesn’t have to be this way.
When you’re out of a crucial ingredient, you should consider this a personal Chopped challenge instead of a major inconvenience. Sometimes, the changes that are made out of necessity often end up being the best thing that ever happened to your recipe. Should you find yourself in a pinch, these seven easy swaps will help you add nutrition, flavor, and even more deliciousness to the dishes you already love.
Look in the fridge for the gallon of milk only to find out that someone left behind the dregs? Whether you’re baking a cake or mixing up mashed potatoes, yogurt is a tangy and nutritious swap to make for milk. Plain Greek yogurt is high in protein, and adds beautiful texture to a lemon yogurt cake or mashed potatoes whipped with chives. It sounds weird at first, but you’ll soon get addicted to the tang. Keep in mind that nonfat yogurt performs fine in baked goods, but can curdle when used in custards or in those fab mashed potatoes.
Flickr/Bridgette Guerzon Mills
When you’re in need of a little creaminess but the Hellman’s jar has run dry, avocado is a great substitute. You can mash it up and spread it on sandwiches, mix it into potato salad, or add a little flair to creamy salad dressings. Avocado will still lend the same rich creaminess that you expect from mayo, but with a whole lot of nutrients and that delicious buttery flavor.
Once you’re hooked on hummus, making your own at home is cheaper and fresher. But when you’ve used up that last can of chickpeas, it’s time to look to the other beans and legumes in your pantry for inspiration. Hummus can be made with just about any bean — from Southwestern-inspired black eyed pea hummus to Asian-influenced edamame hummus — and they’re all equally delicious. Swap up your spices to change the flavor even more.
Most baked goods don’t come very close to approaching healthy, but you can add a big dose of nutrition to your cakes and cookies if you’re out of eggs. Flax seeds get nice and viscous when mixed with water — about 1 tablespoon of flax seed meal to 3 tablespoons of water — and add a big dose of omega-3 fatty acids and fiber to your sweets. This mixture will replace one egg, and make you feel better about those two (or three!) cups of sugar in the dough.
Heavy cream is a delicious ingredient, but you probably shouldn’t be consuming it on the regular. You can still enjoy the same decadence in your sauces and soups by substituting coconut milk, which also can help you accommodate vegan and vegetarian eaters. Be sure to only use full-fat coconut milk to preserve the creamy texture you want, and shake the can vigorously before adding it to your recipes.
When you need a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon juice to add the finishing touch to a great dish, coming up empty handed often means that your flavors are going to fall flat. If the lemons and limes in your fruit bowl are a little past their prime, just about any other citrus will do in most applications. Orange juice is delicious when freshly-squeezed into guacamole or drizzled over sautéing shrimp, and a tablespoon of grapefruit zest can really brighten up your grandma’s lemon pound cake recipe. Should you find yourself with absolutely no citrus at all, try another fruit juice — like pineapple — for that boost of acidity and freshness that you need.
Flickr/Caroline J. Angelo
Chicken stock adds flavor and richness to a lot of dishes, which makes it very difficult to substitute for. Bouillon cubes are too salty and often artificially flavored, and you’d be much better off making your own quick vegetable stock. Try this recipe for The Kitchn’s 10 Minute Vegetable Stock, which only requires a few veggies, dried bay leaves, and peppercorns. If you have any carrots, celery, mushrooms, or other vegetables lingering in the crisper, you can add them for more flavor.
Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor. You can find her yelling about food and other random topics on Twitter @aemccarthy.