My mother taught me a lot about food, including how to work with what you have on hand to make nutritious meals. She lived through many years when money was tight, and her creativity, coupled with a refusal to waste food, served her well for feeding a family of five. While I have more resources than my mom did for most of her life, her make-do mentality has stuck with me, shaping how I cook and manage food in my household.
I recently came across a recipe in the Washington Post for Roasted Salmon with Artichoke Topping by Ellie Krieger, nutritionist, cookbook author, and host of Ellie’s Real Good Food. Ellie’s recipe sounded so delicious that I had to make it that night. Problem was, I only had half of the ingredients in the house, and I wasn’t going to the store at 6 PM to get the rest. So, channeling my mother’s flexibility with food, I changed Ellie’s recipe by:
• Using canned, drained artichoke hearts instead of the frozen kind.
• Whipping cottage cheese in the food processor to stand in for ricotta cheese.
• Swapping in half as much dried parsley for fresh.
• Using sundried tomato pesto instead of plain sundried tomatoes.
• Substituting regular salt instead for sea salt.
• Relying on minced, prepared garlic instead of fresh
The result? Scrumptious! It goes to show that the best recipes, like Ellie’s, will turn out just fine, even when tweaked quite a bit.
Do Recipes Matter?
Improvisation in the kitchen comes naturally to me, but I have to admit that I had doubts about messing with Ellie’s recipe because I was sure that she had worked hard to get it just right. However, as Jacques Pepin explains in this video, even if I had used the same ingredients, my results could have turned out differently than Ellie’s.
Pepin says a recipe is merely a point of departure, and that ingredients and preparation can, and must, change to fit each particular situation. As a recipe developer, that’s music to my ears. I want my recipes to “work” so badly for my readers that I get panicky about other people getting the same results as I do, but I guess I shouldn’t worry so much. Changing up ingredients offers the opportunity to make food that suits your tastes.
It seems as if my mother was on the same page as Pepin, in her everyday-cook sort of way. As a working mom who had a home cooked dinner on the table for us every night except Sunday (when my father ruled in the kitchen), I’m not sure she thought too hard about how a recipe would turn out; she seemed to know that her results would be OK, even with alterations.
Emergency Recipe Swaps
Being willing to improvise, and knowing how, helps you to be a better, more efficient food manager (which saves money), and helps you get food on the table.
It’s always a good idea to scan recipes before starting to cook and realizing that you don’t have an ingredient, or as in my case, six. However, coming up short on ingredients shouldn’t deter you from making most recipes, although it’s more difficult to alter certain baked goods than meat, chicken, or fish dishes. Here’s a great source for ingredient substitutions that I refer to frequently.
I also find it helpful, and entertaining, to read comments about online recipes for ingredient swap ideas. I love to see how cooks change recipes because they want, or need, to tweak the ingredients, and I appreciate the tips that they offer after trying the recipe.
What are your favorite ingredient substitution stories?